LinkedIn is by some distance the most effective way of building a network of contacts that will help develop your career. Hopefully you’ve already defined your personal ‘brand’, and now you can realise its full potential by building and nurturing connections.
Get a great profile
Before getting started, make sure your profile is 100% complete. This simple step makes you appear far higher up on search shortlists, and studies suggest you receive 40% more approaches because of it.
Polish your profile until it sparkles. It needs to be professional, likeable and approachable, as well as both easy and enjoyable to read. A common mistake is to think you just need to do the basics, that a short, functional summary and a list of employers with some old photograph you’ve found lying around will be sufficient. It’s not. Taking shortcuts in this way sends the message that you take shortcuts at work, that you don’t take your career particularly seriously. People will be less likely to want to network with you – why would they?
Once the profile is looking good, move on to expanding the network. You need to decide where on the sliding scale you’re going to place your strategy, from keeping your network closed and highly selective (where every connection is already well known to you) to where you’ll basically do it with anyone, given the invitation.
Clearly, open networking is more effective at building a network quickly, but it’s less manageable, plus you will have a lot of irrelevant contacts. Maintaining an approachable balance, where you’ll happily connect with people from similar backgrounds or niches (industry, LinkedIn groups, alumni, etc), is probably the right way to go.
Start with who you know. Bring in your email contact list; make sure everyone you know has an invitation from you. Then start exploring further afield, particularly from your professional past. People you have worked with before, no matter how long ago, are fantastic networking opportunities for LinkedIn. Remember they too want to build their networks.
Groups are categorically the best way to expand your network with the most appropriate people. Groups are there to connect people around a specific topic. Find and join those groups relevant to your areas of expertise, vocation or industry. If you’re an expat in another country, that can be an excellent prospect for networking and there will probably be a relevant group on LinkedIn. Any niche area you are involved in is potentially represented by a LinkedIn group somewhere.
Join in conversations
There’s not much point in joining a group if you don’t also join in with the conversations. Contribute to discussions and connect with those group members you’d like to add to your network. Even if you only exchange a couple of sentences, don’t be shy to add someone as a connection.
Make LinkedIn activity a habit. Profiles are rewarded for consistent interaction and completeness by appearing higher in search lists. So, each time you meet someone appropriate, add them as a connection, and try to schedule regular LinkedIn time to do this, particularly if you’re in the middle of a job search process. This will keep your network consistently expanding, with less chance of missing people. Plus, if you have the LinkedIn app on your phone, you can connect with them in real-time; so much more efficient than business cards.
Interact with your network
Try to get conversations going and build bridges with your network. Share content, for example; you can upload this through your activity feed, or by adding more complex content using the LinkedIn blogging platform in your profile. Personalise it as much as possible; offer opinions, avoiding politics, religion or anything else controversial.
Even more important; support others. Comment on status updates, congratulate new jobs or forward job listings to a friend.
Align LinkedIn with the real world
Support social media networking with real life human interaction. A great way to develop your career is to ask to schedule five minute phone calls for advice; this is particularly effective for graduates. Many senior people are happy to give advice to people, and are flattered to be asked in the right way.
LinkedIn is also frequently used to advertise and support live events; conferences, workshops, networking breakfasts, and so on. Finding opportunities to meet your online contacts is a great way to cement a strong connection.
Good luck with building your own LinkedIn network – remember you can always come to City CV for help or advice.
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