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PhotoPeople who use LinkedIn are usually looking to: find a job/clients, hire or partner with new people, keep tabs on their business acquaintances, and network, or more specifically, become visibly active in professional communities that matter to their long-term career goals. For all of these purposes, LinkedIn is pretty stellar.

When it comes to finding employment or employees, LinkedIn offers phenomenal search tools that let you drill down by multiple factors. You can search for people or companies by location, field of expertise, skill level, and even keep the search to people within your network or who are only one degree removed (in which case, you can request an introduction from the mutual contact).

Premium users of LinkedIn (from $19.95 per month) get a few special features not found in the free account. For starters, when you sign up, you'll be invited to webinars that walk you through some of the bonus features of having a paid account. I sat in on one and found it highly useful. The instructor explained not only what the features were and how they worked, but also provided context-specific tips on how to get the most out of them. For example, she explained why it's important to write a short message when sending another LinkedIn user "InMail" (direct messages to any LinkedIn member, regardless of whether you're connected) because the recipient will likely preview the message via an email notification.

Paid LinkedIn members get to send between three and 25 InMails per month, depending on their subscription level, and InMail messages are guaranteed. Guaranteed how, you ask? Well, as the lovely instructor explained in my webinar, your limited InMail credit is refunded if you don't get a reply from the recipient within seven days.

Premium Search tools, another benefit for paid members, give you much greater leverage with the search functionality as well as better insights into the results.

Premium users can also set up alerts that flag when a profile meets some saved search criteria. For additional details about the different account types, see LinkedIn's upgrade comparison chart.

Keeping Tabs
LinkedIn offers excellent features for searching and sorting through your contacts. You can set parameters to find people by geographic location, company affiliation, the industry they work in, and more. How much information you can see about someone who is not in your network, however, is to an extent under that user's control.

In LinkedIn's Settings are options for making your public profile visible to no one (outside your network, that is) or everyone. If everyone can see your profile, you still have the option to turn off or on the visibility of certain sections, such as picture, headline, summary, skills, education, and additional information.

Another reason people use LinkedIn is to keep pace with their professional network. While many job sectors have copious face-to-face networking opportunities built into the everyday business, others leave people isolated from their peers and colleagues sometimes for months on end. LinkedIn fills this gap by providing numerous ways for users to discuss ideas and simply connect over conversation.

First, a feed of "status updates," nearly identical to what you'll find on Facebook and Twitter is front and center when you log into the site. The status update feed can help surface trends among your colleagues, but more interesting and deeper discussions tend to take place on group pages. Groups comprise professional organizations, alumni associations, academic societies, and thousands of unique circles that reflect different interests. While some groups are open to anyone to join, others require permission. In my experience using LinkedIn, the Groups tend to offer more value than the feed. Posting to discussion topics, updating your status, and replying to other people's posts all serve to keep your name and face in front of the people who matter to you and will have an impact on your career.

Additional Features
Since its inception, and certainly since its IPO, LinkedIn has increased the number of services and features on the site by a lot. This year, the site has made small changes to its design to make the interface less overwhelming, such as by streamlining some of the navigation bar options, for example, and showing large images of your contacts rather than a jam-packed list with thumbnails.

Recently, LinkedIn acquired the news-curation service Pulse, so you can now customize your LinkedIn homepage to show you relevant news updates provided by the service. When you select to add Pulse content to your LinkedIn account, you'll see a grid of cards containing colorful images and brief descriptions about the content it'll provide, such as "Big Ideas and Innovation," or "Economy."

Pulse is too new for me to say whether it's better than the previous news-stream experience, which I found surprisingly informative. In the past, I'd often log into LinkedIn just to find someone's contact information and get sucked into reading a business-minded column about increasing productivity or, ironically, becoming more mindful. The articles that LinkedIn solicits are often quite interesting to me and usually written by people I find truly influential or innovative. I've yet to see if Pulse can match it.

The Email Dilemma
One huge gripe LinkedIn members have is that the service sends them excessive email. I absolutely feel that LinkedIn sends too much email by default, but I also think the options it offers are excellent. It's just that you have to go in and use those options.

In some circumstances, the email summaries actually allow you to visit LinkedIn less often. They give you information you want, such as a listing of open jobs that might fit your experience, and if you read that email and decide that nothing tickles your fancy, you're done. You don't have to go to LinkedIn and investigate further. All the relevant information is in the email.

On the other hand, it's easy to get bombarded with multiple messages from LinkedIn weekly, or worse, daily. If that's your beef, go to Privacy & Settings (hover over your profile picture in the upper right corner) > Communications > Set the frequency of emails. From there, you can change the preferences for 25—TWENTY-FIVE!—email notifications. I have many of mine switched off completely, although a few that I care about are set to delivery weekly or twice-monthly messages.

LinkedIn for Everyone
If you're at all invested in your career, you really should be on LinkedIn. The site makes it easy to have an account that provides real value without asking much of you in return, although you can certainly explore the site's many features and services, too. Setting up an account amounts to copying and pasting your resume into a few fields, and adding connections takes little more than browsing through the names that are already in your Web-based email accounts.

For hiring managers, LinkedIn has quickly become one of the most valuable places to find talented people. The job board section has improved and expanded radically since around 2010. LinkedIn remains a great site that delivers real results for both networking gurus as well as people who are sometimes wallflowers in real life. LinkedIn is a clear Editors' Choice for all it can do to help you get ahead.