Networking 101—5 tips for successful LinkedIn connections
LinkedIn is a social media platform for professional networking—but what does that really mean? It’s not quite Facebook or Twitter, but it’s not quite a resume either. Only a few people can make a go of a professional career without this platform, but if you’re not already on it, you may have no idea where to start.
“What should I post about?” “How often should I post?” “Who should I connect with?” “How should I connect with them?” These are some of the questions that new or aspiring LinkedIn users often find themselves asking. Trying to network with people—many of whom are most likely strangers—can feel like an overwhelming task. I know this because I’ve been there.
I joined LinkedIn in 2014 and since then I have made over 1200 connections, started hundreds of conversations, and set up several informational interviews. It has taken some time to get as comfortable as I am with LinkedIn, and luckily, you don’t need seven years for that. If you’re looking to network efficiently and effectively on LinkedIn, here are five tips to keep in mind:
1. Take the time to fill out your profile
There are few things more frustrating than uploading a resume to a job application, only to be prompted to write it all out again. When you first create your LinkedIn profile, it may feel like just another prompt to regurgitate your resume. In some ways, it is, but mostly, it isn’t. Let me explain.
I treat LinkedIn as a virtual resume. I update it with new and relevant professional experiences the same way I do my resume. Like a resume, once you fill it out, you only have to keep adding to or removing from it and there’s no need to type it out all over again each time. Unlike a resume however—and this is good—it is available for recruiters and hiring managers to view at any given time, without you having to send it in! LinkedIn’s #opentowork profile banner also helps with this.
Another reason I like my LinkedIn profile is that I can highlight ALL my work experiences if I choose to, something the one-page constraint of a resume doesn’t always allow room for. So, take the time to fill out your LinkedIn profile and be sure to use a well-lit picture. If you do it well, you’ll only need to make smaller edits in the future.
Pro tip: Your LinkedIn header also helps you get spotted more easily by recruiters. Use relevant keywords relating to the kind of job you’re seeking!
2. Add a note to your connection requests
When it comes to connections, I am perfectly comfortable sending a connection request to just about anyone on LinkedIn. Whether or not they respond to me is another issue, but I promise I do not know over half of my connections on LinkedIn, and you don’t need to either. I will back up a little here and say that if you are just starting out on LinkedIn, have zero connections and are not sure where to begin in terms of connections, start out with friends—from high school, college or even summer camp.
Next, reach out to alumni, especially those in career fields or companies that interest you. Most importantly, include a note in your connection requests. If you go to someone’s LinkedIn profile and click the connect button, a pop-up box appears with the option to “Add a note” or “Send” the request without one.
Now, members of your college study group might not need a note to respond to your connection request, but there’s no harm in having one anyway.
When sending requests to people I know, I make the note very informal:
When it’s an alum I have never met, I write something like:
Pro tip: Keep a document with a couple variations of connection request messages to copy and paste when you need them. Don’t forget to change the names and any other details you might need to.
3. Engage reasonably
Engagement is currency in today’s world and LinkedIn is no exception. The platform has several ways for you to take advantage of this once you build up a network, no matter how small. Celebrate people in your network when they get a new job or receive a promotion. Comment on interesting articles and ideas that are being shared. Post a thought-provoking article occasionally, around 6x a year, or less—no one likes spam. Some LinkedIn users, especially prominent ones, prefer to be followed instead of connected with. Follow people and companies you care about to see their posts pop up in your feed!
Pro tip: LinkedIn engagement is great but keep it professional—it isn’t Facebook for a reason. It isn’t Twitter either, so no need for fervent debates in the comment section of a thought leader’s post, especially not while you’re job hunting (or ever, really). All your activities are visible from your profile page. Need I say more?
4. Ask for informational interviews
As far as I’m concerned, this is the essence of LinkedIn when it comes to job searching. When you send a connection request to a potential ally* and the person accepts, follow up with a message within a week or two. Personally, I have sent follow up messages two months after connecting and gotten great responses—sometimes, it’s more about the message and confidence than timing. Thank them for connecting, go straight to the point and be sure to mention how busy they are to score points:
A couple things to note: In my message above, I mention my economics degree because Darrick also studied that in college—finding common ground can be helpful. I mention Texas because he is based in Texas. I mention my master’s degree because he is hiring for associate positions and I am trying to signal my qualification. If he wasn’t a hiring manager, I would have framed my request as looking for any insight he could give me as a new professional in order to achieve my goal of setting up an informational interview. Personalize your message for your audience.
*In this case, potential ally means any and everyone who could be of some help to you in the job search process—recruiters, hiring managers, former colleagues, and most importantly—industry professionals in careers you would like to explore.
Pro tip: Take advantage of being a student (or a newbie professional). All seasoned professionals were once students/newbies of some kind, and they have some idea what you are going through. Most of them want to help. Don’t be afraid to ask. A lack of response is likely the worst that could happen.
5. Come to the interviews prepared. Ask for a referral
An informational interview is exactly what is sounds like. It’s an interview to seek information, career/industry insight if you will, from someone with experience and knowledge in the areas you’re interested in learning more about. When a connection agrees to an interview and sets aside some time on their calendar, you should take a moment to celebrate this as a small win while keeping in mind that there is still some work to be done.
Some professionals will take charge and lead the session with you, in which case you could sit back, listen, and absorb as much as you can and ask questions at the end. Most people will want you to lead the interview and they’ll often signal this by saying something like: “So, how can I help you today?” You should come prepared with a list of questions to guide the interview, enough to last 10–30 minutes, which is how long they typically go for. End the interview by asking for a referral. It might be uncomfortable but think of how thrilling it will be if they are willing to refer you for a job!
Pro tip: Follow up after each interview. If they have asked you to send your resume for a referral, do so immediately. Otherwise, do so within the week while the interview is still fresh on their minds!
With these tips in mind, I hope that LinkedIn is starting to look a lot less scary. Go forth in confidence and happy networking!