SIWIKE guide to LinkedIn for students
You’re in post-secondary (college/university). Many people have told you that networking is important to set yourself up for a great job and career after you graduate. They point you to a site called LinkedIn to make connections. Now what?
I wanted to create a SIWIKE “Stuff I Wish I Knew Earlier” guide so that students have some guidance to take advantage of a great resource like LinkedIn. If only practical stuff like this was part of the curriculum.
Here are the high-level steps for a student to make the most out of their LinkedIn experience.
- LinkedIn 101: What is LinkedIn and why should I use it?
- Creating my profile
- Connecting with folks
- Making those connections meaningful
- Building professional relationships
As of writing this post, LinkedIn is the benchmark social network for business. Think Facebook for professionals. Now it might not stay that way (ever hear of MySpace? Probably not), and for now, you’ll want to get up to speed. I would imagine that much of what is here will still apply to the next professional social media network. Other than exactly which buttons to press and the functionality details.
You create connections on the platform. You can search for jobs, read business news, recruit other people, and a bunch of other features they are constantly introducing and evolving.
I like to think of LinkedIn as a networking event that is happening 24 seven, 365, and around the world. Just like in a real-life networking event, there will be people to speak to. There are people at that event that will probably ignore you. Others that will be happy engage with you. And all sorts of other possibilities in between.
I’ll walk through some BMC (Build Meaningful Connections) guidance specific for LinkedIn and for students.
My common LinkedIn guidance is here. But in summary: Find someone’s profile that you like and feel could represent you, and use it as a model for yours.
Make sure it has:
- A professional picture: NOTE that doesn’t mean it was taken by a professional, just that it looks professional
- A compelling tag-line: something that’s more than “student at the University of X”.
- A descriptive summary: practice some empathy and write it for the person that you want to be on your profile (probably the recruiter or hiring manager at your dream company)
- Work, volunteer and educational experience that could be searched by a recruiter: if it’s not on your profile, they won’t be able to search it
- Engagement: like, comment, share – we’ll get to more of this later.
Before you connect you’ll want to figure out who to connect with, why you want to connect with them, then we can get to the how to connect with them. In my opinion, the most import step before networking and connecting is to change your INTENT. You should be networking NOT to get a job. Instead, networking to build meaningful connections, be interested, curious and most importantly add value. And when you do, the opportunities start coming to you. Yes, this will be hard. The better you can get the thoughts of a job out of your head, the better your professional relationships will be. And ultimately, the better your career will be.
Alright, so now you’re in the right headspace and your intent is to be curious, who should you connect to? Well, what do you want to be doing?
- If you know what you want to do:
- and can even pick out the companies, departments and roles you want, then start there. Do a search on company X, add the name of the department or the role that you want.
- but don’t know specific companies, then start there.
- If you have don’t know what you want to do:
- Consider with alumni, especially those with your specific degree and specialization. See where they ended up.
- If you want to be in a totally different area than your degree, then search for that.
- Make note of companies, department names, and role titles that keep coming up. Take a look at jobs that are posted.
- Consider with alumni, especially those with your specific degree and specialization. See where they ended up.
So you have a list of companies, departments and roles to search for, you’ll want to build a list of people to connect to. As you are traversing the search results (you might need to pay for the premium services to get all of the search results that you want as LinkedIn can restrict results; hey, they have to make money somehow). Or you can use filtering to your advantage.
- Start with 1st level connections. Now you might luck out and have already met somewhere there. Chances are if you’re reading this, that’s not true. What might come up is that they worked there before, or they had some sort of relation to what you’re searching for (or else they wouldn’t have come up). It might not have come up in your previous interactions, and here is your opportunity to get curious.
- Go to 2nd level connections. These are people who you know someone that knows them. Take a look at that list and see if any can introduce you. If you don’t know those connections well enough, well you can start there and re-connect. You knew them from somewhere, so warming the connection might be easier than going cold straight to the person you don’t know. If that intermediary connection is not active on LinkedIn and you haven’t received a response for a month, then you might want to consider going cold.
- Continue to 3rd level connections.
- I generally recommend starting with alumni, they are often a great connection point as they can probably relate to the “war stories” you have as they went to the same school. Perhaps having taken the same courses, had the same profs, TAs, or whatever depending on when they/you graduated.
