“You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there,” – Yogi Berra.
Since its inception way back in 2002, the social network LinkedIn has grown to become one of – if not the – world’s most powerful networking tools, allowing users to connect with millions of professionals around the globe. Today, it’s practically a necessity for job seekers—as important as your resume. Whether you’re a recent college graduate, a transitioning servicemember or a professional looking for a second career, chances are you’ll one day look back and see that LinkedIn played an important role in how you got “where you’re going.”
For the sake of this article, we’ll assume that you’re already a LinkedIn member, you’ve created your profile and you’re connected with professionals you already know on LinkedIn. The next step in your job search will be to narrow your career options and identify potential career paths. Once you’ve settled on a particular field, it’s time to up your networking game. At this stage, I’d suggest using the strategy outlined in Richard Bolles’s best-selling book for job hunting and career changing, “What color is your Parachute?” In the book, Bolles dedicates a chapter to the value of “Informational Interviewing,” focusing on the value of networking with people who are already involved in your chosen career field.
This is where LinkedIn can prove to be an invaluable tool. It gives you the opportunity to reach out to industry leaders and seasoned professionals in the career of your choice. But, how do you get the conversation going?
Below, I’ve provided a few suggestions and standard practices for connecting with other professionals on LinkedIn:
- Request an introduction. On LinkedIn, you are only allowed to message those you are connected to, which can be a problem if you’re looking to connect with someone out of your immediate network. However, through the “Get Introduced” feature, you have the option to request an introduction to a third party if you have a common connection with them.
- Don’t hide yourself. A few tweaks to your Privacy and Settings on LinkedIn can make the difference between being noticed by industry leaders and getting lost in the shuffle with millions of other profiles. So, if your goal is networking, make sure you have the “Select what others see when you’ve viewed their profile” option checked in Privacy and Settings, which will allow others to see if you viewed their profile. Plus, it will give you the added capability of seeing who is viewing your profile, which brings me to…
- Find out who’s watching you and reach out to them. With the “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature on LinkedIn, you can see who has been looking at your profile. Industry recruiters? Networking professionals? Either way, it’s a great opening to start a long-term business relationship.
So, now you’ve identified potential contacts within your chosen industry and you’re starting to build those business relationships. In my experience, your next move should be to invite your potential contact(s) to a one-on-one meeting for coffee, a business lunch or something along those lines in order to engage them in a focused and fruitful conversation about your career track and goals.
Remember, you’ve called this meeting for a specific reason and their time is valuable, so it’s important to go in with questions already in mind. Below, I’ve suggested a few direct questions that may help you get to the meat of your career discussion without wasting valuable one-on-one time. They are:
- How did you get into this career? Did you choose it or did it choose you?
- Why did you choose this firm/company?
- What do you like most about your career and the firm?
- What do you like least?
- Is there anybody else in the industry that you think I should talk with?
The potential of LinkedIn for business and networking purposes is what you make it – like everything else in life though, if you want to be successful at it you have to learn to use it efficiently and effectively. That means you have to be more of an extrovert and seek out connections, work on building meaningful relationships and always conduct yourself with the utmost professionalism and tact. LinkedIn is not Facebook or Twitter where it’s sometimes acceptable to share jokes, play games and talk family or politics. LinkedIn is a business tool and you should use it as such.
Spend your time connecting with other professionals, engaging in industry discussions via the “Groups” function, and providing rich and compelling industry-related content in your LinkedIn feed. By employing these tactics along with other established strategies, you can position yourself as a potential thought leader in your chosen field and “get where you’re going.”
Do you have any other tips for LinkedIn users looking to connect? Please share them in the comments below.