Looking for a new job, now or in the future? Your LinkedIn profile better be up to date.

Before you sit down for an interview, maybe even before an employer takes a look at the resume or cover letter you send in, chances are that someone is going to make a judgment based on your LinkedIn profile.

“You want to make sure it makes a good first impression,” said Tom Hamilton, president of the Hamilton Group, a West Des Moines executive search firm. “A lot of times, that will be (an employer’s) first impression. They may see your picture, they may read your profile, and that’s their first impression of you. What first impression do you want to make?”

In the latter part of 2012, the LinkedIn website made some changes. In August, the site unveiled a notification feature that’s activated when someone views your profile or likes what you’ve shared, and the next day announced a new look for company pages, with larger pictures and more relevant ways to share status updates.

In September, LinkedIn unveiled its endorsements feature. In October, it updated the design of its profile pages.

It’s not a total revamp of the professional social networking site, but it has put the site top of mind, said Josh Fleming, interactive marketing director at Lessing-Flynn Advertising Co. And he expects to see more changes in the future.

He also expects to see professionals, and businesses, spending more time interacting on the site. “When you think of business, they own the social media professional space. There is no equal,” he said.

The Business Record checked with three social media experts to find out what you should be thinking about on LinkedIn.

1. How to use LinkedIn

“As a professional, using LinkedIn is a great way to essentially just network with other business people,” said Nathan Wright, founder of Lava Row. “Think of it as your 9-to-5 social network, your grown-up Facebook.”

It’s also a tool to make relationship-building more efficient, he says. When you meet someone new in business, go back to the office and add them as a connection right away.

Those people become what LinkedIn calls “first-degree connections,” and the people they are connected to become your “second-degree connections.”

“Your first- and second-degree connections are five or 10 more times valuable than maybe your third-degree connections,” Hamilton said.

The reasons: You can see their full profile and they can see yours, which is different after LinkedIn updated its premium content. First-degree connections can give you recommendations. Connecting with someone also can keep you top of mind with them when they get updates about your recent activity on the site. And the connection can stay valid long after someone switches jobs.

Also, with new updates, it is much easier to search through the connections of people you are connected with. Looking for a list of marketers? All you have to do is search “marketing” in the connections area of someone else’s profile, and you can see a list of people they know with marketing experience.

“When I go to networking events or get a business card from somebody, I typically connect with them on LinkedIn and throw the business card into the trash,” Fleming said.

FAQ: Should I connect with someone I’ve never met? Answers vary, depending on the situation. Wright says he will not accept connection requests from people he doesn’t know unless he expects to meet them in the future for a specific reason. Fleming, on the other hand, typically will accept those requests if there is a business reason for connecting with the person – and will often follow up by asking, essentially, “How can I help you?”

2. The importance of recommendations

LinkedIn has two types of recommendations.

The one that is generally considered more valuable is written recommendation posted to someone’s profile.

“It’s kind of like a reference (on a resume), but I think it’s better,” Hamilton said.

References often can’t say much for legal reasons, “but a recommendation is different. That’s something you can always take with you. Nobody has to contact that person. It’s always right there.”

Endorsing someone for his or her skills is right now a more passive way to recommend someone, but get enough endorsements and it starts to become more clear what others think you are good at, and shows up on your profile that way.

Sometimes, Fleming said, it can show that people think you are good at something you haven’t done in a while, “so I need to maybe get back into it.” Or, if there’s a skill that you want to appear higher on the list, it might mean you have to work harder to get it there.

FAQ: How do I get endorsements?

Both Fleming and Wright consider it a bit taboo to ask someone for an endorsement. But an easy trick: If you want an endorsement from someone, endorse them first. “You can almost guilt people into doing it,” said Fleming, who tries to have a written recommendation on his profile from someone at each business he has worked at.

3. What’s new?

The most noticeable new feature for LinkedIn is the introduction of endorsements. The endorsements feature allows users to recommend each other for things such as skills or expertise.

Those can include anything from basic skills (writing) to more specific job descriptions (technical writing) to broad categories (technology). Others can endorse you for the skill, and you can also list the skills and expertise you think best describe you to show up on your profile.

Another new feature actually allows you to learn who some of the people are who have viewed your profile lately. Seeing who is looking at your profile can give you some insight that someone was interested enough to look you up, Wright said. Maybe they want to do business; maybe they are looking to hire or be hired; maybe you’ve done business with them in the past and this will prompt you to reach out again.

“You are there to be discovered; you are there to be found,” Wright said. “Just like if you participated in an online dating site – you are there to be found.”

LinkedIn also put work into updating the look of personal and company profiles and of the site’s home page.

In August, LinkedIn introduced a new look for company pages that allows the ability to add a large picture (similar to a Facebook cover photo), an easier ability to post and share company status updates and job opportunities, and ways to showcase a company’s products and services.

The personal profile updates, introduced in October, allow more insight into the people and companies in your network, including things that you have in common with your connections.

The home page, redesigned over the summer, is intended to encourage more interaction by giving quick insights into what people in your network are talking about, including news articles they’ve posted and things they’ve done to update their profiles – similar to Facebook’s news feed. It’s still a work in progress, Fleming said, but with the new features he visits the site three to four times more frequently than he did in the past.

FAQ: Should I pay for a premium account?

Is a premium account worth it? Probably not, Fleming and Wright say, unless you are actively recruiting for talent. The premium accounts give subscribers more access to see who has viewed their profile, more ability to see full profiles of people outside their network, and more robust search options to find people. Hamilton uses the premium features for recruiting purposes, but for everyone else it may not be worth it unless you are in job-hunting mode.

4. Put your business on LinkedIn

Fleming believes that businesses should be on LinkedIn. Unlike Facebook, the goal is not necessarily to market your company to consumers, but to help people learn more about your company, especially people you’d like to do business with or who could be potential employees.

And a business page shows the company internally the analytics of people who are following it: by seniority, industry, region, company size and other measures. By knowing who is following your business, you can make assumptions about why they are following you. Maybe entry-level workers are looking for a job, or maybe senior-level workers are looking for a service.

Business pages also can be useful to provide a list of people on LinkedIn who work at the company, Wright said, as well as what companies your employees came from.

FAQ: What should I put on my business LinkedIn page?

Businesses should be putting content on their pages, be it press releases, company information or any other content that is being used on a company’s personal website or blog. “For the most part, if a business has created content, it’s going to be relevant to a business audience,” Fleming said.

5. Know your goal

As a professional, LinkedIn is really a reflection of your personal brand, Fleming says. Your profile should be designed to elevate your perception and your personal brand and positively reflect on your employer.

As a LinkedIn user, you should know what you are trying to accomplish. Are you in job-seeker mode, or just looking to make business connections?

Wright, for example, uses the title of his profile to highlight that he is a public speaker.

“That’s the first thing I want people to know. I know if they are looking me up on there, they are probably considering that,” he said. ?

FAQ: How formal should my page be?

Should your online resume be written in first person or third person? Should your page have a formal tone? The consensus, says Fleming, is that you should write your profile in the first person, and that the tone is unique for everyone. If in doubt, “go the resume route.” If you have already established a brand for yourself, feel free to let that brand show, whether it’s serious, outgoing, silly or anything else.