Not long ago, LinkedIn was a fun-but-optional networking tool. Today, LinkedIn is as crucial to your professional repertoire as a good pair of slacks. Whether you’re a social networking fiend or an inveterate techno-phobe, this is one bandwagon you’ve gotta hop on.

Of course, the most obvious use for LinkedIn is cultivating your professional network. Most people find their jobs through people they know. LinkedIn helps you leverage that network by keeping in contact with your old college buddy who now runs a growing corporation, your client who will be hiring next year, or your former colleague who knows of the perfect opening for you. Even if you’re not currently in active job search mode, a strong LinkedIn profile keeps you in the loop and ready when the perfect opportunity arrives.

But beyond simple networking, here are 3 deeper reasons you need a strong LinkedIn profile:

1. Recruiters are crawling all over it.

LinkedIn has invested heavily in powerful, specialized search tools just for recruiters. The result is that recruiters now rely on LinkedIn as a top source for job candidates. If your LinkedIn profile contains the right keywords and skill sets, your next, better job may come to you. (Read more about LinkedIn Recruiter here.)

2. It enhances your professional reputation.

Because LinkedIn has become so central to networking and recruiting, it has also become a common tool for, well, professional snooping. Colleagues, vendors, potential partners, and clients—anyone you encounter in your professional life, whether they’re among your official LinkedIn connections or not—are likely to check you out on LinkedIn as a form of professional due diligence.

LinkedIn rates favorably in Google’s search algorithm, so a LinkedIn profile will usually rank among the first few Google results for your name. A sharp profile is an opportunity to pitch your best qualities and put your best foot forward.

3. It sets you apart.

A strong LinkedIn profile is a differentiator that shows you’re engaged and on top of things. If you’re AWOL from LinkedIn or if your profile is weak, you’re sending the message that you’re not a serious, dedicated professional.

This is especially true for prospective employers. Any time you apply for a job, plan on the hiring team checking you out on LinkedIn. I’ve had multiple recruiters tell me that when the hiring decision comes down to two equally-qualified candidates, they choose the one with a decent LinkedIn profile. An absent or a poor profile seems to indicate a lack of engagement and professionalism.

Visit RedRocketResume for help creating your own attention-getting LinkedIn profile. We’re experts on aligning your profile with your resume, optimizing keywords, and navigating the LinkedIn profile platform.