LinkedIn is a formidable professional networking platform and powerful job board/search engine. The fact that 94% of recruiters use social media (mostly LinkedIn) to fill open positions should get you excited. Hopefully by now you have created a keyword rich, engaging and fully optimized profile that will help you stand out. This is your first step – if your profile is not updated and consistent with your resume and intended career direction then fix that before you do anything else!

Here is how you can maximize your time spent on LinkedIn and use this game-changing social media platform to get a job:

1. Understand where LinkedIn “fits” in the social media puzzle.

Recruiters, hiring managers and companies utilize three primary social media outlets – LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. In order to use LinkedIn effectively, you need to understand where it fits into social media networking.

Facebook is all about identity and branding – this could be personal branding or corporate identity through a business page. Twitter is focused on news and events – this is the platform to announce your latest blog post or share a breaking news story. LinkedIn is the best platform to conduct research on companies and connect/engage with the people and companies that can actually hire you.

You want to know everything that you possibly can about the corporate culture, challenges and successes of a company before you approach or interview with them. Use LinkedIn to look up the specific people you need to contact or that will be interviewing you and find points of connection that you can discuss. This will help you ask intelligent questions and bond over some things you have in common – maybe you went to the same school, have worked with the same people, or held positions at the same corporation. Knowledge is power and LinkedIn puts it right at your fingertips.

2. Connect and build your network.

This is the real “magic” of LinkedIn – everyone you meet is potentially someone you might end up working for, with, recruiting, mentoring or even referring. It is literally a gold mine of mentors, mentees, business opportunities and job leads!

So connect with everyone. Years ago there used to be advice out there to limit your network and only connect with people you personally know or have worked with – that information is outdated and will greatly inhibit your networking ability. So connect without restrictions, and make it personal. Take a few extra seconds to write a personalized message when you request a connection, something like this:

“I enjoyed your comments in the Executive Job Search group that we share in common and would love to connect with you. Good luck on your upcoming project, and lets keep in touch.”

This establishes a relationship from the very start and will help you stand out/be remembered amongst the 100’s of boiler plate “I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network” messages that people receive.

3. Get recommended (and endorsed) and take them seriously.

First of all, there is a big difference between recommendations and endorsements. Endorsements are given with a single click and don’t really say much about your abilities or skills – I have people endorse me all the time that I have never met or worked with – this is common and employers know it. But there is no harm in collecting them and you can add up to 50 skills, so go ahead and make sure this section is 100% complete.

Recommendations, on the other hand, should be taken seriously. I can not stress enough the importance and credibility that recommendations provide! Just like when I write your resume, I don’t just *say* you can do something, I prove it with specific examples… recommendations do this for your LinkedIn profile. If you are a consultant or freelancer, the recommendations serve as testimonials and are priceless. The bottom line is that they add credibility in the eyes of a recruiter or future employer and are one of the most important things you can do to strengthen your profile.

When you ask for a recommendation keep in mind that people are busy and really don’t enjoy writing them! They are doing you a big favor, so make sure you do two things – first, make it easy for them to write the recommendation. Remind them of a project you worked on, goal you accomplished, etc and tell them to “edit or adjust as they see fit”.  Second, offer to return the favor and write them a recommendation as well – that’s just the right thing to do, good business practice, and will greatly increase the chances of people taking time out of their busy day to recommend you!

4. LinkedIn has advanced search capabilities – learn how to use them.

LinkedIn is a high-powered search engine and over 5 billion searches were run through their platform in 2013. In addition, their intelligent search function will get a feel for your preferences over time and learn how to give you more targeted results.

To get started with search, go to the search bar on top; this is where you will type in your specific terms. For example, if I type in “Professional Resume Writing,” I will get a list of related jobs, groups, and people doing similar work. If I am connected to them, it will prompt me to message them, and if I am not connected to them, it will prompt me to connect.

The drop-down box next to the search bar (or once you are in “search,” the menu at the top left) allows you to customize your search by people, jobs, companies, groups, and inbox. Click “jobs” and you can further hone in by location, connections, industry, job function, and experience level.

Now, let’s say you click on a Product Manager position at Google located in San Francisco. One of the most helpful features of LinkedIn is that in addition to details on that job, you will get: 1) a list of other jobs at Google, 2) a list of similar jobs at other companies (for example, a Product Manager position at Facebook), and 3) a list of other jobs that people who viewed this job also viewed. And wait—there’s more! You’ll see a list of people that connect you to the position you are viewing, showing you exactly how and through whom you are connected. This is priceless because now, you can write that networking email (see the next tip below) asking your former co-worker to connect you to his friend from college who now works in that department at Google.

5. Write personalized and thoughtful networking emails.

You can directly message anyone in your network, and with an upgrade to Premium, you can message up to 10 people a year that you have no connection to.

First of all, keep it simple and make sure that what you are asking for is crystal clear. If you are looking for opportunities in Sales Management and would like to connect to Mr. Jones to have an informational chat about his experience in that field, then say so. Don’t be vague and don’t say that you’d like any job in that field. Mention your experience and explain how it matches a particular job or opening.

Second, act according to your objective. If you want a contact to forward your information, write an email that is easy to forward. If you want a contact to make an introduction, ask for it clearly, but also give them an out. They may not have spoken to that person in a long time or don’t feel comfortable making the intro for other reasons.

Here is an example of a good networking email:

Dear John,

I hope this message finds you well. I am applying for the Executive Director position with the XYZ Corporation, a favorite organization of mine. I saw that your friend, Lisa Smith, works for XYZ. I was wondering if you would feel comfortable making a connection between us, as I’d love to chat with her about her time at XYZ and my interest in this position. Many thanks in advance.

Best, Ben

I hope this list has given you some good information to work with, and use to run a more effective job search. As much as LinkedIn is currently one of the best tools available for finding employment, it’s not about the job. This is about your future. It’s about taking control and an active interest in your career. It’s about opportunities, relationships and new possibilities that could come your way simply because LinkedIn puts you in touch with hundreds of people that represent a vast continuum of talents, backgrounds and experiences.

When networking in person or via social media, it’s about relationships. Share, help others and grow.