I will be the first to admit that networking on LinkedIn is complex; it’s not straightforward. What does networking on LinkedIn involve? The first step is having a strategy, which will take some forethought. You also have to be willing to reach out to LinkedIn members you don’t know. These steps are the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
After your strategy is in place and you’re committed to connecting with people unknown to you, there’s more work to do. Having a powerful profile is necessary to entice potential connections to connect with you.
Networking on LinkedIn also requires communicating with your connections, lest you become out of sight, out of mind. A lot of moving pieces. Read the first article of this series: Tips from 5 pros on how to create content on LinkedIn
No fears. In this article, six LinkedIn pros explain how they network on LinkedIn, as well as what they advise job seekers to do when it comes to networking. They talk about strategy, taking the step to enter unknown territory, and more.
Yes, they’re well established on LinkedIn; that’s why their tips will make you better networkers. Let’s see what advice our pros have to give.
I try to eschew terms that evoke strong negative emotions. Networking, unfortunately, carries the connotation of going to an old-school ‘rubber chicken’ dinner, wearing a tag with your name written in magic marker, putting on a plastic smile and shaking hands too firmly in an effort to show you’re the alpha dog in the relationship.
With LinkedIn, it’s different and the social media platform offers a better way to meet and engage with people.
In my personal experience, I’ve learned that it’s critically important to forge mutually benefiting relationships on LinkedIn. There’s no reason to embark upon a job search, project or advance your career all by yourself. You want to build a tribe of similar-minded people on LinkedIn.
I’m a big believer in being authentic and genuine. I won’t put on a fake facade. I’d like people to know the real me, for better or worse. I’m most comfortable being natural in my networking approach on the platform.
If you’ve just lost your job, you don’t want to scramble, starting to network from scratch. It’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties if you reach out to someone online and ask them to introduce you to a hiring manager when you haven’t spoken with them in years.
Begin constructing a network before you need anyone’s assistance. You’ll be in better shape and have more confidence. On LinkedIn, feel free to reach out to others. Offer help without asking anything in return. Mentor younger people. If you come across someone who’s struggling, give them some attention.
Make it a practice to engage in random acts of kindness on LinkedIn. People will remember your generosity. When you pay it forward, the folks who you helped in their time of need will one day rally behind you.
To get ahead in your career, think critically and long term. There are different types of people to include and exclude from your LinkedIn network. Seek out fast-track stars. Instead of being envious, jump aboard their rocket-ship ride.
Cultivate online LinkedIn relationships with internal human resources recruiters. Start when you join the company. Keep in close touch with HR. Introduce people who could fill difficult job openings. When you notice that the HR person left to join another company, send her a nice congratulatory LinkedIn message. It could open doors for you too at her new firm.
Channel your inner Sun Tzu. View your competitors as potential allies. Invite them to your network. Engage in conversations. Share work stories. Commiserate together online. Over time, as they switch jobs, you’ll be connected with people working at an array of different companies.
Avoid certain types of people on LinkedIn. These are the folks who are perennially negative, gossip, talk about others behind their backs. They’ll drag you down.
Attend networking events on LinkedIn. During the pandemic there have been a large number of LinkedIn Live shows and online meetups designed to offer advice and introduce people to one another.
Politely invite people you feel comfortable with to join your network. Stay in touch. Like, comment on and share their posts. Follow successful people in your field and turn the online conversations into real relationships.
Always be open and friendly on the platform. You never know where your next big break will come from. It could be a recruiter who noticed a posting you wrote and has a great job to share with you. A former coworker, who you mentored and connected with, is now a manager and would like to see if you’re interested in a high-level position at his company.
Specifically target people at the companies you want to work for. Send them LinkedIn invites. If and when they connect with you, cultivate and nurture the relationship. You want to be on their radar screen when new jobs open up that you’re appropriate for.
As someone with a military background, my networking strategies are probably more careful than most LinkedIn members, particularly when it comes to accepting LinkedIn Connections. However, I highly value LinkedIn for networking, particularly during this pandemic.
My goal, on and off LinkedIn, is to help people understand how job search works today so they can successfully find their next job (or, even better, have the new job find them) through writing articles and sharing helpful information.
Most days, including weekends, I visit LinkedIn several times to check out my Notifications, catch up on Messages, and read the posts on my LinkedIn home page. These activities help me stay up-to-date, meet new LinkedIn members, and develop public dialogs with other members.
My basic strategy for networking on LinkedIn is to share good information with other members, find other members to learn from (like Bob McIntosh and the other contributors to this article), and carefully expand my network of connections.
For networking and professional growth, I find and follow:
- Members who offer value in their posts.
- Members who make good comments on my posts.
- Members with whom I share some life experience – work in the same field, attended the same school, worked for the same employer, or have something else in common.
- Members my connections follow.
Then, I do my best to make appropriate comments and learn more about these members. Connecting on LinkedIn may be followed by LinkedIn messages, emails, phone calls, and even video discussions. The result: developing relationships with LinkedIn members I would not likely have met in person before LinkedIn, particularly those who live outside of the USA.
