Think LinkedIn is just a place to gather connections, apply to jobs, or cultivate endorsements?

Think again.

With the increased transparency among professional users on LinkedIn, you can use it to check out the careers and credentials of your competition – gaining valuable insight and even a leg up in your job search.

You can see who’s been promoted or holds a position of interest in a target company—and figure out how they were able to make these career moves.

Here are the best reasons to leverage LinkedIn as a research tool (whether you’re in an active job search or just considering looking around) to gauge your fitness in the job market:

1 – You’ll gain insights applicable to your own career path.

If you’re trying to make a move up the corporate ladder, consider looking at the examples presented by those already working at your desired level. Perhaps they started working in a similar occupation, or earned promotions similar to the ones you’re targeting.

Make note of the career paths and steps that these executives have taken, especially in cases where their background matches yours. You might find, for example, that a change in industry or title isn’t the showstopper you originally thought it would be.

2 – You’ll be able to form new networking or career advisory relationships.

Consider forming a colleague-to-colleague or mentee relationship with these leaders. You could write a personal message to be delivered via email or LinkedIn, explaining that you are working in the same industry and interested in any advice the person can offer.

In addition, you might ask for permission to email ideas or career-related queries from time to time. Just be sure to avoid “stalking” your new contacts or making them feel uncomfortable.

3 – You’ll discover which companies hire experts in your field.

Take careful note of the companies that employ leadership professionals at your level. Perhaps you didn’t realize mid-sized firms hire CFOs in your industry, or that start-ups typically bring an IT Director on board.

Not only can you forge long-term relationships with these companies (making the principals and executive team aware of you via industry associations, blog posts, and personal connections on LinkedIn), but you can also look at their suppliers and competitors as a source of potential job openings.

4 – You’ll learn how your skills stack up in the job market.

Wondering why you’re not receiving calls back for that next step up the career ladder? While nothing is more sobering than realizing your skills are too junior-level for your goal, it’s still better than continuing to target a job beyond your reach.

Try a keyword search on your desired job title, and look at a sampling of the Profiles in the results. You’ll see some consistency in competencies, education, and experience for each professional, giving you valuable insight as to your competitive edge in the job market.

Conversely, if you’re performing this search and finding that your skills are a perfect fit for your dream job, this could be a sign that your LinkedIn presence or resume are not strong enough tools. In this case, you’ll want to rework your marketing materials for a fresh pursuit of the right job.

5 – You’ll get a close-up view of how to tune your Profile for internal SEO.

Take special note of the keywords used by your competitors throughout their Profiles, especially in the Headline, Summary, and Skills & Expertise sections.

These areas of proficiency are often the keywords you’ll need to use for a higher volume of traffic to your Profile.

In addition, you can get a good idea of how well-populated your Profile is now vs. that of other candidates. It’s a good idea to add more areas of proficiency that might trigger hits from recruiters.

In summary, LinkedIn has tremendous value for you as a job seekerespecially if you can interpret and capitalize on what you find among competing candidates.

Use it to get a solid perspective on the job market for your skills, as well as the expertise needed to distinguish yourself from others in your field.