Networking on LinkedIn: Using LinkedIn to Expand & Maintain Your Network
You no doubt have heard that networking is key to a successful career. Networking is essentially building and maintaining long-term professional relationships for mutual benefit. These days, we need to be cultivating and growing our connections throughout our entire career, not just when we need a job. LinkedIn can help facilitate this process by allowing us to amass our connections in one place and interact with them on a regular basis.
This blog post focuses on how to expand your network and maintain it on LinkedIn throughout your career. If you are in the midst of a job search, all these principles still apply. You might also consider checking out my previous post, which focuses specifically on how to use LinkedIn to network for a specific job.
People You Meet
One simple way to keep expanding your network is to actively invite people to connect with you on LinkedIn. Every time you attend conferences, meetings, panels, or any other professional-related events, be sure to get business cards or take note of who you meet. If you’d like to connect with these professionals, search for them on LinkedIn, personalize your message, and ask them to join your LinkedIn network.
Another way to continually expand your network and make new connections is to target or search for specific professionals you’d like to get to know. You can then ask these people for an informational interview, which is a meeting with a professional to talk about their career. (To learn more about informational interviews, review our blog post “Informational Interviews: The Single Best Way to Look for a Job.”) These types of conversations are considered one of the best ways to network.
You can find professionals to target through LinkedIn in a few different ways, as highlighted below:
First, you can conduct a search by typing in various keywords in the general search box, which can be found at the top of the LinkedIn platform when you log in. To identify professionals of interest, try searches based on your industry, a specific career niche, or a job title (e.g., social science or research analyst). On the results page, you can filter your results by selecting “People,” and then review the entries to find individuals you would like to reach out to. If your results are too broad or numerous, you can select additional filters or “All Filters” at the top of the results page and choose additional ways to narrow down the entries (e.g., first- or second-degree connections, schools attended, location).
A second way to find professionals and expand your network is to tap into LinkedIn’s Alumni tool. First, search for a specific school you attended in LinkedIn’s general search box by typing in the school name, and then select “Schools” on the results page (under the “More” tab at the top) to further refine the entries. Once you land on the school page, select the “Alumni” tab in the menu on the left-hand side. You can then use the search box that appears in the Alumni tool to type in any keywords, which can be related to a title, your industry, a position, a department, a company, and so on. You can continue adding keywords to narrow your results even further, and then review the final set of individuals.
A third way you can find new connections is to use the Company pages. Type in a company name in the general search box and then select “Companies” on the results page (under the “More” tab) to filter the entries. Once you navigate to the company page, notice if any of your connections work at the company (this will appear at the top of the page in the header). You can then choose who would be the best person to contact.
If you do not have any first-degree connections working at the company, LinkedIn will show you alumni from the schools you’ve attended who work there. You can also select the “People” tab in the left-hand side menu and then use filters to find individuals (such as second-degree connections). Finally, you can use the search box that appears in the People tab to search by keywords for individuals working at the company. Note that this search works similarly to the one in the Alumni tool.
Groups are a fourth way to find new connections. Of the few million groups on LinkedIn, those that might be most helpful to you include the alumni, industries, professional associations, and networking groups. You can find groups of interest through the general search box by typing in a keyword (try your career field, such as marketing), and then selecting “Groups” on the results page (under the “More” tab) to further narrow down the list. Although you can join up to 100 groups, it is recommended that you choose three to five key groups to focus in on. Visit your key groups two to three times per week to like and comment on discussions, as well as to post your own discussions, articles, or questions. This is a great way to get to know others and brand yourself as someone who is committed and a thought leader in the field.
Over time, as you get to know other members, reach out to those in the group that you’d like to connect with. One HUGE benefit of being in the same group with someone is that you will have the ability to send a private message to the individual without needing to upgrade your account (see more details on this in the next section).
How to Send a Message
As mentioned above, if you do not have an upgraded LinkedIn account with InMail to use, you can still send private messages if you both belong to the same group on LinkedIn. When you click on someone’s LinkedIn profile, pay attention to the “Highlights” section, which appears on the person’s profile. This will tell you what you have in common with that individual. If a group is listed, navigate to that group on LinkedIn, click on the members list, type in the person’s name, and notice the envelope next to the person on the results page. Simply click on the envelope and personalize your message. Note that you will not be able to send a free message if you click on the professional’s profile; this must be done through the member search results within the group.
If you happen to want to reach out to someone who is not in a group with you, check out what groups they belong to (see the Interests section at the bottom of the individual’s profile). If there is a group that makes sense for you to join as well, then request to become a member. Once accepted, you can reach out to this person directly through the group membership.
What to Say
You may be wondering what to say when reaching out for an informational interview. Here is a sample message:
Dear Susan Smith:
I came across your profile in the American Studies Association group on LinkedIn and noticed we have a similar background in terms of degree and interests. I have a PhD in American Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center. At this time, I am exploring my next career steps.
I am very interested in the career path you have taken. If you are willing, I would love to schedule a brief (30 minute) meeting with you to talk about the industry and your career experiences. Of course if there is anything I can do for you, I would be more than happy to do so.
Thank you very much for considering this request, and I hope to talk to you soon.
Note that in the above message, Greta is pointing out what she has in common with this individual and shares a bit about her background. On the other hand, she does not mention anything about jobs.
Keep in Touch
While adding new connections and expanding your network is important, it is also imperative to keep in touch with your existing connections, both old and new. There are a few different ways you can use LinkedIn to maintain your network. First, you can regularly comment on or like your connections’ status updates, which will show up in your home feed. You can also visit the “Notifications” tab at the top of LinkedIn and view your connections’ new jobs, title changes, work anniversaries, and birthdays, and send them a message pertaining to these occurrences.
You can also make a list of VIP connections (or professionals you would especially like to get to know) and create reminders in your calendar to get in touch with them a few times a year. Some people recommend different strategies, such as making a point to reach out to a different connection each week, or meet up with a different connection each month for coffee.
Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, points out the power of doing “small goods” for your connections. These are little things you can do for others to support them, and in turn, they will be more likely to help you in the future when you need it. Some of these “small goods” might include sending a note via LinkedIn to check in, sharing articles or industry events when you think the person would find it useful, introducing a connection to another professional, sending a personalized holiday note, endorsing your connections’ skills, or writing a thoughtful recommendation for a connection.
In this blog post, we covered how to expand your network via LinkedIn by connecting with professionals whom you meet and searching for individuals you might want to get to know better, perhaps through informational interviews. You can also strategically use LinkedIn to keep in touch with your network through status updates, checking in or meeting up with your connections, and doing small goods for them.
For more information about LinkedIn, view our webinars LinkedIn 101: Getting to Know the Basics; Stand Out Online: Optimizing Your LinkedIn Profile; and Putting LinkedIn to Work: Job Searching, Networking, and Personal Branding.