When evaluating possible LinkedIn connections, I check the profile carefully. Usually, I accept or ignore invitations to connect using these criteria:
- A complete LinkedIn profile:
- More than 100 connections
- Job descriptions connected to an employer’s LinkedIn Company page
- About section more than 4 lines long
- Skills and endorsements
- Posts and activity:
- On topic
- More than a few words
- Relevant and professional
I also Google the person’s name to verify that the person exists, that the employers exist, and to find some proof of professional expertise.
LinkedIn has helped me succeed professionally, and I have found many colleagues and friends through LinkedIn that I would have never met without it. Leverage LinkedIn for your career, too.
People often ask me: “What should I write to a stranger on LinkedIn?”
To me, networking on LinkedIn is no different than networking in person in a sense of how I approach every interaction. My rule of thumb is: don’t write it in a message if you wouldn’t say it in person.
Cold conversations can feel awkward, especially online. That’s why I actively use my news feed for networking. Every day, as I’m scrolling through my feed, I’m not just lurking behind the scenes—I do my best to engage with as many posts that interest me as I can.
What does engaging with a post mean?
It means you take the time to add value by commenting under the post to create a meaningful conversation.
The best part of it is that it’s not that hard to do once you get used to it. By commenting, you’re helping the author of the post to increase their visibility, as well as make new connections with others who have liked or commented on the same post.
I’ve found it to be a very natural way to ease into networking, especially for us introverts. It makes it so much easier to message someone directly after you’ve already had a couple of interactions with them in the comments, and have established some initial trust.
If you want some ideas for networking in the comments on LinkedIn, check out this video.
Once you decide to message someone you don’t know well yet, be mindful about how you ask them for help or advice. No one appreciates feeling used or burdened by a big vague request, like “help me find a job”, right off the bat.
If you want to receive great advice, make sure you formulate the right “ask” first:
- zoom in on one specific aspect you need their input on,
- explain briefly why they are the right person to address your question,
- show genuine appreciation for their time by not asking for too much of it right away,
- take any extra pressure off by openly telling them that it’s okay if they can’t help you or decide not to for their own personal reasons.
As awkward as it may feel at first, there’s nothing wrong with asking others for input. It doesn’t make you selfish or unethical—it makes you vulnerable. It is something everyone can relate to, which means you have every chance to create an emotional connection with another human being.
My networking strategy on LinkedIn:
I focus on quality of connections, not quantity. I think that one or two strong, meaningful relationships are better than 100 new connections that I won’t ever talk to.
One key person can introduce you to opportunities, help you expand your network further, etc. So I focus on connecting with the right people, not a lot of people.
And I do my research first so that I’m able to clearly explain why I wanted to connect.
Next, when I connect with somebody new, I’m always looking to give value first.
I’m thinking about whether I have something to offer (advice, data, leads, information, tactics) or if I know anyone else they’d benefit from talking to as well!
Lastly, I also try to share content that will attract the “right” people to me… via my LinkedIn posts. That way, I receive inbound connection requests to grow my network further.
How job seekers should network:
Be strategic and focus on quality of relationships instead of connecting with everyone possible.
Think about who you’d benefit from knowing. It could be hiring managers, career advisors, or anyone else.
Then, do your research and find an angle to approach them with, and send a customized LinkedIn request.
For example, you could say, “I read your recent article about ___. It was incredibly helpful to me as a job seeker, so I wanted to connect here if you’re open to it.”
Then, after they accept, don’t ask for a big, time-consuming favor right away. That’s not how to build a relationship.
Ask for something smaller to start, for example:
“Thanks for connecting. I see you’ve been in the manufacturing industry for quite a while, like me. Do you have any thoughts on whether the worst is behind us in terms of layoffs, or whether this year might be a struggle for companies in this space as well?”
“I noticed you’re a former recruiter. Do you prefer when candidates put their Skills section high up on their resume, or do you prefer to see it lower down, after their Experience section?”
By starting with a small question, you’re a lot more likely to get a reply! Most people like being seen as an expert or authority on a topic, so it’s a compliment to ask their opinion on something specific and narrow.
However, I see job seekers run into trouble (and not get replies) when they ask for something too big right away. For example:
- “Can you help me find a job?”
- “Can you look at my resume and tell me what to change?”
I share more word-for-word examples of what to say to get replies (and what not to say) in my LinkedIn cold-messaging guide here.
Next, if there’s something you believe you can offer the other person, that’s an even better way to approach them!
Do you know anyone they’d benefit from knowing? Make an introduction. Can you share a piece of their content? Every content creator likes to get their work shared on social media!
Also, to gain more networking opportunities, consider creating LinkedIn posts to share with your network. If not, at least comment and engage on other people’s posts that you find relevant (and that the people you want to network with will find relevant).
If someone is a content creator, there’s another good way to get their attention and build a relationship, too. Follow them, start commenting on a few of their posts, and then send a message after they’ve seen your name a few times in the comments! You’re far more likely to get a reply if you do this.
Lastly, considering joining some LinkedIn groups. You can join industry-specific groups and groups for your situation (e.g. a group for unemployed job seekers, a group for coding bootcamp students, a group for entry-level workers in their first job, etc.)
