November 27, 2020

3 steps to using LinkedIn to connect with the right people for your career

LinkedIn is a great source of people who can help you with your professional life. This could be getting advice, acquiring information about a company, hearing about open positions and much more. Though, in order to get the most out of it, you need to follow a smart approach rather than a shotgun approach of sending connection requests and copy-paste messages to everyone. This involves who you should connect with, how you should approach them and what you should say in your messages. Let’s start with what kind of people you can get in touch with.

1. Make a list of the profiles you're looking for

It’s very tempting to see a lot of experts, thought leaders and people who are experts in areas you want to work in. But trying to reach a person who gets thousands of replies to their posts might prove to be in vain. They will likely not reply or even see your message. Instead, you should choose people who are accessible and who still have value for you. It is harder to find those people because they will not pop up on your feed as often as the popular thought leaders but it's still possible. It will only take a little bit more thinking and planning. And the first step of this planning is thinking of your goal: “What are you currently trying to do?” The answers could be:

  • Get my first job
  • Find an internship
  • Break into a new career
  • Figure out the next step to take in my career

As you see, most of these are clearly defined goals. They have a specified end goal. If the goal you can come up with is basically “get advice on my career” I would say that’s too vague. We will talk about why this is relevant in a second but basically, a vague goal will have you asking vague questions and vague questions will get generalized, vague answers that will not actually help you. 

So once you find the reason for seeking out connections, make a list of the type of people you’re looking for. These could be:

  • People who are working at a company you want to work for
  • People who used to work at a company you want to work for
  • An intern at a company you want to intern at
  • The recruiter of this company
  • Someone who has changed from a similar career of yours to the career you want to build

Once you have a list, use LinkedIn's advanced search to filter and find people who fit the profile.

2. First impressions matter

Great, now you have a list of people who can help you. But just sending them plain connection requests might end up in rejection. That's why you should always include a small note attached to your connection request in order to explain why you want to be connected to this person. 

The note attached to connection requests is not allowed to be very long. That's why keep it brief, do not try to ask questions. Simply write a sentence about yourself and why you want to connect with this person. Examples of good messages are:

  • Hi, I am an aspiring data scientist interested in NLP. I would like to connect with you to learn more about your role at company XYZ. Thank you!
  • Hello, while I was looking for positions in data science I ran into your company XYZ. I am interested in applying and I would like to learn more about the company culture. I'd be happy to connect.

And examples of bad messages are:

  • Hi, I would like to connect with you.
  • Hello, I would be happy to be in your network.
  • Hi, I want to connect because I have questions about data science.

By writing a descriptive and explanatory message you will dramatically increase the chance that people will accept your connection requests.

Though, it is not guaranteed. There could be many reasons why someone might not accept your connection request. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to be open to connecting to everyone. Maybe they only want people they personally know in their network. Personally, the reason I don't accept all the connection requests is that I am getting a lot of connection requests and I want to keep my feed from being full of things I’m not interested in. Currently, I only accept:

  • People who I know in real-life
  • People who I have met on social media or through others
  • People who write a short note on why they sent the connection request

You can, of course, keep sending connection requests without notes if you think you're getting accepted by enough people. But the caveat is if you’re careless about how you send requests to people, the ones who accept your connection request will probably be people who accept everyone’s request. Thus, you won’t have a meaningful connection there.

Apart from directly approaching people, you can also take a different route of course. When you find someone you are interested in talking to, see if you have any common connections and maybe ask one of these people to introduce you. This will very likely lead to a connection.

3. Write concise messages

Getting a connection to someone is just the beginning. You then need to get their attention and formulate the right questions to ask them. 

Here is a good framework I use when writing my first message to someone on LinkedIn:

  • What do I do right now
  • What do I want to do
  • Why am I getting in touch with this person specifically (they are a data scientist and you also want to be a data scientist or they are from a certain country who moved to another country and you are also from that country and want to move to the same/similar country)
  • One sentence to ask if they have the time and are willing to answer some questions or talk to me

This first message is only to establish an actual connection and to get their attention. A bad practice is to immediately assume they are open and willing to give you endless advice. So in this message:

  • Do not take their time for granted by writing long explanations about your current situation.
  • Do not immediately bombard them with questions.
  • Keep it respectful. Do not write your message like a list of demands.

Remember, you are someone who is coming out of the blue and asking for a piece of their time. On top of this, remember that some of the people you approach are likely getting a lot of messages. If you take their time for granted, they might not answer your message or reply with short uninformative sentences.

Once you've got their attention and received the green light, it's time to formulate your questions. That's when the goal we determined previously comes in handy. But of course, your questions still need to be formulated in a way that they will not mind answering. Mostly keeping it short and to the point will cover it. But I found another nice trick: asking them to talk about themselves rather than asking about yourself. 

Instead of saying, “Should I choose this or that master’s program?” Ask “why did you choose this program and not the other?” Instead of saying “Do you think company XYZ would be a good fit for me?” Ask what they like the most about their company and if they feel like they belong there. Everyone likes talking about themselves and their stories. And so with the answer to these questions, you will have a lot of information to work with.

Taking into consideration your goal, some examples of questions could be:

  • How much of your time is spent on meetings at company A? (if you don't like attending too many meetings and want to know what this company culture is like)
  • Would you say there is enough space to grow professionally at company B?
  • How important is having a portfolio to get a position at your company?
  • Do you have any courses/books you can recommend me on NLP?

Your questions should not look like this:

  • What should I do to get a job at company A?
  • Do you think company B is for me?
  • How can I become a data scientist?
  • Can I get some career advice from you?

If when you approach people you only have a vague goal in mind, your questions will likely also be vague like the above. You might still get answers. People are generally nice enough to take time to answer you but most likely they will not have time to listen to your very specific situation and give you detailed advice. Thus, you will then have to do with the same advice they give everyone who reaches out to them with vague requests like these.

Warnings

Not everyone will answer your messages. You might think, "what’s the hard thing about it, you could have answered me in two seconds" but many times it takes way more time to read, understand and think of an answer. But no matter what happens, never send an angry message, scolding people for not answering or answering late.

I think the key is to remember that on LinkedIn, even the people with whom you really want to connect, are people. They are not there for your satisfaction or to answer your questions. They don’t owe you their time. You need to be respectful and understanding of their limits.

Do not take everything people tell you seriously. Take it all with a grain of salt. People might have personal reasons why they like one thing better than the rest. One job position that might sound terrible to me might actually be your dream job. Same goes for master’s degrees too. 

At the end of the day, people you approach on LinkedIn are not qualified to give you life advice. They probably will do the best they can to give you some idea of what they’ve been through and what their path has been, but their path is not the only path to success. (I feel like getting into “5 habits of Elon Musk” kind of articles here and how useless they are but I’ll save it for another time)

If you’re going to take just three points out of this article let this be it:

  • always attach a note to your connection request explaining the nature of your connection request
  • Send short, precise questions instead of open-ended vague questions
  • Do not expect people to give you personalized life advice. They are not qualified for it and you should not be taking their advice that seriously.

Good luck with your journey and have fun out there! When done right, connecting with people and starting a conversation with them is one of the best things you can do for your career. It will open many doors for you and also many possibilities in your imagination. Keep connecting! :)