Activating Your Network with LinkedIn

I was once asked to write an article for a relocation newsletter on how to use LinkedIn for a job search.  Wow, that’s a big topic.  I’m pretty sure whole books have been written on it.  So trying to decide what to share was difficult to narrow down.  But when I thought about it, LinkedIn is at its essence a way to connect with and keep active with your professional network, and sometimes people lose sight of that.

You don’t have to be looking for a new position (actively or passively) to benefit from reactivating your network of contacts, so while the following article is certainly slanted toward the job search, I thought I’d share some of the advice and emphasize that it is just simple, good career management. Modify it for your own particular situation or circumstance…

When you’re looking for a job, you get all sorts of good advice on how to find a great opportunity: “take advantage of the hidden job market,” “it’s less about what you know than who you know,”  “activate your network.”  But for most job seekers, such advice is at best a little confounding (How exactly do I tap into the hidden job market and activate my network, anyway?) and at worse just plain terrifying (Networking? Asking people for help getting a job? I’d rather walk over hot coals in my bare feet!).

But evidence shows that these activities tend to produce better results faster. So serious job seekers need to find ways to stretch their comfort zone a little and step up to connect, reconnect, and reengage with people who can provide information and assistance in the job search.

The good news is that we now have technology that, while not a substitute for genuine face-to-face human interaction, can facilitate these activities and make us more efficient with our networking time and energy.  LinkedIn is still the premier tool to maintain and build professional relationships online.  It has so many uses for the job seeker in terms of seeking out opportunities; we will explore some of them here.

Activating Your Network

LinkedIn is designed to help you make connections with people you know, and then keep in touch with them from a professional standpoint.  Everyone has a network of people they know.  The value of that network in a job search is a combination of the size of the network and the quality of the connections. 

Think of it as a collection of Rolodex cards.  If you have a large number of contacts, and your connections have lots of cards in their respective Rolodexes, it is more likely that someone in their contacts will be able to help you.  Equally, if you and your contacts connect with people you know reasonably well (as opposed to just collecting cards or connections of people whom you can barely remember the next month), the quality of the connections will be higher.

Here are some tips to maximize your connections in LinkedIn:

  • Send invitations to everyone you know in your “real world” network, even if you haven’t been in touch for a while.  Make sure you actually know and trust your connections, so when you send them a message, they’ll be willing to respond.
  • Once you have connected with people on LinkedIn, review their profile to see what they’re currently doing and send them a message to congratulate them on recent accomplishments or simply reach out and refresh your relationship with them.  This helps you reactivate relationships that may be a bit rusty.
  • In your profile, make sure you have an entry and dates of employment for every job you’ve held.  LinkedIn uses that information to suggest people in the system you may know by matching people who worked at the same company at the same time.
  • Ask for LinkedIn Recommendations from people you have worked with: colleagues, vendors, clients and customers.  The recommendations are shown on your profile and build your credibility with potential employers.
  • While recommendations have a greater impact than endorsements, if you use the Skills and Expertise section of your profile, your network can endorse you (or vouch for you) having those skills.

Explore the Hidden Job Market

The “hidden job market” refers to jobs that are not widely published, and are filled without the vast majority of job seekers knowing that the job even exists.  These jobs generally are awarded to people who have a connection to the company, a recommendation from someone inside, or have been in contact with a decision-maker prior to the job coming available.  Therefore, your goal as a job seeker is to create those connections to companies for which you’d like to work, expand your network to people who are likely to have an “inside track” on upcoming jobs, and deepen your relationships with your network so they think of you when a hidden opportunity arises.

Here are some tips to tap into the hidden job market on LinkedIn:

  • Review your profile for completeness, accuracy, and the terms and key words that a recruiter or hiring manager looking for someone with your skills might type into a search.
  • Search for likely hiring managers in the area you want to work, and reach out to them directly.  For example, if you’re looking for a job in accounting, search for “Controller” or “Accounting Manager.”
  • If you’d like to work in a specific industry or company, search for the company name or use key words to find contacts, and request a 15-minute informational call to learn more about their organization.
  • Join Groups.  Members of industry or special interest groups often post job openings within the group, knowing that there may be great candidates or recommendations from other members.  Look for alumni groups, industry groups, professional association groups, interest groups, and location-specific groups that will help you connect to people in your target organizations.

It’s About Who You Know

When you have a strong network of connections on LinkedIn, you can “peek” into the virtual Rolodexes of your contacts and find out who they know.  This can be extremely useful when you have just landed an interview at a company, and could use some real-world insight on what it’s like to work there, or if you have a target employer to which you’d like an introduction from someone inside.

Here are some tips to leverage your connections in LinkedIn:

  • Browse through your contact’s connections and look for people who could accelerate your job search.  Perhaps it is someone with a title that indicates they would know about openings in a department where you’d be interested working, or a contact at your dream employer.
  • Use the People search tool to search for key words, such as an employer name, a title, a person, or a field.  Perhaps someone in your network used to work for the company that you’re interested in, and may still have contacts there.
  • Use the Message tool (or if you’re not connected to someone, use the Get Introduced feature or use InMail) to reach out and ask for an informational interview, advice, or assistance.

LinkedIn has many more features for a job seeker to explore, including a paid benefit for Job Seekers that expands your ability to contact people you don’t know directly and highlights you to recruiters.  But remember, LinkedIn (or any other online tool) is not a replacement for in person networking and meetings.  Think of it as a way to speed up and facilitate your ability to get in front of someone in the flesh, so you can have the opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and persuade him or her that you’re a great candidate.