There’s no magic word to include in your cover letter and no secret phrase to put in your resume that will guarantee an interview at your dream employer.

Rather, personalization and customization is what’s needed to ensure your resume is seen by the powers that be. Why? That personal touch will set you apart from the dozens, if not hundreds, of other applicants known only by their email addresses.

LinkedIn, the social networking website geared toward professionals and job-seekers, is the perfect place to hone your targeted approach to job searching. Why? Over 80% of job openings are never advertised to the general public. You simply must have a personal connection with someone already working at the company, so that you’re made aware of these coveted positions.

By optimizing your profile and connecting with your dream employer on LinkedIn, you’re giving the hiring manager the best possible impression of you. Here’s a look at how to use LinkedIn effectively during your job search.

How To Use LinkedIn

Update Your Personal Profile

The first step in starting your job search should be to get your own house in order. Upload a professional, friendly picture so the generic silhouette is not the first impression you make. Use the background photo to reinforce your brand, as well. Publish at least three reports, as that’s how many LinkedIn displays across the profile landing page. Make sure education, work experience and skills are clear and accurate.

Let’s look at an example. LinkedIn user Robert Mericle reinforces his expertise in commercial real estate through both the written content and the photos on his page — all of which feature office and industrial real estate. The first impression is key: This employee knows real estate.

Don’t be afraid to show a bit of your personality, which will help prospective employers see that you’re a fit for their office culture. On his LinkedIn page, basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal calls himself a “Purveyor of Fun.” If you’ve ever watched him as a commentator, you know he’s got a great sense of humor, and that shows in his profile. Just don’t include so many personal tidbits that the page becomes unprofessional, or your impressive work accomplishments get buried.

Use Your Dream Job as a Guide for Your Profile

When updating your personal summary and experience, think about the skills and traits required for your dream job, and tailor your words accordingly.

For example, if you want to be in charge of media relations for a tech company, but you currently work for an agency, play up the clients you’ve worked with in the tech field. Quantify your experience with the media within your summary so that, right off the bat, potential employers know your experience matches the job.

LinkedIn also allows you to publish and share posts of interest. Begin to create a digital footprint for yourself around your dream job. If you want to work for a non-profit, share thoughtful articles about that sector. Post updates about your involvement with non-profit clients or your volunteer work with non-profits.

Follow Relevant Groups

LinkedIn provides groups as a way for those with common interests share ideas and information. The social media site bills LinkedIn groups as, “a place for professionals in the same industry or with similar interests to share content, find answers, post and view jobs, make business contacts and establish themselves as industry experts.”

You can connect to your college alumni, interest groups and professional associations. Click on “Discover Groups” within your profile, and LinkedIn will suggest groups based on those your connections have joined.

Include Recommendations and Endorsements

So now that you have updated your LinkedIn profile with current and relevant information, it’s time to turn to the elements of your profile that are enhanced by others.

LinkedIn provides two ways for this type of feedback: Recommendations and endorsements. Recommendations are written references from colleagues, while endorsements are simpler, one-click ways for your connections to give you a “thumbs up” for your skills and talents. If you have not received any recommendations yet, you can request them by clicking on the drop down menu to the bottom left of your picture.

Let’s look at one of LinkedIn’s founders, Reid Hoffman, for an example of how to do these recommendations correctly. Every single position has a recommendation associated with it, most of which include specific examples of Hoffman’s strengths.

You can also refer to these quotes in your emails and cover letter once you enter the official application process, so it’s well worth a bit of time and effort on the front end of your job search.

Who to Connect to … and When

Now that your profile is it tip-top shape, you can start to expand your sphere of connections and contacts. LinkedIn can use your email contact list, work experience and education to help find likely contacts who are worth pursuing.

LinkedIn has over 433 million registered members, so you can really go down a rabbit hole of trying to connect with enough people. Approach your connections strategically by seeing who, from your dream employer, is active on LinkedIn. Are any of them second- or third-degree contacts? There’s an “Ask for a Connection” feature on LinkedIn that will give you digital entre. Or, you could approach your mutual contact offline for a more formal introduction.

Also, don’t make the mistake of connecting to every single employee of your potential future company at once. Instead, connect with a couple of employees in your field and ask thoughtful questions about their experience. Look for the human resource professionals from the dream company and comment on an aspect of their profile when you reach out. Spend as much time preparing for these online interactions as you would if they were to occur in person.

Most people know that sending out dozens of resumes to generic human resource emails will yield few results. But by leveraging your polished, engaging profile and connecting with current employees and hiring managers via LinkedIn, you can land an interview at your dream employer.

Learn How to Use LinkedIn and Soon You’ll be Writing . . .

How to use LinkedIn

Image: Got a Job Tamra