When you do the above, you’ll build a nice list of who you want to connect with. And don’t wait until you have a complete list. Start connecting. Plus you don’t want to connect with too many people per day as LinkedIn will ban you if you send too many connection requests (I don’t know what the exact number is, and I’ve done 20-30 per day with no issue although that was when I was on a quest to get from 1500 to 5000 users before the end of summer. I don’t think any normal person with legitimate intent would go too far beyond that many connections per day). Once you have a large handful, then start connecting and add to your list later. Especially since those new connections could connect you with other connections along the way.
So you have your list of people to connect with, you’ll want to check in on “why” you want to connect with them. Again, if you’re doing it to get a job, switch that mindset. You’re connecting to be curious, interested and add value. If they make the suggestion to refer you or hire you or whatever, then that’s fine, and you want to have ZERO expectations on your side.
Take a look at their profile and find some commonalities. Ideally 3 or more of these “anchors” (something to ground the two of you together). Here are some things to look at:
- Networking events: connecting with someone at an event is best as they are right there and it’s hard to say no when someone is in front of you. An alternative could be that they were a speaker and you couldn’t speak with them so you’re connecting with them after the fact.
- People (aka common connections): if you have people in common, then you can connect based on that relationship. Now you’ll want to make sure that you actually know that connection in common. Why? Because they could be best buddies with that person and if they ask them about you, you can be found out pretty quickly. Be truthful. Did you just meet that common connection once at a networking event? did you go to school with them? work with them? something else? NOTE: if people keep coming up as common connections, you might want to connect with them and start building a relationship with them regardless if they are in an area you want to be in or not. This is the one I like to use most as it’s the least spam-botty, in that, spammers don’t typically spend time building relationships.
- Posts and engagement: this would be my second most used as it has a personalized touch, as you’ll have to spend some time reading/consuming their material. You’ll want to make sure you read and include something in your note that indicates you read the post. Relate to it. Tell them what resonated. Questions you have about it. Or some other thoughtful point on it.
- Organizations: if you have a company, NGO or other organization in common, then use that as an anchor. In case it isn’t obvious. This shouldn’t be the organization that you want to get into unless you actually did work there before. If you see organizations especially NGOs that come up often, you might consider joining them, since if people in the industry frequent it, maybe you’ll find it’s a cause worth supporting. BUT remember to go back to intent. If you do join one of those organizations, make sure it’s because you support the cause, not because you feel it could help you land a job.
- Interests and causes: any sort of groups, interests. My least favourite as anyone can join a group and follow an interest/cause. Still, if that’s all you have, then it’s better than nothing.
Alright, so you have the person you want to connect to, with some common anchors, how do you connect with them? Do so with a personalized connection request. ALWAYS send a personalized connection request. Even if, I’m at a networking event and connecting with them in front of them, I’ll type up a few words. Some people get tens, hundreds of requests after an event, so you’ll want to make sure you’re not lost.
On the desktop app if you hit connect, you’ll get a prompt that says “Add note”. On the mobile app, you’ll use the three-dots (on iPhone or arrow on Android) which will provide another menu. Select the “send personalized invite” option. Here’s where you use your anchors and here are a few samples as if you were to connect with me:
- Networking events: “Hi Luki, I was at the X event last night and although we didn’t speak, and wanted to connect to learn more. I appreciated the insights you shared on careers and the tactical guidance you provided on resumes. I’d love to connect to ask you a few more questions. Take care and hope to hear from you! -your name”
- Common Connection: “Hi Luki, I was navigating LinkedIn and saw that Sarah is a common connection. I recently met her at a networking event and she shared some great insights. I saw that you do some work as a TRIEC mentor and also mentor with one of my student clubs. I’d love to have you as part of my network as I feel I could learn a lot from you. I look forward to hearing from you! -your name”
- Post engagement: “Hi Luki, I was searching for information on the consulting industry and saw your name come up for several posts. I read your post on resumes and thought that the way you wrote it was much more clear and concise than all of the previous feedback I’ve heard. I’ve been reading your other content and would like to connect to learn more on what you share. Cheers! -your name”
- Organization: “Hi Luki, A friend recommended me to check out ABC organization and you came up as a result so I thought I’d connect. I was interested in volunteering for ABC organization as I’m interested in their cause. Would you be willing to answer a few questions on your involvement and experience with cause X. Take care and hope to hear from you! -your name
As I don’t prefer the last two, so you can come up with your own wording. You might have noticed a few things:
- I don’t ask for a job.
