“I’d like to add you to my network on LinkedIn.”
As a recruiter, I can’t tell you how many of these generic messages I get each day. What I can tell you is how many of them I open or accept right away: none.
Every few weeks I will go through and take a look at some of the profiles and connect with the people who seem interesting or who may be a fit for one of my roles, but invitations accompanied by that or one of the other generic LinkedIn messages tend to sit in my inbox for months without being opened.
Insider Tip: there is no way to customize your message using the LinkedIn mobile app, so at a networking event, write down people’s names and connect with them later rather than sending them a generic message in the moment.
That being said, it’s no secret that LinkedIn is a fantastic networking tool. And if you were already connected to everyone you needed to know, you wouldn’t be using LinkedIn. So, what are the best practices when it comes to networking with strangers on LinkedIn?
The general idea is to find a personalization factor: something that makes you less of a stranger and gives the person a reason to get back to you.
How can you find a personalization factor?
1. Look for common ground.
The best way to network is to have a personal connection but of course, this isn’t always feasible. Before you start reaching out to strangers, though, use your larger network to try and identify key people you’d like to speak with.
College, grad school, or even high school networks are a great place to stat; school pride can get you a long way. You can also search the networks of your former employers or even look for people who share a common group. Each of these connections adds a level of personalization that you didn’t have before.
2. Realize that the best connection isn’t always the obvious one.
How perfect would life be if you saw a job posted and were able to connect to the exact person who posted the job…or even better, the decision maker on the role? Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case. Even if the right decision maker could be identified, you are missing the personalization factor that would compel them to open your LinkedIn message.
Instead, try and find a personal (or “personal”) connection to the company that is hiring. Someone who would be able to do some internal research on the role and could get your resume to the right place via the company email rather than LinkedIn.
I find that people are very willing to help direct a resume. The effort involved is usually minimal, your resume now comes with a more personal connection which means it’s more likely to be opened by the right parties, and your getting hired would likely result in a referral bonus for your connection as well.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction.
We’ve already established that LinkedIn is a site used for networking, so don’t be afraid to use it to network. The two principles above are not limited to a first or second connection only. In fact, LinkedIn will usually help you establish a connection to a stranger by showing you how you’re connected.
Use this built in system to ask your existing connections for an introduction. The worst that will happen is they will say no. The best that will happen is…well, the possibilities are limitless!
4. When all else fails…context in the form of flattery.
Throughout your networking career, there will likely come a time when you will not be able to find a personalization factor. When that happens, the best thing to do is to build context into your LinkedIn message.
Let the person know why you would like to network with them over any of their colleagues. Make it clear that you have read their LinkedIn profile and have selected them as your stranger of choice for a specific reason.
One of my passions is mentoring; when strangers mention this in their messages to me, chances are extremely high that I will respond to them. In cases like this, flattery can go a long way.
You should really never be sending a generic invitation unless the person on the receiving end knows exactly who you are. Typically, your personalization factor will be the context that you add to show the stranger that they’re not as disconnected from you as they might feel. So keep these principles in mind the next time you start to reach out to strangers on LinkedIn. And remember that when it comes to networking, the more thoughtful and diligent you can be in your selection process, the higher your chances of success will be.
Have you had success networking with strangers on LinkedIn? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below.