Make the most of your LinkedIn profile

More than 60 million members have logged on to create profiles, upload their employment histories, and build connections with people they know. Visitors to the site have jumped 31% from last year to 17.6 million in February. They include your customers. Your colleagues. Your competitors. Your boss. And being on LinkedIn puts you in the company of people with impressive credentials: The average member is a college-educated 43-year-old making $107,000. More than a quarter are senior executives. Every Fortune 500 company is represented. That’s why recruiters rely on the site to find even the highest-caliber executives: Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) found CFO Jeff Epstein via LinkedIn in 2008.

The reason LinkedIn works so well for professional matchmaking is that most of its members already have jobs. A cadre of happily employed people use it to research clients before sales calls, ask their connections for advice, and read up on where former colleagues are landing gigs.

In this environment, job seekers can do their networking without looking as if they’re shopping themselves around. This population is more valuable to recruiters as well. While online job boards like focus on showcasing active job hunters, very often the most talented and sought-after recruits are those currently employed. Headhunters have a name for people like these: passive candidates. The $8 billion recruiting industry is built on the fact that they are hard to find. LinkedIn changes that. It’s the equivalent of a little black book — highly detailed and exposed for everyone to see.

For a generation of professionals trained to cloak their contacts at all costs, this transparency is counterintuitive. So far most conversations about how to use social networks professionally have focused on what not to do: Don’t share drunken photos on Facebook. Don’t use Twitter to brag about playing hooky from the office. But as companies turn to the web to mine for prospective job candidates, it’s no longer advantageous to refrain from broadcasting personal information. Instead, the new imperative is to present your professional skills as attractively as possible, packing your profile with keywords (marketing manager, global sourcing specialist) that will send your name to the top of recruiters’ searches.

At the same time, you can connect your online professional interactions in one place, joining groups on the site (LinkedIn has more than 500,000 of them, based on companies, schools, and affinities), offering advice, and linking your Twitter account and blog updates to your profile.

“You Google other people, so don’t you think they’re Googling you?” LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman asks. “Part of a networked world is that people will be looking you up, and when they do, you want to control what they find.” Helping you present yourself well online is just the start. LinkedIn plans to go far beyond, making itself an active and indispensable tool for your career path. The secrets lie buried in the data: those 60 million profiles, including yours.