- I didn’t ask for coffee/lunch/phone call right away: many people are busy and don’t mind answering a message on their own time. However, a phone call, coffee, lunch or whatever is now a commitment. Once they’ve answered a few questions they will be more likely to commit their time.
- I don’t start with any value I can add right away. If you want to volunteer or have experience or have a contact or resource that could help them, often times starting with that right away makes it seem like you want to do something for them so they can do something for you. Now that part isn’t really the bad part, it’s more presuming that they event want or need that help.
A few other notes:
- Have zero expectations: When you send the note, assume they won’t respond. And if they do then it’s a bonus!
- Recalibrate based on what’s working: As you get responses back, take a look at what does get a response and wht doesn’t. Do more of what works. Less of what doesn’t.
Making it Meaningful
So they’ve accepted your connection request! Now what? Many make the mistake of assuming that the person on the other end will send a note after they accept. That’s not normally the case. They’ll often assume that their acceptance is their message back to you. So the ball is now in your court. Send a note back. I normally send something as simple as “Hi X, thanks for connecting. How are you doing today?
Be curious, and interested
Continue the conversation by being interested. Most of the other stuff was quite systematic and scientific. Here’s where the art comes in. You’ll need to engage in dialogue with the other person.
- DON’T ask about what’s already in their profile. So “what do you do” isn’t a great question. “I read that you blah, blah, blah. I’ve learned a little bit about blah is school and heard that X, Y, Z. Has that been your experience?” is a better question
- Ask open-ended questions. “do you travel a lot for work” isn’t a great question. “what would you say is the best part of your job?” is a better question.
- “That’s interesting, tell me more”: In my networking workshops, this is one of the key phrases I suggest to help carry on a conversation. You’ll want to add your understanding and information, then ask for more. It could go something like “procurement transformations? we don’t have any classes on procurement and the project lifecycle in a project management class. Can you tell me more about how you learned procurement? and the project part of the transformation?”
- Share and don’t be afraid to get a little personal. Telling them about what you did professionally over the week (what you learned at school, events that you attended, etc) can be helpful. Adding “professional” personal information can be helpful (a little personal information like going to a movie, or naming a restaurant you visited could be good. no need to go into too many personal details).
- Some people like talking. Others don’t. You’ll need to learn to gauge who is who. If they aren’t responding well, you either haven’t hit the right topic, or they just don’t want to engage
- Some people aren’t active on LinkedIn. I know some people that check yearly, monthly, weekly. So if they aren’t responding right away, they might be on a different schedule.
As the conversation goes back and forth, for every message they send, think to yourself “how could I help with that?”. At first your brain will give you blank responses. With time and practice, it’ll come up with surprising stuff. Here are my value areas:
- Experience: You might have done something similar recently at school, volunteering, work.
- Connections: You might have met someone recently that you think they should meet.
- Resources: You might have read a book, post, watched a video, listened to a podcast, or whatever that they might find interesting.
- Time: You can take some of your time to learn about whatever it is they are doing and help them with it.
This is the most important step. This step also takes the most time. Especially at first, as you probably won’t have the experience, the connections or the resources, so you’ll be left with spending time. As you are adding value, you are demonstrating your usefulness. Most people would want useful people working for them, with them.
At times, I have challenges carrying on a conversation. I have actually forced myself to try to prolong the conversation. The process can be a little painful and seems forced and awkward. So you can let the conversations end. Something as simple as “thanks so much for sharing your perspectives! I don’t have any other questions at this time, and would you mind if I reached out if I have more in the future?”.
Once the conversation dies down, then you should calendarize a future interaction. Create a calendar appointment that recurs every 2-9 months (closer to 2 if you had an amazing conversation and it flowed well; closer to 9 if not so much). Then when the calendar reminder pops up, send them a quick note. You can always scroll up the message queue to remind yourself of what you spoke about.
Oh and before you message them, if they asked you to do anything like read a book, or look up a resource or attend an event or connect with someone, make sure you do it first.
That it, in a nutshell! Any questions? There are a lot of nuances and details not outlined here, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions or if you have other thoughts. How might you suggest to leverage LinkedIn differently?