As you have likely heard, LinkedIn's shares more than doubled in their first day of trading. Business growth may be sluggish in other arenas, but it is booming for today's social networking sites. LinkedIn alone has more than 100 million members, and has revolutionized the way people communicate--especially when it comes to networking. It has transformed the market for job seekers and employers alike, turning casual "keep-in-touch" requests into full-blown networking opportunities. Gone are the days of grabbing your trusty highlighter, and sitting down at the kitchen table to circle jobs in your local newspaper. Also fading in popularity (and effectiveness) is the act of searching the job boards for your next opportunity. Today's career search has evolved into something far more public.
Many people may be hesitant to join social networking sites, fearing over-exposure, unprofessionalism, etc. I understand those hesitations and sympathize. LinkedIn however, serves a different purpose, and has a decidedly different social agenda. It is a burgeoning source of information. The site structures its profiles like resumes and attracts the attention of job seekers (and companies looking to hire), spurring the market (which is already inclined towards attrition) to change.
LinkedIn's biggest attribute is its transparency. It offers many channels with which one can leverage contacts and inspire opportunity. What makes LinkedIn such a valuable tool is its ability to connect you not only with the contacts you already have, but more importantly, with the people you need to know. The site provides a rundown of employees currently working at any given company, listing by degrees of separation, who knows whom. It even gives the seeker the option to request an introduction from colleagues more directly connected to the person he/she is looking to meet. This gives an additional layer of credibility to the average request. In short, LinkedIn is your Rolodex-- in hyper speed.
The site's usability goes far beyond the job search, however. Your profile can be used not only to network, but to new avenue for communication overall. LinkedIn is a forum for exchanging ideas, and asking questions. By joining the site's groups, you are instantly connected with a faction of (assumedly informed) professionals in any given field. If used to it's potential, LinkedIn becomes a new professional community.
Your responsibility in "linking in" is to do so considerately. Keep your profile current. Join groups, find colleagues, and reconnect with past contacts. Be careful, however, not to abuse its capabilities. It can be a fine line between capitalizing on LinkedIn's functions, and over-saturating the site.
LinkedIn is an exceptional resource, both as a tool for seeking new employment, and simply as a new channel for everyday interactions. My advice is to use it wisely-- network, post, and dig. Get your nose out of the paper, and your name on LinkedIn.