Admit it. You're pretty proud of your LinkedIn profile.

Professional photo? Check.

Compelling summary? Got it.

Relevant job and education info? Of course.

To top it off, you even customized the URL for your public profile so that you could include it on your resume and in your email signature.

Impressive, indeed.

So what's next? How about applying a few simple LinkedIn strategies that can take your profile to the next level, boost your networking prowess and strengthen the foundation for your job search?

Staying proactive with LinkedIn

Nancy Cheek is Saint Leo University's career advisor in the Center for Online Learning. She works with students in the university's online degree program, meeting one-on-one to help them research industries and career paths, polish their resumes and cover letters, and prepare for job interviews.

Cheek also conducts professional webinars for students that delve into a wide variety of career topics and job-search skills – from exploring career paths to using social media to get hired.

To follow-up on her LinkedIn Basics webinar, Cheek developed an Intermediate LinkedIn presentation.

"I wanted to answer the question, 'What's next?' and provide students with information that will help them make their LinkedIn profiles stand out and be noticed," says Cheek. "It's so important that students stay proactive on LinkedIn. It could very well be the single, most-important tool they use in their job search."

Here are highlights from Cheek's Intermediate LinkedIn webinar – five strategies for networking and laying the groundwork for a job search.

1. Start following 5-10 companies you would like to work for.

More than ever before, hiring managers today expect you to know all about their companies when you meet for interviews; therefore, it's imperative that you learn everything you can about their organizations.

The good news is that LinkedIn makes this easy. If you do not want to relocate, start by researching companies in your geographic area, or expand your search if you do. Cheek recommends following 5-10 companies. Find the organization's LinkedIn profile and click the follow button. Now everything the company posts will appear in your news feed and you can stay up-to-date.

2. Increase your connections using Advanced Search.

Cheek says that in most cases, it takes more than 500 connections to get noticed on LinkedIn. After making the easy connections with family, friends, neighbors, instructors and classmates, increase your connections by using the site's Advanced Search feature.

Get your feet with this feature by looking for Saint Leo alumni by keyword, school and location. After that, search for employees at the companies where you would like to work and reaching out to people who are in positions that match what you would like to do. A third suggestion is to join a few groups related to your career field. Following a group's news feed gives you access to additional people with whom you can connect.

3. Ask for recommendations.

Don't be shy to ask for recommendations, which is an easy process on LinkedIn. Managers, co-workers, employees, even your online professors can provide valuable information about your talents and work ethic. These recommendations post on your profile and make you a stronger job candidate.

When you ask for a recommendation, consider personalizing the standard LinkedIn message to be specific about what you would like the person to address. If they know about your leadership skills, suggest they comment on that. And if someone gives you a recommendation, consider providing one for them.

4. Become active on your own profile and in your groups.

LinkedIn is full of valuable industry information and Cheek strongly recommends getting involved in discussions related to your professional interests. Share posts you read on your news feeds from companies you are following, adding your own comments. Posting industry-related articles you've found from credible resources will also strengthen your image, could engage you in conversations, and get you noticed by hiring managers. Something as simple as liking someone else's post could lead to a connection.

5. Create job alerts.

You may already have job alerts set up through other sites such as Indeed, Glassdoor or Monster to let you know of openings in your field, but Cheek says you should also use LinkedIn's job-alert feature. Unlike other alert services, LinkedIn provides access to the hiring recruiter posting the job so you know to whom to address your application materials – a significant advantage over other job-search sites.

Keep in mind you can create and begin receiving alerts long before you are ready to start applying for these positions. Seeing what types of candidates companies are looking for will help you be better prepared when you do start applying.

The one thing you must do first

Before taking any steps to improve and enhance your LinkedIn profile, Cheek advises adjusting your privacy settings by going into your privacy controls and turning off activity broadcasts.

"All of your connections don't need to know about every little edit you make. If you're adding a skill or just changing a headline, you don't want all of your connections getting notifications."

The sooner the better

Cheek encourages students to create a LinkedIn profile and become active on the site as soon as possible.

"This is not something you do two weeks before graduation. It can take weeks, months and years to develop a foundation of research and a network of people who trust you. That's why it's important to start taking advantage of the career services we offer all online students here at Saint Leo – and let me help you get started on LinkedIn – as early in your educational journey as possible."

Do you have any other tips for using LinkedIn that you would like to share in the comments below?

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