When it comes to building personal networks modern professionals have many tools at their disposal. The old classic is, of course, attending meetups and getting to know people in person. Increasingly, however, the attention turns toward electronic enablers, be they Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) or publically accessible platform like LinkedIn. This makes a lot of sense. On them, a route to a much larger group of people exists. The probability to find exactly who is needed is high.
The rules for connections in real life are more are less clear: introductions first, no outright sales pitches and no recruiters (at least not when they are too obvious about their goals). Most larger events even have an etiquette which determines acceptible behavior.
Looking at LinkedIn, I find that there is a lot of confusion going around. Believe it or not – one of the most asked questions I had in the last year was „can I just send an invitation like that, without message?“. This stems from the fact that LinkedIn, like any other platform, needs to make money. Premium membership unlocks many function that non-paying members don’t have, such as sending a notice along with their friendly knock.
Due to that, navigating the LinkedIn high seas can be challenging. Profile owners want to transmit professionalism, while highlighting their achievements and being found by the right people. One does not necessarily correlate with the other.
Luckily for me over the years I identified developed a specific etiquette. It is flexible and allows you to get the best out out the network for their personal goals. Ready? Let’s dive in!
What needs to be on my profile?
The most important items are the essentials. Covering all jobs, major educational achievements and volunteering is crucial. Gaps are no big deal, as long as they are not overly long and have meaning. Maybe this person was travelling around the world at that time or they were actively seeking out opportunities for further education. Whoever looks at the profile wants to get a sense of who you are and what you stand for.
You should always strive to adapt the profile to your goals. Are you actively looking for work? Is the presence on LinkedIn intended to build up a solid network for future collaborations? Is the aim to share content with the target group?
Depending on that, there are two areas which should always be kept up-to-date. They are all found in the topcard.
This is the first information searchers see in the list of results. The tag line is personal branding and ad space in unisono.
A couple of words go a long way to reflect a profile’s characteristics. This can take many forms, such as s reference to the acquired experience or a hint to recruiters.
While the focus tends to be on points which are of the utmost importance, there are some things which are surplus or even unnecessary.
- vanity achievements, e. g. every single Coursera course
- volunteering if it is no longer applicable or unrelated to the aims
So, what about the skills and recommendations? My impression is that they no longer hold the sway we once attributed to them. The former was highly deprecated by LinkedIn a while ago and only marginally pops up on the profile now.
The latter might influence a recruiter’s or contact’s decision to get in touch. Judging from the rate of contact requests, this does not seem to be correlated. Social proof is important, in no age more so than in ours. But it is more about what you are able to do rather than who vouches for you.
Even more so, those areas can be highly manipulated. The same rules as with reviews apply: a couple are fine and even good. If contacts goes overboard, it can leave a negative impression.
Common sense is a good guide when it comes to filling out the profile. No more than necessary, yet more than the basics is the principle we should all strive for.
How do recruiters find me?
Social mechanisms on job networks have their own rules. If a profile does not have any of the sought skills it is highly unlikely that it will be among the top contacted profiles on the platform.
However, there is some magic sauce to how approachable a LinkedIn CV can be made. For once, LinkedIn IS social. Having a medium-sized to large network, being active regularly with posts and comments, and a healthy dose of confidence in the activities highlight your proactiveness. Whoever looks at the profile can be sure that the person behind it is open to exchanging.
The little trick, nonetheless, is in the career interests. A click in the job section reveals the corresponding settings and opportunities. You can determine:
- whether you are interested in being contacted or not
- which roles you see yourself in
- where the next job should be
- which form the job should take (employed, freelance, etc.)
This is information that people with recruiter accounts get to see. It essentially helps them to navigate your wishes and consider them.
Another way to identify matching opportunities is monitoring specific job titles and keywords. Once entered in the search field, an alert can be set for a set of words. This is especially helpful if you want to know what developments are happening in your area of expertise.
I have frequently monitored job ads even though I was not on the lookout. This way, I know which skills are currently most sought and whether I should think about educating myself about them.
What is the deal with recruiters on LinkedIn?
Let’s get real here. Recruiters want to make money. Their agencies want to make money. You are the commodity. That, however, does not mean that recruiters cannot be friendly or helpful.
A lot of the time, recruiters approach users out of the blue with random job offers which do not even fit the profile.
Have you ever wondered why that is? Recruiters are essentially salespeople. They need to sell a certain amount of jobs to a certain pool of candidates. In the olden days, they had to go out and establish a network. LinkedIn makes it easier to reach a large number of people.
Instead of qualitative relationship building, which as a community professional I know to be hard, they contact hundreds of profiles for one job. This is done in the hope that, by adhering to specific markers (see above), a percentage will be the right fit. Only once contactees show interest or potential, the process is taken to the next step. For some recruiters, that means intense care and priming so that you get the job. For others, it’s simply a way to get referrals and the rest is up to you.
A software engineer usually gets around three to five messages every week. Filtering through those would take up a lot of time! For me, it is usually around two to five pre month, if I have my settings on jobseeker mode.
You want to be found? Great! Open the floodgates, pimp your profile and leave the rest to fate. Once you are contacted you can still decide whether and how to go forward.
