Networking: A LinkedIn Primer
LinkedIn is far and away the single most valuable career-related tool in existence today. A surprising number of my clients know about LinkedIn but really don’t know how to use it. Searching online, I discovered that there is no up-to-date, simple, brief (i.e. less than 1000 words) “primer” on the value and proper use of LinkedIn. So, here are 964 words on it.
THE MANY BENEFITS OF LINKEDIN:
1. It allows you to exhibit to the world (but most importantly to recruiters and potential employers) your professional credentials in a professional setting that is a job site.
2. It is a primary source of job leads – based on the data that you choose to include in your LinkedIn profile, plus your viewing and search patterns. LinkedIn algorithms select available jobs that seem to suit your background, skills, and interests and alerts you to them. It also identifies the people within your network that can increase your chances of landing an interview at the particular organization with that job opening (more on that in a moment). And It allows recruiters to alert you to openings.
3. LinkedIn has a feature known as Influencers, which gives you access to the thinking of leading business titans and public figures (ranging from Richard Branson to President Obama to Tony Robbins to Ariana Huffington) through their postings unique to LinkedIn.
4. Through its many virtual “associations” (e.g. the Intelligence-based Cybersecurity group, the Creative Writers and Designers group) you can gain valuable information from peers, join threaded conversations with them, and perhaps even strike up new connections.
5. Most importantly, it provides you a means of easily contacting thousands of people in a myriad of industries, organizations, and professional associations who can be sources of “inside information” on their fields, their companies, how they came to land their jobs, what a potential boss is like, skills necessary to succeed, etc. Depending on the strength of your connection, these contacts may be able to open doors for you that the average outsider could never access.
HERE’S HOW TO GET STARTED, AND HOW IT WORKS:
You post a profile on LinkedIn, including a professional summary, a job and education history, skills/ interests, and a photo.
You begin adding contacts by inviting people to join your network. Increasing your QUALITY contacts (see below) has exponential value. If you have a network of 20 people, each of those twenty will have approximately 250 contacts of their own, the vast majority of whom you are unlikely to know. So through your 20 contacts you are only one step removed from potentially 5000 people (20×250). If you have 100 people you are one step away from 25,000. Because I have been around a long time and have on average fairly senior level contacts, I am, through my network of more than 600 people, just one step away from over 150,000! I can reach out to people all over the world in a huge variety of fields, at thousands of different organizations, potentially asking my “first degree” contacts (those belonging to my network) for the favor of an introduction to a key decision maker or source of information.
Say that Bob Jones is one of your contacts. You see that he is connected to Betty Smith, the HR manager at a company to which you want to apply. You simply contact Bob and ask him to facilitate a connection with Betty (“Bob, I see you know Betty Smith. I want to learn more about her organization. Would you do me the favor of e-mailing her and asking her if she’d be willing to chat with me for a few minutes?” OR “Would you tell her I’m interested in applying for a position there and that you’re vouching for me; would you put in a good word?”).
That’s why, in thinking about the people you can add to invite, limit it to PEOPLE WHO HAVE A POSITIVE IMPRESSION OF YOU AND WOULD BE WILLING TO SUGGEST TO A COLLEAGUE THAT HE/SHE SPEAK TO YOU. But think broadly – many people mistakenly limit their LinkedIn network to professional contacts, thereby overlooking other groups: friends, neighbors, classmates.
There’s one group of potential contacts known as DORMANTS. As noted on LinkedIn’s site:
“Dormant ties are the people we used to know. Think about the people with whom you’ve lost touch for a few years: a childhood neighbor, a college roommate, or a colleague from your first job”. In groundbreaking research, Daniel Levin, Jorge Walter, and Keith Murnighan asked hundreds of executives to seek advice on a major work project from two dormant ties. When they compared the value of these conversations to the advice from current contacts, the dormant ties were actually more useful. The executives received more valuable solutions, referrals, and problem-solving assistance from people they used to know than their current friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Why?
Just like weak ties, dormant ties offer novel information: in the years since you last communicated, they’ve connected with new people and gathered new knowledge. But unlike weak ties, dormant ties also bring the benefits of longstanding familiarity. The history and shared experience makes it more comfortable to reconnect, and you can count on them to care more about you than mere acquaintances do.
Also, the vast majority of jobs come from interactions with SECOND degree contacts, not firsts. This is partly because there are so many more second degree contacts than first, but it’s also because chances are that you may have already “mined” first degree contacts for connections and information.
LinkedIn itself provides several ways of facilitating the invitation process, e.g. suggesting individuals you may know (based on the information in your profile), and asking if you’d like to have your address book scanned for LinkedIn members you can invite to join your network. Try to personalize those invitations rather than simply relying on LinkedIn’s standard form.