One of my early networking meetings was with a recruiter named Melissa. Melissa told me from the start that the type of recruiting that she does would not be useful to me based on the types of opportunities that I was exploring, but that we should definitely get together in a networking capacity to get to know one another. Boy, I am so glad that we did. Melissa gave me a fabulous piece of advice.
We met one morning for Coffee at Panera. Melissa graciously asked me loads of questions about how I was conducting my career search, who I was talking to, etc. That’s when she said, “Your LinkedIn profile is 100% complete, right?” I laughed. As I told her then, I simply didn’t do LinkedIn. Politely, she suggested that I reconsider that decision. She told me that of the last five or so positions for which she was conducting searches, she had filled three of them with connections she made from LinkedIn. You better believe that I went home and completed my LinkedIn profile!
That meant filling in my career history, educational background, interests, photo, etc. It also meant gathering several referrals from people who had worked with. I selected to include a variety of people – former teammates, direct reports, managers, customers, peer volunteers, etc. Nervous as I was to request those referrals, I was so grateful and extremely humbled that everyone who I asked to write a few sentences about their experience with me readily complied. In many cases, they asked me to return the favor, which I was delighted to do.
I quickly went from about five connections to hundreds of connections. Today, I have more than 1,000 connections. Note, however, that it is not the quantity or volume of contacts that matters – in fact, I do not accept all invitations that I receive – it is the quality of the connections that is important. When you ask to link to someone, and when someone asks to link to you, it is important to have a good sense for why you might connect with one another. When you ask someone to connect, be sure to write a personal message to them – do not use the standard LinkedIn language.
Important to note also: For each new qualified connection that you make, you loosely connect to their entire database of connections. Soon, you will have general access to millions – yes, millions – of additional people! For example, with my 1,000+ contacts, I have access to about 8.8 million professionals. In this case, quantity is important and here’s why: You can utilize LinkedIn to conduct informal focus groups and quickly gather information that could take you much longer if you went about it on your own. Allow me to illustrate.
When I was consulting to McCownGordon Construction, the project they asked me to take on had to do with an industry and function that I knew NOTHING about. I entered a question into LinkedIn – I asked, “Is anyone using a good CMMS program?” If you think that I knew at the time what a CMMS program is, you are mistaken, however, I knew that anyone who did bother to answer my question would know! Thankfully, I was right! Two people, who I did not (and still do not) know, responded with awesome answers. One of them – Kevin – even sent me a 150 page research report on the best such systems that I would not otherwise have had access to. That’s the power of LinkedIn… a social media tool that all of you networkers out there must plug-in to!
LinkedIn is also great for job seekers and salespeople who are trying to learn more about companies of interest. Through the site’s advanced search feature, you can enter a company name and discover people in your network – or your network’s network – who have connections to that company. Through your network, you can also request introductions to others who you would like to meet. Very powerful.
Obviously, though I have focused on LinkedIn for purposes of this post, there are other social media sites that may be of use to you including Facebook, Twitter and others. That said, if you are going to pick or only have time to devote energy to one site, for business networking purposes, I believe that LinkedIn is the best.
Before I close on this topic, my dad, Max, who teaches courses on “the dark side of social media,” would be disappointed if I didn’t remind you to Watch Out! If it is in cyberspace, it’s fair game… and available for review by prospective contacts, potential employers, would-be customers and partners, etc. Be cautious and use your best judgment when deciding what to post on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or any other social media site that you use. Put your best foot forward… be professional… behave online the way that you would wish to be viewed if you met someone in person.
And, a special shout out to my brother-in-law, Brian, who is doing excellent work at LinkedIn. I would have said all of those great things about LinkedIn long before you got there, but your presence there makes it all the greater!!!
Tomorrow, we will continue our discussion on the media and I will suggest that you get yourself some media training between Coffee and Lunch.