Making connections: A big part of how you brand yourself on LinkedIn
By Bob McIntosh, CPRW, MBTI
This is the second in a three-part series about LinkedIn. In March Bob will address the topic of how to engage with connections made on LinkedIn. (In the December Messenger he began this series with a discussion of how to create a personal brand on your LinkedIn profile.)
So you have a great LinkedIn profile that supports your personal brand. You’ve posted an attractive photo of yourself and a keyword-packed descriptive Headline. You also have Summary and Experience sections that successfully sell your talents. You’re golden.
But unfortunately, you only have 70 connections. This is not good because, first, a paltry number of connections limits your reach to other LinkedIn members – essentially, you’re a nonentity. Second, your small network is telling hiring authorities that you’re not embracing LinkedIn; unlike other skilled professionals, you are have not taken the time to participate.
In short, your low number of connections is harmful to your personal brand.
With whom do you connect?
In my workshops and during individual counseling sessions, many people ask me with whom they should connect, how they should connect with people they don’t know, and how many people they should connect with.
When people ask this, I explain they should look at potential connections as a pyramid. In the pyramid graphic below I show exactly how professionals should focus their efforts to connect.
The bottom level of the pyramid represents the most fundamental and important connections to make – connections with former colleagues. And from there the levels represent each next step necessary to build a complete structure enabling you to use LinkedIn as the powerful networking device it is meant to be.
An underlying goal is to connect with as many second- and third-degree connections as fit in a meaningful way into your professional network – although third-degree connections should be the last ones with whom you make an effort to connect.
BOB’S PYRAMID OF LINKEDIN CONNECTIONS
The bottom level, again, is the most important tier of the pyramid. It is composed of people with whom you have worked, e.g., former colleagues and supervisors. It is the most important because they know you and are entrenched in the industry in which you’ve worked.
The second level contains people who share the same occupation and same industry. These people are like-minded and have similar aspirations to yours.
The third level is composed of people who share the same occupation but work in different industries. So, if you’re a marketing specialist, you want to look for other marketing specialists in industries outside of your own.
The fourth level is people who work in other occupations but the same industry. Connecting with these people will provide you with possible entries into your target companies. Connecting with an accountant, for instance, may give you access to the hiring manager of marketing at a desired company.
The fifth level adds people in other occupations and other industries. This may seem an unnecessary category, but consider that the V.P. of a manufacturing company that is on your target employers list may need an accountant. You’re not a V.P., and you don’t work in manufacturing, but you are an accountant.
The last level consists of your alumni group or groups, who are people likely to connect with you because you attended the same school at some point.
How to Connect with other LinkedIn Members
There are three ways to connect with LinkedIn members. The first, and simplest way, is to use the search field to find potentially helpful connections. Second, you can search for LinkedIn members at organizations that interest you with the Companies feature. And third, you can search for alumni from where you went to school with “See Alumni.”
Search field. In my LinkedIn workshop, I tell my attendees that typing an occupation title in the search field is an important step toward finding people. (For example, if you’re looking for connections with software engineers, you type: “software engineer.”) From there, you select second- or third-degree connections, location, and then read through their profiles. See if they might be people you’d like to have in your network.
LinkedIn supports Boolean searches, which can give you a more focused search. For example, you type in: “software engineer” AND “manufacturing” AND “greater boston area” to find software engineers in manufacturing who reside in the Greater Boston area. Or you can use the “Filter people by” feature on the right of your screen, which will help you refine your search.
Search Companies. Probably the best way to connect with someone is by selecting a company that you’re targeting and finding an employee at said company with whom a connection would be worthwhile. As an example, you might want to connect with someone in Finance or Marketing. This is a great way to get your foot in the door for an open position – or, better yet, to start building your networks at target companies before jobs are even advertised.
How: In the search field, type the company name. IBM is an example. There are many companies with IBM in their title, so you need to select the IBM you’re targeting. On the company page, click on “See all XX employees on LinkedIn” Then, after the list appears, use “Filter people by” to refine your search. In “Keywords” type the occupation you’re seeking in the “Title” field. I chose marketing as the title for IBM and came up with 20,478 people who work in marketing.
See Alumni. Another way to look for valuable connections is by using the “See Alumni” feature, which is a great way to connect with LinkedIn members who are more likely to accept your requests than strangers. After all, you attended the same university or high school.
How: Finding your alumni is similar to finding people at a company. In the search field, type the name of your alma mater and then choose “School” from the drop-down bar that appears after you click the magnifying glass. Select your campus, which brings you to its school page. Click “See Alumni.” From there choose the criteria, or filters, you need to find your ideal alumnus.
An import tip is that when asking someone to connect with you, make sure your note is personal and not the default message LinkedIn provides. A default message indicates this connection is not important enough for you to bother to customize your request.
I’m also not a fan of connecting with people on LinkedIn by using your smartphone, or trolling your email contacts and sending mass invites. I see this as lazy. And it also can send out an impression that doesn’t compliment your brand.
How Many People to Connect With
The answer to the age-old question – quality or quantity? – comes down to personal preference.
I myself aim for a combination of both – that is, 300 or so quality connects with people who share my interests and/or goals. If you look back at the “pyramid” above, you’ll see that focusing on connections in the bottom three levels is a good way to achieve a quality and quantity goal. These are people with whom you worked, people who share the same occupation and industry, and, third tier, people who share the same occupation but are in different industries.
When you build connections in this way, you solidify your brand as someone who is focused on a specific audience. You have the opportunity to build a tight-knit network of professional connections.
Meanwhile, if you focus on quantity, you’re likely to be less selective. You may come across as having little direction and less focus. In my mind, this is not a good way to brand yourself.
In fact, recruiters and hiring managers may take notice of your connections on LinkedIn and look to see what kinds of people you connect with. They may even go to your connections’ profiles and by chance notice some that are not-so-savory. In other words, you could be found guilty by association.
Let’s say, for example, one of your connections is affiliated with someone in a controversial group. This could look make you look bad.
On the other hand, focusing too much on quality does limit your number of connections, which means you’re limiting your access to other LinkedIn users who could be of assistance.
For some people, quantity has other benefits, particularly if you are a business owner and want to advertise your products or services.
Meanwhile, there is the extreme quantity strategy: the LinkedIn Open Networker (L.I.O.N.) strategy. L.I.O.N.s are LinkedIn members who are interested in collecting as many connections as possible. They believe that more people create opportunities. They also are more likely to be victims of spam.
Bottom line, because you are responsible for choosing connections that support your image, you must also consider how each and every connection may affect your personal brand.
Bob McIntosh is a career workshop specialist, LinkedIn trainer, and LinkedIn profile writer. He taught the December 15th PDC class “Mastering the New LinkedIn for Job Search & Professional Success.” Visit his blog: Things Career Related