The ever-evolving social media world can be tough to keep up with, particularly when it comes to job hunting. There are numerous online platforms with countless tools and applications designed to connect individuals with those with similar interests.

However, many of these platforms and tools tend to be more focused on the “social” aspect of social media. One major exception is LinkedIn, which is often referred to as the professional social network. With more than 120 million users worldwide, LinkedIn certainly seems to have cornered the professional networking market.

Although popular, the average LinkedIn user is in their mid-40s, which has created a perception among many younger professionals and college students that it’s not for them. But in these tough times, job seekers—no matter their age—need every edge they can get.

A LinkedIn profile is a great way to:

1) Manage Your Professional Brand: Your online presence is typically the first impression with a recruiter or business contact. Recruiters will Google you, and you need to be in control of what they are going to find. LinkedIn profiles typically rank high in Google searches.

2) Organize Professional Relationships: LinkedIn is a great way to organize and manage professional relationships. Contacts you make during the job hunt and throughout your career may not necessarily make sense as Facebook friends. LinkedIn offers a platform for maintaining your professional network while keeping it separate from your personal life.

3) Gather and Display Recommendations: LinkedIn has a tool for requesting and posting recommendations from other users who have worked with you professionally. This allows you to build your credibility by harnessing the power of third-party endorsements. Remember, requesting a recommendation is also a great excuse for reaching out to former colleagues you may have lost touch with.

4) Become an Expert: The best way to gain credibility in a field is to become a go-to resource. LinkedIn offers a number of tools for helping professionals engage with peers to exchange information and ideas. For example: LinkedIn Groups, LinkedIn Answers, and LinkedIn Today are all great ways to reach out to colleagues and become part of the trending conversations in your field. These tools are a great way to learn the lingo of your field and become a virtual “insider.”

5) Attract Recruiters: Recruiters use LinkedIn. The job search isn’t always an active process, and hiring managers and recruiters use the tool to find candidates to fill openings. Pay attention to key words in your profile, and be sure to have them peppered throughout the following sections of your LinkedIn profile:

•Summary

•Specialties

•Skills

•Recommendations

In these challenging times every advantage helps. Whether you are a graduating college student or a transitioning professional, it’s never too early or too late to start!