Dear Sam: I constantly receive LinkedIn requests to “connect” with people in my network and even some people I hardly know. I am not into social media and do not want to put myself out there for everyone to see—these people are not friends of mine—but I am also hearing that I have to be active on LinkedIn as I am conducting a job search. Can you tell me what I should and perhaps should not be worrying about? – Steve</span?

Dear Steve: LinkedIn is an incredibly valuable professional networking forum. It not only provides you with the opportunity to deepen existing network connections but to capitalize on the networks of others to broaden your reach. How can this be helpful in a job search? Well, suppose you search LinkedIn for network connections that could prove influential in your search. In that case, chances are the more extensive your network, the higher the possibility you may have an influencer or even a decision-maker within your reach.

Let’s look at some of the numbers…
• 97% of recruiters use LinkedIn to find or vet candidates
• 20,000 U.S. employers use LinkedIn to recruit
• There are 15M active job postings on LinkedIn
• 85% of jobs are secured through networking

As you can see from these metrics, you can tap into LinkedIn’s powerful capabilities to promote your brand.

Here are some tips that may prove helpful as you leverage the power of LinkedIn during your job search.

Perform research. You can be somewhat stealthy on LinkedIn, meaning you can remain anonymous when searching other profiles, you can turn off activity broadcasts, so your network does not get alerted to any activity on your account, and you can even block select connections from seeing your profile at all. This all allows you to use LinkedIn to collect competitive intelligence for your search or upcoming interviews.

Expand your network. Accept those connection requests to expand your network and broaden your reach. LinkedIn “connections” are not akin to Facebook “friends.” Do not think that accepting a connection request means you have a personal connection with the individual; in fact, you may not even really know him/her. Instead, accepting a connection request means, “Thank you for access to your network, and if my network can be of assistance to you, I am happy to reciprocate.”

Seek recommendations. There are tools built into LinkedIn that let you easily request recommendations from those in your network. Having recommendations attached to your past experiences add value beyond what your résumé can typically convey and provides instant third-party credibility to your claims. I will caution you, however, not to reciprocate all of those recommendations. You want to have far more “recommendations received” than “recommendations given”; otherwise, your recommendations look a little disingenuous.

Other ways to deepen your involvement, reach, and potential influence include…
• Follow industry influencers and companies of interest
• Follow relevant hashtags to curate content for your newsfeed
• Join, and actively participate in professional and affinity groups
• Write and post articles or comment professionally on others’ articles
• Share examples of your work through media, presentations, and digital links

I hope these tips make you feel more comfortable when using LinkedIn and when accepting those connection requests. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the value of professional networking. LinkedIn provides free webinars for job seekers; I suggest you check those out.