How to Use LinkedIn: A Guide to Online Networking

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Networking and professional development have gone digital, making it more important than ever to have a powerful online presence on LinkedIn.

[Featured Image] A woman uses a smartphone while commuting on a bus.

LinkedIn, the popular professional networking site with 800 million members worldwide, can be a powerful tool for professional development. First launched in 2003, LinkedIn is an online platform designed to create and strengthen business connections, regardless of field or location [1].

Often compared to Facebook, which many use for professional purposes, LinkedIn focuses on connecting with other professionals instead of friends and family. Members are online to network professionally, not just socially.

With the shift toward remote work and virtual networking, online services like LinkedIn are becoming even more important for professional development.

LinkedIn is also a place many prospective employers go to learn more about candidates, so if you haven’t begun exploring LinkedIn, now is the time. 

What is the purpose of LinkedIn?

If your only experience is social media through sites like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, the concept of professional networking online could feel very new. After all, a mark of professionalism is to keep much of your personal life and professional life separate. That’s what makes this site so unique.

LinkedIn members use the platform for business in many ways, including to:


  • Help new candidates research new companies and their teams

  • Establish professional reputations as an expert in an industry

  • Direct recruiters to potential candidates with relevant experience

  • Connect professionals with peers to grow their professional reach

  • Foster professional growth through groups in an industry

  • Highlight industry best practices and news from community posts

Most importantly, you can use LinkedIn to create a personal brand for yourself. It provides a platform where you can quickly and clearly explain what sets you apart from other professionals in your industry. You can show prospective employers and associates your education, experience, skills, and professional network. It’s a quick way to show all the effort you’ve put into what you do every day at work.

Networking with an online handshake

Whether you’re first starting out or have been adding to your resume for years, you can advance your career with the help of LinkedIn. You’ll discover people from all kinds of professional backgrounds, from C-suite executives to students. But most importantly, you’ll find people you likely already know. 

Once you’ve created your profile, the first step to using LinkedIn successfully is to build your network. You can easily connect with past coworkers and people you know and respect socially. Adding former classmates, family members, and coworkers is akin to trading business cards.

What’s more, the messaging function within the platform makes it easy to engage in conversations with those you might not otherwise see in person.

Finding job opportunities

Within the bar of icons located at the top of your home page, you’ll find a link for “jobs.” This is the key to discovering new professional opportunities with the bonus of quickly seeing if anyone from your network or any groups you’ve joined have experience with the company.

You’ll be able to filter the list of job openings by keywords related to your industry, job titles, locations, specific companies, experience level, salary requirements, and much more. You can create a targeted LinkedIn search and set alerts for new opportunities, so you can quickly apply.

Applying for jobs

Within the jobs tab, there is an opportunity to complete what is known as a skills assessment. This online test allows you to earn a Verified Skills badge on your profile, and LinkedIn’s research discovered that this quick test makes it about 30 percent more likely to get hired.  

It’s important not to skip the step of polishing your profile—including adding badges—before clicking on the “Easy Apply/Apply Now” button on the top of each job opening on the site. This process leads you through the steps for adding the requested information before reviewing and submitting your application.

Producing content

When it comes to positioning yourself as an expert in your industry, LinkedIn’s news feed is ideal. With a click, you can share a wealth of information that you’ve written and discovered through additional online research. It’s possible to share photos, videos, events, and full articles with your professional network directly on the site.

Along with producing content, you can interact similarly to Facebook and other social media sites. The difference, of course, is that everything is professional. Compare it to an online chamber of commerce, designed just for your professional interests and goals.

Following thought leaders in your industry

Let’s say you’re interested in exploring a tech field and seek to expand your network. Whether or not Elon Musk, for example, accepts you into his professional network, you will be able to use LinkedIn to learn from him. Another great benefit of this online platform is the ability to follow thought leaders by simply clicking the “+ Follow” link next to their name.

You can better understand best practices, industry trends, and news you need to know in your industry and beyond by following influential people. It’s a free and simple way to stay informed of the information that can help you advance your career.

