How to Grow Your Professional Network with LinkedIn: Part 2

This blog post is the second part of a 2-part series. If you missed part 1, perfecting your presence, check it out now. Ready to move forward? Let’s go.

The hardest part about networking on LinkedIn is the cold emailing. It’s a necessary evil, but it can be intimidating. Reaching out to someone you don’t know puts you in a vulnerable position. The thing to remember is–that’s okay. Vulnerability is actually a necessary part of career growth (A topic we will cover in another post!) Keep in mind that as you reach out to strangers, no matter what happens, it won’t be detrimental. The worst that will happen is the person won’t connect with you.

best practices for professional networking

Choose Appropriate Contacts

The first rule of fight club…er, networking…is to never reach out to anyone you don’t have a valid connection to. Here’s an example: one of my colleagues has been getting network requests from random dentists. And when I say random, I mean they aren’t even in the same state as my colleague. It’s evident that these folks are trying to find clientele and grow their network, but the requests they are sending out don’t make any sense. My colleague isn’t in the dental industry, she doesn’t have connections who are in the dental industry, and she doesn’t live in their area.

Before you send out your connection request, consider whether the request will make sense from the standpoint of the person receiving it. If you put yourself in their shoes and think, “Huh. Why would this person contact me?” reconsider this contact as a possible connection.

Here are some tips to identify a proper target audience:

  • Lives in your area
  • Works in your industry
  • Shares second or third-degree connections with you
  • Has a job title similar to your current or desired title
  • They’ve commented on your posts (you’ve been posting regularly, right?)
  • You’ve commented on their posts
  • Works or worked at the same company as you
  • Attends or attended your alma mater

This list probably isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great start. When you’re reaching out to someone, make sure to have something in common with that person. Otherwise, your request to connect can come off as spammy.

Send a Personalized, Targeted Request to Connect

We’ve all received those auto-generated requests to connect, and most of us ignore them. To make a genuine connection with a stranger, lower the barrier to entry by making them feel seen, valued, and appreciated.

Who said Psychology 101 has no place in the workplace?

People are much more likely to help you (in this case, connect with you) when you make them feel special. Here are a few ways to tailor an invitation to connect that get results.

Connecting with People in Your Field or Your Desired Field

Hi [Their Name Here],

I’m reaching out to you because I see that you work [at company/in this field], and I’m hoping to find my next opportunity as a [insert desired job role]. I’d love to connect with you and hear your thoughts on[company/industry].

[Your name]

Connecting with Thought Leaders and People You Admire

Hi [Their Name Here],
My name is [Your name here], and I’m currently working [as a {job title} at {your company}]. I’ve been following your work for some time, (I especially love [specific thing they wrote/said/presented]. I’m hoping to connect with you here to stay current on your new endeavors.

Thanks so much,
[Your name]

tips for growing your professional network

Join Relevant Groups

Another way to network with folks is to put yourself in the same space with people you want to connect with. Find groups with interests similar to yours and join in their conversations. People are more likely to honor your request to connect if they’ve heard of you, know who you are, and can understand why you’re asking for a connection. Groups are also a great way to stay abreast of industry trends and topics that are top-of-mind for your colleagues, which can be great fodder for your daily or weekly posts.

Ask for Recommendations

Social proof is your bread and butter for building credibility (and likability!) on LinkedIn. If you don’t have recommendations or they aren’t current, start building your social proof now. Having recommendations on your profile will go a long way when you reach out to strangers to connect.

Be choosy about which recommendations you display. Don’t display recommendations from people you have never worked with, or whom you did work with, but in an irrelevant capacity. For example, I once left a recommendation for my realtor. He then reciprocated, stating how great I was to work with…as his client. Since I’m not trying to build a reputation as a great home-buyer, this review was meaningless.

Choose Your Networking Style

A question I get a lot is: should I accept requests from everyone who sends them to me? The short answer is: it depends. You may want to connect with everyone if you:

  • Don’t yet know where your career will take you
  • Want to be a “connector”–someone who can introduce people to each other for mutual benefit
  • Have a job like recruiting where there is no downside to having a giant network
  • Aren’t picky about the quality of comments you may get on your social shares

If that doesn’t sound like you, you may want to pick and choose your connections. If a fella in Indonesia working as a printer salesman wants to connect with you, ask yourself, “Is there any mutual benefit here? Is location, industry, job title, etc., a match?” If not, the connection might not be worth it. But it’s entirely up to you. Your network, your rules.

LinkedIn can be a powerful addition to your networking toolbelt. Keep your profile fresh and your cold emailing skills current to build the best possible network online.