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LinkedIn: To connect, or not to connect, that is the question

August 2, 2023

Maybe I am being a bit dramatic with my Hamlet reference in the title.  Whether you connect with someone on LinkedIn or not, we all know that it’s not like pondering the pros and cons of life versus death.  However, I do believe the decision should not be taken lightly.  I have been using LinkedIn as a business tool for many years now and I have established some ground rules that I try to stick by.  Here are three key examples:

Try to make meaningful connections and don’t accept random invites

Almost 100% of the time, I will only accept invites from people with whom I have met, spoken with or traded emails.  I will only invite people if they meet that criteria as well.  The main reason that I do this is because I want to be able to make a meaningful introduction or referral if someone is in need of one.  Another reason to avoid “randos” is to prevent them from sponging off of your hard work and relationships.  Your network is like gold and should be protected.  There are other reasons as well, but we can talk more about those another time.

Avoid “icky” connections

Just meeting someone doesn’t mean they would be good for your network.  Your network is a reflection of you and like it or not, some people will judge you by the company you keep.  It’s often tempting to want to stack your network with impressive titles or people from big or well known companies but the individual person can cost you more than the benefit of having that title or company on your list.  I have had VPs and even CEOs that I thought were shady in business and life and have removed them from my network because I did not want my association to be obvious.  Even customers or business partners can fall into this category.  Just because you have closed a lot of deals with a particular customer does not mean that everyone in your market thinks they are great business professionals. 

Try to post useful content and avoid out-right commercials

This one might sound obvious, but I still see a lot of offenders in this area.  LinkedIn has changed quite a bit since its start and more companies and individuals are treating it like a digital billboard.  LinkedIn has paid advertising for those that want to get additional exposure as well as a host of other subscriptions for various purposes.  Don’t get me wrong, most people use LinkedIn to promote something at some point.  I just feel as though it’s getting more saturated with fluff and less valued content.  In my experience the best posts are those that offer something of value to the reader beyond just “hey look at my product”.  Something that is relevant, sharable and memorable will drive visibility for you, your network and your industry through likes and reposts.  Sometimes the best posts are simply a repost of a bit of news with your professional insights to kick it off.

Once you have a good network going, there are many ways to use it.  For now, let’s consider what I believe to be one of the most fruitful ways to leverage your LinkedIn network.

Career changes

Throughout my career, I have used my LinkedIn network (proactively) to land four different jobs.  A fifth was through a recruiter who found me on LinkedIn through someone else in my network.  While I do not think job hopping is a good, long term strategy, it can help you advance your career at times. Almost every job change I have made was to better my career, either through compensation, title or experience.  If you are new to using LinkedIn for this purpose, let me give you a couple of examples to think about.

Job postings – whether posted directly in LinkedIn or from another source your first stop should be the search bar.  Look up the company you are interested in, read about it and look at the profiles of the people working there.  LinkedIn will help you determine if you have a connection with someone already at the company or someone who worked there in the past.  If you find someone with a first or second order connection, reach out and see what you can learn about the company or the position.  

Here is an example that happened to me.  I found a job posting that I fell in love with.  The tech was cool and it was a new industry segment that I wanted to explore.  At the time, I had a pretty good track record as a sales professional but zero experience in this industry.  While poking around on the company profile page I found that I had a recent first order connection with the CEO.  This person and I worked together and we were friendly, but we hadn’t spoken in a few years.  I reached out and we exchanged numbers and connected over the phone.  I explained to her what I was looking to do and without having to ask, she volunteered to send the CEO an email and an introduction.  Her email was so overwhelmingly positive that this single referral not only landed me an interview, but I think was the main reason I was hired.

Job offers – In the above example, proactivity was the key to success in getting that job. However, there are other ways that you can effect a career change by way of your network.  By combining all of the best practices listed so far, you can start to make a name for yourself in your respective network or market.  If you are associating with good, influential people and sharing useful and relevant content you will not only gain connections but followers as well.  If people like what you say and what you are doing such that they want to follow you, then you are well on your way to LinkedIn Jedi status.  

Remember that recruiters and hiring managers data mine LinkedIn every day.  I already mentioned that one of my jobs was via a recruiter who found me on LinkedIn.  He had read one of my posts and that led him back to my profile and the rest was history.  I have also had business partners and clients offer me positions and tell me to look them up if I ever decided to change jobs again, all because of my network and the value that I try to bring with every post.

According to LinkedIn’s about page, they have over 930 million members in more than 200 countries.  With that kind of success, it’s safe to say that I am not the only one who loves the service it provides and I am sure many have done more with it than I have.  However, the workforce is growing every day and markets evolve at ever increasing speeds, so I am hopeful that I can help someone out there by sharing my experiences.

In a future article, we can discuss what some of the other powerful use cases are for LinkedIn and your network.  Sales, Marketing and Human Resources to name a few.

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