Understanding LinkedIn Features

LinkedIn offers a rich experience of features that allows you to deepen professional relationships. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s a good idea to veer away from self-promotion. Instead, approach your profile and content sharing from a place of confidence in your abilities. Even if you’re just starting out, you offer unique experience, education, and skills that are worth highlighting.


Steps to creating a great profile 

Before expanding your network, producing content, and applying for jobs, you’ll need to complete your profile. Follow these steps to impress your future employers and current peers: 

1. Pick your best photo.

If you don’t have a professional headshot, hire a photographer or enlist a friend with good photography skills. Dress as if you’re headed straight to a job interview or day at your workplace and take many shots with excellent lighting and a warm smile. Your profile photo will be the first thing people see, so present yourself as the professional you are.

LinkedIn also allows for a background image, known as a banner or cover image. Connect the image to something you’d like to highlight personally or professionally. Consider it an opportunity for a conversation starter.

2. Add a headline and an “About” section.

Each profile allows 120 characters for a headline at the top [2]. Include your industry and location.

Next, you’ll be able to fill in an “About” section. This may be the most important element of your profile, as it provides an opportunity to summarize your accomplishments, focus, and goals. Don’t rush this process; instead, use it to share an engaging story about you. Show your personality and skill set with color and, when appropriate, humor. Ask a trusted colleague for feedback before publishing your summary.

3. Fill in your work experience and education.

The next section serves as a longer resume. You’ll be able to list your job titles and responsibilities through the years, as well as links to appropriate websites. The more details you provide, the more your professional network will understand your worth. Review this section as closely as you would your resume to avoid glaring typos.  

Next, list your education and all appropriate training and your volunteer experience. The more you show others through your actions that you care about your community, the more your community will appreciate you. 

4. Ask for and share endorsements.

The last section of a LinkedIn profile is for “Skills & Endorsements.” List the skills you are most proud of from your job experience, and then ask your professional network to provide endorsements.

A great way to get more endorsements is to give them yourself. This is a free and straightforward way to strengthen a relationship. Be specific and detailed when sharing your experience with another professional. Short explanations regarding your business relationship can help your professional development journeys.

Advantages of LinkedIn

For professional development, LinkedIn offers many advantages. While other social media sites can provide opportunities to connect with people in your industry and professional community, only LinkedIn focuses on business-related topics. For those who get exhausted or frustrated by the debates and distractions of other platforms, LinkedIn is refreshing.

It’s designed to help people grow professionally, offering rare opportunities to discover new job openings for free. You can join as many groups as you’d like, and it’s possible to ask questions and send messages to other members. Search for specific topics using hashtags, just as you would with other social media platforms.

Be aware of possible challenges

Like everything, LinkedIn isn’t perfect. While you have access to many features through the free basic membership, you’ll need to pay $29.99 a month for a premium account if you want full access [3].

For example, a basic plan does not allow you to send InMail messages to those outside your personal LinkedIn network. A premium account lets you send five messages a month with the ability to buy more. A premium account also floats your job applications to the top of the pile and allows you to see a complete list of who has viewed your profile.

If you aren’t active on the platform, you may experience other issues. It can be tricky to adjust your settings to receive notifications about connection requests or messages. You can download the free app from theApple Store and Google Play, but there have been reports over the years of frustrating bugs. However, overall, many professionals agree the platform is worth it, especially if you’re looking to get ahead.

Get started today

Setting up a LinkedIn account is easy with any email address. Going through the steps to complete a profile can take time, but it’s an effective way to let others around the world know about the work you’ve done over the years.

You may want to brush up on your writing skills if you plan to publish white papers and blogs to maximize the site's features.

You can browse Coursera for online Specialization courses like Good With Words: Writing and Editing from the University of Michigan. You’ll gain confidence and skills, so you’re ready to improve your career outlook using LinkedIn.

Related articles

Article sources

1. LinkedIn. “About Linkedin," Accessed March 4, 2022.

2. Mind Tools. “How to Use Linkedin Effectively: Getting the Best from the World's Biggest Networking Site," Accessed March 4, 2022.

3. MakeUseOf. “Is LinkedIn Premium Worth Paying for? 3 Things to Consider," Accessed March 4, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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