Whether you’re starting out on LinkedIn for a job hunt, a strategic partnership or a way to open up a new opportunity, you need a strong professional network (think quality over quantity).

Without this online rolodex, it is much more difficult to get through the door of a whole spectrum of possible career choices or business relationships.

If you know the industry you want to get into and you have a few places to target, developing strong connections with people in your work field would help you greatly. To maximize your network, you should utilize LinkedIn to its full potential. It’s like Facebook...but for professionals only.

To get the most out of what LinkedIn can do for your job search or for your business venture, follow these 5 easy steps.

Re-connect with old friends and colleagues

If you know any previous employers, colleagues, peers, associates and acquaintances – you should find a way to get in touch with them. Send them an invite to connect with them and see what’s going on.

Re-introduce yourself and make a fresh start. Always re-acquaint with old friends or colleagues so that you can develop a deeper connection with them in the future.

Find recruiters and hiring managers on LinkedIn

One of the best ways to make quick connections is to upgrade to a premium account. This will allow you to connect with any recruiter on LinkedIn and fully optimize your job search.

Not only do you have access to over 100 million member profiles, you can contact any of the industry professionals on LinkedIn you want! You get expanded search results, expanded profile viewing and an expanded view of who has seen your profile as well. That’s a lot of access! So take advantage.

Develop a strong contact list

You should constantly develop relationships with business partners to make sure they know you via your personal and professional brand.If you can make strong connections you will already have a higher percentage of gaining new opportunities.

LinkedIn is a great place to reach out and build partnerships, arrange meetings and to discuss plans. Collaboration is your competitive advantage and LinkedIn gives you that edge.

Join LinkedIn groups and relevant discussions

Engage in daily topics in groups and join relevant discussions. If you want to add more connections, you have to be active on LinkedIn daily.

It’s not enough to just reply to someone’s post, you have to start your own discussions and get people to join in on your conversation. This way, you will have a number of followers that you can share and gather information with.

Make connections with people you don’t know

For example, if you like someone’s blog, why not reference their name on LinkedIn and send them an invite saying you really enjoy reading their content?

Did you know that for every connection you make, you have access to their personal connections as well? You can use this tool to your advantage by sending InMails to a targeted audience. Start sharing your profile with as many people as you can to jumpstart your career.

The best way to connect with new people on LinkedIn is to introduce yourself. Think of how you would approach a professional at a junction that you didn’t know but have read their blog or even seen them on TV. Don’t just send an invite to someone and wait for them to reply.

Show that you’re interested in getting to know them, especially if you are in the same industry as they are in. A couple of sentences could go a long way.

An example I received the other day:

Hi Amos, thanks for sharing good suggestions, links on the group discussion and your website. Like to keep in touch instead of only using the "follow" button. Thanks! VW

After you tried optimizing your network on LinkedIn, you should build solid relationships with your contacts. If one of your connections refers you to their hiring manager or even sends your job application to their department, you must send them a thank-you letter as a token of your appreciation.

You could even arrange a time to thank them in person or make a call over the phone to personally show your gratitude. These little things can go a long way when it comes to developing strong connections with people in your own industry.

Neal Schaffer, author of "Maximizing LinkedIn for Sales and Social Media Marketing" concludes: "Before you establish your LinkedIn network you need to get your house in order. Completely fill out and "brand" your profile - it will greatly increase the chance that previous classmates and colleagues will remember you as well as give you more credibility and increase the chance that those you reach out to will positively respond to you."

Don’t be at a loss of words. Start networking without a network today!

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