I changed the way I write my profile while noticing my own LinkedIn habits. I want to know who I am about to check out before I want to know about them.
Who I connect with is essential. I desire quality connections, and saying no to users who don’t invest the time to create a quality profile is disqualified. I know many career professionals will not accept a connection request without a message explaining the reason for connecting.
How will they learn if I don’t teach them?
The one networking habit most users on LinkedIn will want to know is who you are and your proposed value. Why should they have to go to your profile to understand? When they put their cursor over your name, the intrigue is there, and they want to know more. By not providing it, you are stunting your LinkedIn possibilities and potential opportunities.
The O’Jays song, “Give the People What They Want,” comes to mind.
I could preach all day about filling out the profile completely, but my networking strategy has everything to do with the first impression. There are a few ways to do it before or even without another user looking at your profile.
I try to create thoughtful comments on posts in two sentences or less to sway a connection request.
Thoughtful comments can be long or short, but I keep them short most of the time on regular posts. It is possible to be intelligent, compelling, and serve readers in two or three sentences most of the time. People seem to engage brevity, especially when most users are commenting long-form, and sometimes, longer comments can be useless.
I like to offer useful comments on 2nd and 3rd connection posts (especially if I want to connect with others).
Because I usually don’t know the person, I’m commenting to passively illicit connection invites. Even here, I’m intentionally brief mostly, and it often ends up in a connection request with a note. My goal is to offer more value to everyone, but a genuine first impression provides a pathway to an interactive relationship.
Most of the time, I respond to those who write a note.
I use a short one or two-sentence response to let them know I am not using the auto-respond messages. It’s a small way to show you’re thoughtful and personable.
Not everyone who writes a note is granted connection or access.
I do say no to those who emphasize selling in their headlines (especially those who help entrepreneurs get to seven-figures in the podcast) or anything similar. Furthermore, I delete connection requests with notices that say they want to know more about what I do. Arrgh! I couldn’t be more explicit in my messaging and LinkedIn profile. Must we do this dance? No.
Updates as mini-articles is a game-changer.
When I started writing mini-articles in my posts, my engagement skyrocketed and 3x-4x connection requests. But they also enacted many Zoom call invites for tea and great conversations. I try to be personable without being personal. I again try to throw a few lyrics from songs or compelling analogies. I update with far more useful and practical tips than offering up my accomplishments.
I do two or more Live Streams a week with experts I respect (like Jack Kelly and Damian Birkel). These conversations spark other offline discussions or provide a basis for additional networking with viewers.
I know LinkedIn users may take these opportunities for granted, but I found these strategies useful. Networking is naturally hard for me, but it energizes my long-term business efforts. If your net is indeed working, you’ll find these small changes to your strategy will stimulate and attract quality connections on LinkedIn.
Over the years I’ve built up a network of close to 4,000 connections. To some this might seem like a large number, whereas others might see it as small. I’m happy with the size of my network for the following reasons:
1. I communicate with enough of them by posting updates; sharing articles; DM them; and, more importantly, comment on their content. This is one rule of networking: give and give and take. Yes, I mentioned “give” twice.
2. The core of my network comprises like-minded people who “get” me. Not all of them are webinar facilitators, or LinkedIn trainers, or bloggers. But we have a great deal in common. And the content I share is of value to them. This is key when communicating with your network.
3. I see my Messaging icon light up on a daily basis. What this means is that I communicate with my connections in an intimate manner. In COVID times it’s nice to have the opportunity to do this.
Job seekers, networking on LinkedIn is difficult to master, but not impossible. Here are some suggestions for you if you’re struggling with networking.
1. Don’t internalize LinkedIn’s foolish statement about connecting with only the people you know. If you’re satisfied with having 150 connections, understand that you are seriously limiting your reach of LinkedIn users who can provide sage advice or a job possibilities.
2. Have a strategy. In other words, don’t invite people who will be of no mutual value. I talk with my clients about the tiers of their connections. Everyone will have different priorities, but I consider connecting with people in your target company list to be the top tier.
The next tier might be recruiters or other hiring authorities, particularly those who serve your industry. Also consider people who are like-minded, such as people in your occupation and industry. You will find a great deal to discuss in DMs and your content will be of interest.
3. Practice LinkedIn networking etiquette by sending personalized messages to the people you want in your network. The default message will not cut it. In fact, I always hit Ignore when I receive an invite that’s not personalized.
There are three types of invites; the cold invite, the invite with a reference, and the introduction invite. The cold invite is the least successful, but if done right can be successful. Biron Clark provides in his article above a link to how to write cold invites.
4. Follow up is key to success. One simple way to do this is by thanking the person for joining your network and asking a simple question. “I notice you live in Madison. Are you a Packers’ fan? I think they look good for a Superbowl victory” your chances of building a rapport with your connection is great.
5. My last bit of advice is to be respectful of LinkedIn members. Don’t troll them by vehemently criticizing the content they share. It’s perfectly fine to disagree with their opinion, but viscous attacks will only make you look bad and kill your networking efforts.
Now check out the other two articles in this series.
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