Congratulations, graduates, and welcome to the Real World!

First, the good news: Employers are expected to hire 10.2 percent more college graduates this year than they did from the Class of 2011, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The bad news? It’s still a really tight job market for young people, with one of every two recent grads either unemployed or underemployed.

How can you be among the fortunate ones? As someone who has guided college students to careers for the past ten years, I can tell you that it takes hard work, persistence and — perhaps most important — the guts to step out of your comfort zone. Here are some tips on how to use LinkedIn to be a courageous post-college career seeker:

1. Show your stuff. While resumes are limited to one page of standard-format, bullet-pointed information, your LinkedIn profile can go way beyond the basics. The information on your resume and profile definitely need to match (job titles, employment dates, key accomplishments, etc.), but think about LinkedIn as an expanded portfolio of who you are and what you can do professionally. Include a well-written, confident summary statement both to explain what you offer to employers and to show your written communication skills. Beneath that, fill your Specialties area with keywords representing all the skills you gained during your college years.

Next, don’t be shy about including all professional experience you have, even if that experience was unpaid or part-time, such as a spring break internship or after-school tutoring. If you don’t have much paid work experience, you can showcase volunteer work, school projects, internships and extra curricular activities.

Add additional sections to your profile in areas where you particularly excel, such as standardized test scores, volunteer work, honors or awards, or a creative portfolio of your visual work.

Finally, collect a few recommendations from professionals who are willing to publicly sing your praises, such as a professor, an internship manager or a boss from your summer job. Just remember to ask each person to vouch for you in specific and professional terms, such as “Robert demonstrated excellent attention to detail and budgeting skills as head of the student government fundraiser,” rather than “Robert is a great person and very smart.” Although it may feel weird, it’s okay to prompt your recommender with a few bullet points of what to include in his or her recommendation (once that person has agreed). And remember that you have to be connected to a person on LinkedIn to request a recommendation (see the next tip for strategies on growing your network).

2. Leverage your alumni network. One of the major benefits of a university education is the vast community of alumni you join when you graduate. Don’t wait another minute to tap into this network now that you’re a part of it. Trust me as someone who graduated from college 16 years ago that I’m always thrilled to receive an email or LinkedIn request from a fellow grad of my alma mater. I love sharing some ideas or guidance in exchange for the good feeling of helping someone whose shoes I was in not that long ago.

To tap into your alumni network, check out LinkedIn Alumni, a tool that shows you where your school’s alumni live, where they work and what they do. Just click on the city where you’d like to live or the profession you’d like to enter and a range of graduation years (you can select all years to get the broadest results or search for recent grads who may be in jobs similar to the ones you want) and you’ll discover alums who meet the criteria you’ve selected. You can also find alums by joining LinkedIn Groups for alumni of your university — simply visit the Groups Directory and search by the name of your school.

When you come across someone you admire, someone who’s posted an interesting discussion or someone who works at a company you’d like to join, gather up your courage and send that person a LinkedIn connection request. Keep your message short, simple and polite: “I recently graduated from ABC College and I’m hoping to start a career in the healthcare industry. I came across your LinkedIn profile and really admire your career path. Would you be willing to offer some advice or ideas on breaking into the field? I would be so grateful for a brief phone call or just a few tips by email. Thank you!”

You can use the above strategy with other contacts as well by connecting on LinkedIn to friends, neighbors, family members, former professors and advisors and other professionals. Upload your address book to LinkedIn and start reaching out. Even people who’ve know you your whole life will view you differently when they interact with you in the professional context of LinkedIn.

3. Engage with employers. When I ask students if they comment on employers’ LinkedIn status updates or respond to recruiters’ group discussion posts, they often say, “No. I don’t want to say something that will hurt my chances of getting hired.” While of course you need to be careful what you say (never criticize the company or share too much personal information), it’s a mistake not to engage with companies that clearly want to engage with you. After all, that’s why they’re using social media in the first place!

First, follow every potential employer by visiting its Company Page. When you see that employer update its status with company news, an article or an event announcement, leave a brief, thoughtful comment. Then, when you apply for a position, you will have a track record of interest and engagement with that employer. It’s like showing up at job fairs and company information sessions on campus — you want to become a familiar face online as well as offline.

What other ways has LinkedIn helped your post-college job search? Please share in the comments!