It is estimated that more than half of the population secures a job through somebody they already know. This means that your connections – whether real-life or virtual – are invaluable assets when it comes to advancing your career and getting noticed for your talents and expertise.

LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional networking site now boasts 450 million users across 200 countries – 7 million of whom reside in Australia. It has evolved to become so much more than an online résumé. It has expanded its role from jobs and recruitment to being a news aggregator, a distributor and publisher of professional content, a personal branding platform, a social network and community of professionals.

At an AICD event held in Sydney recently, Karen Tisdell, a professional résumé writer and LinkedIn profile adviser, asked the audience of directors, executives and senior managers: “What does it say about you if you’re not on LinkedIn and everybody else is? And what does it say about you if you are on LinkedIn but aren’t talking to anybody?”

“Directors and executives should treat LinkedIn as seriously as any important, face-to-face networking event and should approach it like ‘working the room’. Be visible, be active, be engaging and above all, be genuine,” she said.

“If you commit to developing your profile, engaging with your connections and sharing your ideas and expertise online, it pays dividends.”

Tisdell provides answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about LinkedIn.

1. What makes a great LinkedIn profile?

There are three things that make a great LinkedIn profile:

  • A professional profile photo
    More often than not, your LinkedIn photo is the first thing that people see, and on social media first impressions count. Think carefully about the photo you choose for your profile and use it to promote your brand message. Invest in a professional photograph that reflects this: something that is personable, that shows off your character and personality, and is above all, professional.

  • An engaging summary
    Many people write their LinkedIn summary in the third person and use a direct ‘copy and paste’ from their professional biography. Your summary should be written in the first person and should be crafted to engage your current and future contacts with who you are, what you do and why you do it. The best summaries include some sort of narrative that captures your unique value proposition, the difference you bring to a board and why the sectors you have worked in are of interest to you. Talking about your motivators and vision is important, because as we are all coming to realise “people buy the ‘why’”.

  • Original and shared content
    All great profiles have media on them: engaging, original content that has been created by the individual and is based specifically on their interests and expertise. This is your chance to develop your thought leadership, so keep the subject matter specific. Have you recently given a talk in public, a PowerPoint presentation or an interview? Upload these, or even an extract of these, to your profile. In addition to creating, consider curating by sharing articles others have written to reinforce that you are informed and comfortable sharing ideas.

2. What is the most common mistake people make?

One of the most common mistakes people make on LinkedIn is that they do not feature their contact details on their profile. There is no point in building a great network if no one can reach out to you with advice or an opportunity. You want to be easy to contact and accessible. Give your network options by adding a link to your company website, your twitter handle, your email address and even your phone number.

3. A colleague of mine has requested I write a recommendation. Should I do it? Why?

Put simply – yes. Think about it in terms of expanding your networks: every time someone browses the profile of the person you’ve recommended, they will see you, your position and your expertise. It is also beneficial to view LinkedIn as a reward and recognition system. You can endorse someone’s skills as a thank you, or write them a recommendation.

4. Won’t I look crass if I ‘sell’ myself and my achievements online?

There’s some reticence about how LinkedIn is being used as a vehicle to ‘sell’, especially in senior circles. The best way you can promote your achievements and your expertise is through posting a range of content that is not product based, but ideas based. Sharing knowledge and ideas is an opportunity to enhance what you’re known for.

5. How can I engage in LinkedIn groups?

Directors and executives can engage in LinkedIn groups in several ways:

  • Create your own group, where you as convenor are seen as the leader and subject matter expert. This allows you to steer the conversation in the direction that favours your interests and expertise. It also increases your visibility to people who become members of that group.

  • Contribute to appropriate existing conversations. Look at discussions that are going on and be selective about where and what you contribute.

  • Only join groups that look credible to you, that match your expertise and where you (and your brand) can add value.