By now we have all at least heard of LinkedIn. It’s an extremely popular and powerful business social network; however, many college students have yet to capitalize on the great potential of this site. So I’m here to give you the down low on not only why you should have a profile, but how to avoid some big mistakes that first time users make when setting up their account.

Related: 4 Ways Students Can Make the Most of LinkedIn

Why It’s Important

Think of LinkedIn as your professional online personality and as a tool that is as important, if not more so, than a resume. In the technology driven age we live in today, having a social media site that is dedicated to professional networking and displaying your accomplishments is a must.

One of the main misconceptions amongst students is that they shouldn’t have a LinkedIn account until they have a real career. We all know that most employers are Google-ing, Facebook-ing and online stalking us as much as possible before an interview, so having a profile full of accomplishments, goals and experience looks much better than a Facebook full of “Corporate Hoes and CEOs” pictures.

Try to tailor your profile towards the field you’re looking at going into, and emphasize it in everything you include. This may also be a great motivator to go out and start volunteering again to spruce up your profile.

Not only is your LinkedIn profile an online version of your resume, it’s an extension of your personal brand. LinkedIn has a great relationship with Google, and offers a lot of SEO (search engine optimization) opportunities. So load up your profile with your experiences and keywords that you want employers to know about you, then Google yourself, and you’ll find your LinkedIn profile on the first page of results.

Aside from presenting a professional online image, LinkedIn, like all networking sites, allows you to connect with others you know and don’t know (yet). LinkedIn connections are much more important than Facebook friends or Twitter followers, as connecting with others on LinkedIn can lead to recommendations for positions, job offers and even an inside track to the decision makers at your dream company.

Related: How to Professionalize Your Facebook Profile

What Not To Do

Creating a LinkedIn is step one towards entering the 21st century of job searching and personal branding, step two is making it an outstanding profile. Most marketing companies offer LinkedIn consulting and developing services to make your profile the best it can be, so you should definitely take it seriously. Below are the top five mistakes college students make on LinkedIn:

  • Using an unprofessional picture — Think of your LinkedIn picture as a second senior portrait — dress professionally and keep the picture to just you — so no dogs, no t-shirts, and especially no alcohol.
  • Including unprofessional language — Like I said, think of this as your online resume on steroids — be a professional about it.
  • Only connecting to people you know — “Don’t think of this as your normal ‘friending’ process; instead, connect with anyone that could be beneficial in your job hunt and future career,” says Kaitlin Keeler, Director of Marketing for Miyan Media and social media consultant. “You should have at least one thing in common with a potential connection: school, organization, skills, groups, or connections. Do not try to connect to dozens of random users in hopes that by having a huge network you will somehow be a more important candidate. Quality connections matter more than quantity, so being strategically connected to a few key people in an organization you’re interested in is more important than being connected to 500+ strangers.”
  • Keeping your profile private — Unlike Facebook, which you should keep on lock down when looking for jobs or even just hiding from relatives and ex girlfriends, you need to make your LinkedIn profile public. Employers can’t hire you if they can’t find you.
  • Leaving your profile alone after making it — Hoping that an employer will somehow stumble across your profile and call you the next day offering you a dream job will get you nowhere.  Look for professional groups to join, post content related to your field and look for ways to be constantly engaged with your network and others.

Related: The Importance of a Personal Website