Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 3.57.20 PMLinkedIn is a unique social media animal. Whereas Facebook or Instagram might be the online equivalent of lounging around in your sweatpants bag of Cheetos in hand with your housemates, LinkedIn is more akin to put a crisp suit or best skirt and sitting down to a meeting with you boss all the while projecting an aura of confidence and poise.

So, when you’re thinking about penning your first LinkedIn profile or retrofitting your existing one, here are a dozen do’s and don’t that will help ensure that you’re using this powerful resource to its maximum potential.

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Your profile picture is usually the first things anyone searching your LinkedIn profile will see. Without a photo, you’ll be 11 times less searchable than your competition. But reserve the selfies for Instagram and Twitter. Make sure your profile picture is a simple, professional shot.

Also, think about customizing your headline. Rather simply saying your are “Social Media Intern at the Red Cross,” add information about you can help potential connections. For example, “Social Media Intern at the Red Cross, Adept at Creating Community, Breaking Down Barriers, and Moving People of Diverse Backgrounds to Action.”

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On LinkedIn, like in most professional interactions, time is often of the essence. While it might appear desperate or even creepy to friend someone on Facebook after only just meeting them, the calculus is different on LinkedIn. If you’ve just chatted up someone for the first time at conference or other professional gathering, ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn before you part. The longer you wait, the less likely it is that you might be remembered.

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Just as in the real world, the personal touch means everything online as well. Bearing this in mind, you will want to customize your invitation when trying to connect with someone you may had have little or no existing contact with. For example, when you’re scrolling through LinkedIn’s list of “People You May Know,” you’ll see a blue box underneath each person’s headshot and title that says “Connect.” If you immediately click on this box you will NOT get a chance to customize your invitation. The same holds true if you’re looking at search results. You’ll see a blue connect box to the right of each person’s info. Using that button won’t allow you to make your request unique. The only way you can change the connection request is if you click “Connect” when you’re DIRECTLY on someone’s profile.

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To drive the point home, people are more likely to respond to your request to connect if you tailor the message to them. Simply using the default “I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn” feels robotic and a bit lazy. Do a little digging. Did this contact recently post a new promotion, earn a degree or celebrate a work anniversary? If so, try building these elements into your connection requests. For example, “Dear Ms. Chen, Congratulations on publishing your new article in the Washington Post. I’m looking forward to reading your next piece.” Customized messages make people feel special. So, it’s worth the extra effort.

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You’ve no doubt heard the oft repeated phrase, “It’s not what you know buy who you know.” LinkedIn is a great to tool to get a referral to those people who work at your dream company. Say, for example, you wanted to work for National Geographic. Type “National Geographic” into LinkedIn and then fine tune your search by choosing to the option to see people currently employed by the company. If you’ve got a first degree connection, you’re way ahead!  Perhaps, you have a second degree connection. Reach out to your first degree contact and ask him or her for an introduction. If find that you don’t have any shared connections, don’t worry. Use LinkedIn groups to get around that problem. Click here for some great templates and strategies for all the scenarios presented.

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A great way to strengthen your LinkedIn hand is by having recommendation requests from past co-workers, supervisors, even professors displayed on your profile. Rather than using LinkedIn’s default: “I’m writing to ask if you would write a brief recommendation of my work…”, make your request personal. Be specific. For example, identify a specific project you may have worked on with the colleague you’re reaching out to AND be sure to identify why you’re looking for a recommendation from that particular person. Try to be as specific as possible. The more details you share, the easier your connection’s job will be. And don’t forget to thank those who have recommended you via LinkedIn message, by giving your own recommendation, or via a tried and true hand-written note.

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