Top professionals use it, which means you should too.

We get it—our lives are supersaturated with social media. From hashtags to check-ins, status updates to Twitter trends, social media and all its trappings can be off-putting, especially to those of us who remember a time when most information about our lives were kept private.

At the same time, social media is now an integral part of our world, including the working world, which means it really does behoove you to join a major professional online network, such as LinkedIn. With more than 347 million members in 200 countries (including 111 million in the US, 10 million in Canada, and 54 million in Europe), LinkedIn is simply the place to be online if you’re a working professional or plan to become one.

Because LinkedIn is a professional network rather than a purely social one, it’s loaded with features that can actually help you launch and advance your career. By joining LinkedIn, you can:

  • Showcase your skills and experiences. LinkedIn’s resume-style format allows you to highlight your major professional experiences and accomplishments, including your educational background, the skills you acquired in graduate school, and the value you added in various part-time jobs and roles you’ve had over the years. This can help headhunters, interviewers, and others who are interested in you professionally get to know more about your accomplishments and capabilities.
  • Keep track of and learn more about the professionals you meet. “Connecting” with the people you meet on informational interviews will help you learn more about their fields and current jobs. It’ll also help them remember you, which may pay off if they hear of a position that might suit your skills and experience.
  • Identify connections you didn’t know exist. When you sign up for LinkedIn, you’ll be joining a true network of professionals. Each node, or connection, you add to your network adds their networks, too, which creates a giant web of companies, alma maters, and experiences just waiting for you to explore. Even better, this network is fully searchable, giving you access to people who might be willing to share their stories and give you the inside scoop on jobs, organizations, and industries.
  • See how professionals in different fields describe what they do. Exploring profiles of people who work in the positions, organizations, and fields that interest you can clue you in to the key words and phrases they use to communicate their skills and experiences to their colleagues. Learning the insider’s lingo and incorporating it into your cover letters, resumes, and interviews can give you a leg up and make you stand out from those who talk like they’re new to the field.

Best part? All these features are free. Getting started takes just a few minutes—a few minutes that could very well be some of the highest-yield time you spend on your job search. Sign up here.

Photo credit: “Social Network in a Course” (enhanced and lightened) by Hans Põldoja, via Flickr Creative Commons, used under CC BY 2.0.