For many, LinkedIn is the social media equivalent of an awkward networking event.

Friends and acquaintances have said variations of the following to me: “I’m on there but I have no idea what to use it for.” Or: “I don’t see the point of joining — my colleagues know me, my work and my email address. I don’t need to connect with them on LinkedIn.”

But consider this: according to the Pew Research Center, LinkedIn usage is especially high among the educated (bachelor’s degree holders and up), and high earners (those making $75 000 [R829 443] a year or more) — exactly the types of people with whom you’d want to connect professionally.

It is also the only social networking site Pew measured that showed higher usage among 50-64 year olds than among those aged 18 to 29, which means that those with more professional experience (and who are more likely to be in a position to hire) are on the site.

And nowadays, just as a resume is necessary for a job interview, a professional online presence is needed for — well, any kind of career opportunity, whether it be a new job, speaking engagement or collaboration. And a LinkedIn profile, done right, can be that much-needed online resume and help ensure that the good work you do is publicly recognised and that others know how to reach you with relevant opportunities.

If you’re still sceptical (especially if you’re a millennial, a group less inclined to use the site), consider that for most industries, potential employers may find it strange if you’re not on there. Oftentimes, if you apply for a job, whoever vets your resume will look at your LinkedIn profile, whether it’s to see if you have mutual connections who might reveal what it’s like to work with you or to settle any questions raised when looking at your cover letter and resume.

Additionally, 98% of recruiters and 85% of hiring managers use LinkedIn to find candidates, says Viveka von Rosen, author of LinkedIn Marketing: An Hour a Day and founder of “So even though there’s Glassdoor and various business tools out there that millennials are using, if they are looking for a job, certainly in traditional areas, they have to be on LinkedIn,” she says.

Professionals at all levels – entry-level, middle management and executives – use it for networking, keeping in touch with current and former colleagues, and engaging with their broader industry. And those more established in their careers also use it to promote their businesses.

LinkedIn is especially important for those in recruiting, marketing/sales and service industries, ranging from financial to health/medical to legal, as those are the top industries on the site.

Here are five steps to crafting a stellar profile, building a valuable network and leveraging both to your best advantage.

1. Make a findable and visually appealing profile.

“A professional headline with your picture and your name is what people see most often on LinkedIn, so it’s worth it to take two to three minutes to craft something appealing,” says von Rosen. Upload a headshot as professional-looking as possible (even if you can’t afford to hire a photographer), and write a succinct and compelling headline, which runs right under your name. Make this 120-character space, which von Rosen calls “a mini elevator speech,” as creative and readable as possible and use keywords for your industry – whatever you would search for, or the terms you see most often on the profiles of others in your field. Most people just state their current job, but if you have multiple careers or positions, she advises focusing on skill sets.

2.Use your LinkedIn profile to showcase everything that doesn’t fit on your resume.

“LinkedIn changed its search algorithm, so take time to fill out the description areas. Don’t just list your job title, which is how people used to be able to find you,” says von Rosen. Fill out the 1 000-character description areas under each job title and in your overall summary list your contract work and the results you got (and state the fact that it was a X-month-long assignment), upload or link to examples of your work, such as YouTube videos, images, PDFs, Microsoft Word documents, fill out the Projects and Publications sections of your profile (on the upper right in Edit Profile mode), or any other additional sections, such as Courses, Certifications, Patents or Volunteering, that allow you to feature other relevant skills.

Simon Tam is a Portland, Oregon-based “Author | Marketing Rockstar | Nonprofit Leader | Musician | Entrepreneur | Speaker.” (And yes, he really is all those things at once. His secret is applying the skills he builds in each area to the others.) His LinkedIn profile is a paragon of completeness. It features not just descriptions in every section, but also his Wikipedia page and key interviews with NPR and TIME, five projects including his band’s albums, tours and their fight with the US Patent office, ten recommendations from colleagues, his books listed under Publications, and more than 20 awards.

“Like any other resource, the more you invest into it, the more that you get out of it,” he says. “For me, I’ve been able to make new connections, sell books, increase traffic to my websites and develop strategic partnerships. I especially found LinkedIn Groups to be helpful – it was a way to connect with specific industries or markets. By participating as a community member, I was able to quickly develop influence and showcase my contributions to the group.” He says the key is to provide something of value to other members, but that it takes time, persistence and consistency to develop an audience, influence and network.

3. When you’ve got a profile you’re ready to show the world, strategically connect with others.

Connect with existing professional and personal contacts – friends, classmates, former co-workers, current co-workers and other people in your industry whom you know.

Whenever you have a positive interaction with someone with whom you think it would be good to stay in touch, send him or her a LinkedIn request. If you receive an invitation from someone you don’t know, take a look at his or her profile. “Even if they’re not a potential employer or client, maybe they work in your area or have connections that could be potential employers or clients,” says von Rosen.

Whatever you do, don’t just connect with potentially helpful people willy-nilly. If you see someone who could be useful, but whom you don’t know in real life, don’t squander the potential connection by sending the generic message, “Hi Laura, I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn.” Keep in mind that everyone has a different way of using the site. Some people only connect with those they know offline. Others send a request to anyone they find interesting on LinkedIn Search. If you think your potential target has a more permissive policy – more than 500 connections would be a big clue, as would a completely filled out profile – then feel free to approach him or her yourself through the site.