LinkedInLinkedIn is a free social networking site made up of more than 200 million business professionals and job seekers. It can also be used for personal branding and as a contact management system.

College students preparing to launch careers can use LinkedIn to begin building a diverse network of contacts. The goal for them is to connect with a variety of people and develop mutually beneficial, trusting relationships over time.

The first step in any LinkedIn journey is filling out the user profile – completely. That includes uploading a somewhat professional photo, adding contact info, work history, and links to any websites or blogs used for personal branding. If “real world” work experiences are slim, college students can add internships and school projects to their profile as a way to showcase their experience.

Building a professional profile that includes meaningful recommendations can be useful when it comes to personal brand-building. Be selective and only ask people that can provide a relevant recommendation. Make sure to include a personal note with each request; consider setting an initial goal of asking 3-5 peers, teachers, advisors, or employers for a recommendation. Note: don’t be the person who sends out a blanket request to everyone they have ever known just hoping for a few nibbles.

New users will benefit from learning early on that LinkedIn works best as a two way street – help others succeed by writing recommendations and endorsing their skills too. It’s easy to do and is always appreciated. Note: take time to write all recommendations thoughtfully – they will be featured on both users’ profiles. It may seem obvious, but use complete sentences and double check for spelling or grammar issues before submitting.

As with any form of social media, engagement is important. Be positive and encouraging; watch for opportunities to “like” or comment on contact’s status updates – doing so will keep your name fresh on their mind.

In today’s world, people (not just students) are transitional; they seem to change employers every couple of years and even move to other cities – it’s easy to lose touch. LinkedIn can be used as a simple contact management tool that basically updates itself – unlike traditional business cards or digital address books. Regardless of how careers evolve, or where connections move, users have access to their contact’s current email address, phone number, etc.

If you are a college student ready to leverage the power of LinkedIn, check out these three articles that share best practices and quick tips.

This post originally appeared on Nate Smoyer’s blog, Specializing in Generalizing.

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