You don’t want to be bothered? Then set everything to no contact mode. LinkedIn still allows recruiters to contact you. But it will be much less than previously. Plus, some might even have good advice or insight. I certainly had my fair share of interesting encounters…
How do I start with growing my network?
Starting out, it might seem hard to establish a network. You look at profiles from other people and wonder how on earth they managed to get 500 or even 1,000 contacts.
There is no right or wrong path to getting exposure. As detailed above, it depends heavily on what you wish to accomplish with these contacts. There are advocates out there who value quantity over quality. If you had to choose between investing time in simple numbers versus long-term, qualitativre relationships, I’d always go for the latter.
That being said, especially in the beginning having a couple of contacts can send a positive message.
The most important rule is that online life on LinkedIn mirrors real life. Contacts like your coworkers, people you have done projects with and your friends are people who should be in your contact list.
But it goes further than that. If you have had a valuable exchange with someone at an event, send them a connection request afterwards. This will give both of you the possibility to get in touch again without knowing each others’ email addresses right away.
In the second step, scout for contacts you might have exchanged with in another way. Maybe you have talked with this person on Twitter? Maybe they are someone who was recommeded by someone you work with? The connection does not always have to be based on personal introductions.
Look up companies and their employees on LinkedIn. Gauge who might be of interest in someone else’s contacts.
I find that networks grow with activity. The more outreach I do – on Twitter, via my blog or in real life – the more I become a good contact to have. Step out of your confort zone, so something nice or helpful for someone else and they will come to you.
Don’t be afarid to send contact requests to people you haven’t yet met. Still, there is a specific way to go about it.
Should I send connection requests to unknown contacts?
In my opinion you should. My personal „success“ rate is currently about 80%. That says a lot about my desirabilty and strategy, I know.
Nevertheless, let’s look at the example of blockchain. When I started writing about it some of my contacts knew what it was and what could be done with it. I had no knowledge about who was a good reference to have and who had a say in this field of expertise. So I searched for keywords and found profiles that already had a lot of contacts in blockchain and seemed distinguished. Once my first requests had been accepted I received more recommendations.
Those people trusted me because they saw that I was connected to their contacts, had shared interests and knowledge. It’s all about social validation, really.
LinkedIn is tricky in that non-paying members cannot send a message together with their request. With this strategy, you can circumvent a little bit and then send your message once you are connected.
It is not foolproof, though. You will experience rejections and setbacks. Don’t let that hold you back. In such cases it might be better that is has not worked out. Keep trying and you will build exactly the network you are looking for.
When do I delete a contact?
According to LinkedIn etiquette, you never delete a contact. In some cases it might be imperative to do so, however:
- bad experience online or in real life with the person
- harassment or anything else that makes you uncomfortable
- you do not want them to see your updates any longer
Who should I follow?
LinkedIn allows profiles to be followed. This is a one-way ticket and ensures that you don’t see the person’s posts in return.
Again, this should align with your goals. LinkedIn recommends all kinds of influential figures Stick to the ones who will give your mission value and your timeline won’t be cluttered,
Should I accept all connection requests?
So people have sought YOU out. What happens now? You can accept all requests as they come in, invest a lot of time and get spammed in the worst case.
Or you could brainstorm what your standards of acceptance will be. Do you want to have contacts that share your skillset? Are you trying to build an audience for your blog posts? Do you want to establish business partnerships?
My tips for profile checking are:
- Look at all sections carefully. Where is the thread?
- Is there a profile picture? A company on the CV that you know?
- Do you have shared contacts? Who?
- What is the person commenting on? Posting about?
All these things give you an indicator of whether the profile will be a good fit. Otherwise, go with your gut instinct. An if all else fails, you can still sever the connection or report them in case you receive strange messages.
What should I post?
Judging from what my network does, there are three types of posters on LinkedIn:
- agenda setters
Curators act as information hubs. They filter vast amounts of articles, videos and memes and share the best selection in their LinkedIn timeline. I find curators to be a good, yet at times, annoying source of knowledge. They give me on indicator of relevant happenings in my field. But I have to drown them out occasionally.
Agenda setters are people like me. They have their own content, questions, offers – basically their agenda. They use LinkedIn as a vehicle to further it. Their post frequency is low and primarily aimed at engaging their network with their own items.
Announcers are not very active. They mainly declare milestones and achievements.
Think about where you see yourself. Do you enjoy helping other learn of current news? Or do your resources limit you to occasional check-ins? Whatever you do, make sure to post qualitative content. If contacts do not see any value in your posts, they will not engage with them long-term.
Which posts should I comment on?
Is it ok to comment on any post that appears in your timeline? Certainly! Don’t be afraid to comment on something that does not directly come from your contracts.
If you want to be super strategic about it you will only go for the items that fit your agenda.
Why do settings matter?
Last but not least I want to put a spotlight on the settings. With the right adjustments in place, you will make LinkedIn your personal network booster. The settings allow you to:
- be notified about birthdays and career changes of your contacts
- have only relevant ads shown in the job section
- monitor the job market
- notify your contacts about your changes (or not)
- and so forth…
Designing your experience gives you power over how you use the platform. Make abundant use of it and you will succeed no matter what it is that you are doing.