LinkedIn is a great platform for expanding your network with new professional contacts. However — as with anything — there’s a certain standard of etiquette that comes into play. Many people refuse to send or accept requests from people they’ve never actually met in person. However, I’m not a big believer in that philosophy. If the site truly exists for networking purposes, you shouldn’t hesitate to send an invitation to that mentor in your field or that person you’d love to have a chat with. But, with that being said, there’s definitely a right way (and a wrong way!) to go about connecting with a stranger on LinkedIn. Here’s how to get it done — without seeming like that creepy cyberstalker who’s just blanketing the world in generic invitations.
1. Tune Up Your Profile
What’s the first thing you do when you receive a new connection request on LinkedIn? If you’re anything like most people, you probably scope out the person’s profile. Who is he? What does he do? Why might he want to connect with you? If you’re planning to up your LinkedIn game and send out more invitations, it’s important to remember that people will be conducting this same analysis on your profile. Since this will be this stranger’s first impression of you, you obviously want to make sure your profile is in tip top shape. Before focusing your time and attention on gathering new connections, spend a little bit of time polishing up your profile. What sorts of things should you keep an eye on?
- Your Profile Photo: First of all, you wouldn’t stroll into a networking event with a paper bag over your head. LinkedIn works the exact same way. In order to add a personal touch to the connection, people want to see who they’re connecting with. So, ensure that your profile photo is clear, professional, and adequately shows your face.
- Your Headline: Many people don’t realize that their LinkedIn headline is completely customizable — it doesn’t just need to be your current position and company. Craft something compelling that will make people want to connect with you and see what you’re about.
- Update Information: Even if you don’t want to spend a ton of time crafting perfect prose for every line of your profile, you should at least make sure that all of the information you have listed is current. Your summary section shouldn’t state that you just started your freshman year when you’re actually wrapping up your final semester before graduation. Comb through your profile and ensure that everything is current. After all, you want your connections to get the most accurate and recent information about your experience and qualifications.
- Proofread Carefully: What’s your first impression when you read something that’s absolutely riddled with typos and grammatical errors? To put it kindly, it’s likely not a positive one. Read through your profile a few times to catch any mistakes your eye may have skipped over. Listing “Attention too Detail” in your skills section is an ironic (and tragic!) error.
2. Do Your Research
I’m totally in favor of connecting with new people on LinkedIn — even if you haven’t met them before. But, the key to your success is finding quality connections that you think could actually benefit you in your career field — not just any Joe Schmo who’s willing to accept a random request. So, before sending out any more invitations, sit down to do some thorough research about your industry or desired job path. Are there companies you’re interested in? Search for their employees or relevant department heads! Is there a particular influencer or mentor in your industry you’ve always wanted to talk to? Send an invitation! As the recipient of many random LinkedIn invitations, I’ll clue you in on the fact that it’s easy to separate the people who want a genuine, beneficial connection from the ones who are just trying to increase the number displayed on their profile. Take the time to research and identify opportunities to connect that actually make sense for you, your career, and your goals. Believe me, it makes a big difference in the quality of connections you’ll create.
3. Personalize Your Message
You know that standard message that LinkedIn fills in that says something along the lines of, “Hello! I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” Well, kiss it goodbye right now. This is the best piece of advice I can offer you when it comes to connecting with a stranger on LinkedIn: You absolutely have to personalize your message. It usually helps to compare the platform to a real, live networking event. You wouldn’t waltz up to someone, take a quick look at his or her name tag, and then declare, “Hello John! I’d like to network with you.” Instead, you introduce yourself, give a little bit of a background about your professional situation, and then engage in a conversation. The message that accompanies your LinkedIn invitation should function this exact same way. However, don’t panic and trick yourself into thinking that your message needs to be anything overly complicated. There are just a few key elements you should be sure to include:
- An Introduction: Would you ever shake hands with someone at a networking event without announcing your name? Probably not. So, don’t forget to include a standard introduction at the beginning of your LinkedIn message—your name and what you currently do are important things to know.
“Hi, Julie! My name’s Kat, and I’m a freelance writer in Wisconsin.”
- The Reason You’re Connecting: If you did your research, you already know the specific reason you want to connect with this person. Perhaps you’d love to find out more about his or her company. Or, maybe you saw a recent piece of work that you admire. Whatever your reason is, make sure you clue the person in!
“I noticed that you do freelance web design. I’d love to chat and see if there’s a way we can refer clients to each other.”
- An Invitation: Your message doesn’t really accomplish anything if you don’t follow through. After all, you’re aiming to make a meaningful connection. Conclude your message by inviting he or she to talk further or even meet in person.
“Could we set up a time to talk this over on the phone? Looking forward to staying connected!”
Keep in mind that most LinkedIn messages have a character limit (under 300 characters for an invitation), so you’ll need to be succinct. It might seem like a pain, but the restriction is actually a blessing — you don’t want to bore someone with a War and Peace sized introduction anyway. There are plenty of opportunities to expand your network and connect with new people on LinkedIn. But, you need to make sure that you’re doing it the right way and for the right reasons. Keep these tips in mind, and you’re well on your way to building a professional web of contacts that will actually benefit you.
Kristen Hamilton is the Co-Founder and CEO of Koru, the leader in predictive hiring. As a technology entrepreneur and executive with a passion for impact, Kristen has a successful track record driving value for customers and investors. She co-founded e-commerce pioneer Onvia and took it public in 2000. Kristen built the organization to 500 people, raised over $300 million of investment capital, and led the M&A team to acquire and integrate four private companies in two years. Kristen then shifted focus to education and talent acquisition, as head of educator strategy at Microsoft, and COO of World Learning, where she ran operations in 66 countries.More from Kristen Hamilton