LinkedIn Networking

LinkedIn Networking 101: What Not To Do

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Let’s face it: Getting what you want in life requires the salesperson in all of us to come out. One very important aspect of sales is networking. Some of us love it but, really, most of us HATE it! It is hard. Hard to know who you should talk to, hard to know how to act, and hard to know what to say.

As career professionals, we often discuss how to network. What does it look like? Or, just as importantly, what does it NOT look like? Networking is a bit counter-intuitive. Most of us go into a networking situation thinking, “What do I need to get out of this?” and then we say exactly that, what WE need to get out of it.

Don’t do it!

Networking is about establishing and maintaining a relationship with someone before you ask for help. The rules don’t change just because it is not face-to-face. Let me give you an example of a very common mistake we see in our business.

Last week, I received a LinkedIn request that simply said “Susan, I am looking for a new career opportunity and would like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

We are always open to meeting people and building our network. Of course, I accepted, although already I was feeling a bit on the defense. Why, what’s the big deal? I have never met this person and I feel like a favor is being requested or is about to be requested of me.

LinkedIn Networking Basics

So, lets go over a few basic ideas when using LinkedIn or any networking tool.

An ineffective LinkedIn invitation typically has one or more of the following elements:

  • The generic request to connect. About 90% of the requests I receive are in this format. Would you connect with someone who walked up on the street and said, “Hi, you don’t know me, but be my friend!”? I don’t think that is likely to happen.
  • The “I see you are connected to Ms. X, could you make an introduction?” What would your response be to this if the tables were turned? Likely, it would be something like, “Wait a minute… you’re a complete stranger to me, and you expect me to go out on a limb for you, and do you a favor?”
  • The “Mr. X has indicated that you are friends” request but you have never heard of them.
  • Misspellings. Introducation? Seriously?

A great LinkedIn invitation typically has one or more of the following:

A Brief Idea Of How You Heard About The Connection

Networking is about building a relationship. Relationships are about give and take, not take and give if you can. Remember, this very important concept. Never ask for something right away. Just keep it simple. And start building that relationship.

A Personalized Message

A great example is, “I’ve enjoyed getting to know you on Twitter and appreciate your retweets. How about we connect here, too? I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” This invitation got my attention and I am more likely to help this person if requested to do so.

If We Have Met, How We Met

If you are at a large gathering, your intended connection might not remember every person he or she met. It’s always a good idea to say, “I enjoyed meeting you at the breakfast this morning.”

Attention To Detail

Make sure your spelling and grammar are correct.

So, let’s get back to my story. Immediately after accepting the request to join, my thoughts were validated. I received an e-mail with the following message:

“I would like to thank you for accepting my invitation on Linked In. I would like to ask for your assistance in my search for a new career opportunity. My last position ended after the business closed; I was with the organization for over eight years.”

A long description of her attributes followed ending with, “Any assistance with my search is greatly appreciated.”

Now, let me tell you why this approach doesn’t work (and we get this type of e-mail often). Would you march into a doctor’s office or an attorney’s office and ask for free services? I hope not; you wouldn’t get very far. It would be incredibly presumptuous and it puts those who can help you in a defensive mode.

My company helps people in their job search. It’s a gratifying business when you are able to help someone move on in his or her career. When we have a relationship with someone and value them as part of our network, we often pass their names on to recruiters, review their resumes, and so on. But notice, we have to have a relationship. While I will respond, I will likely not meet with this person.

So, let’s look at an e-mail that did work. I met a potential employee at a conference. This is the e-mail I received following the event:

“My fellow presenter and I met you at the CHRA conference. You mentioned that you occasionally look for executive level coaches. After visiting your website I have a greater level of interest and would like to know more about your work and opportunities where my talents might be useful to Innovative Career Consulting. Would you like to get together? How does a time over the next  few weeks look to you?”

For me, this e-mail was great.

It tells me how I know him, what he can do for me and compliments me on being a company he would like to find out more about. Clearly, he is interested in working with our firm but his approach was to comment on the idea that he might be able to help us. It was not how we would help him. It was short, sweet, and effective. I set up a meeting that day.

Networking is not rocket science, although it can feel that way. First and foremost, it’s about establishing a give and take relationship. It is also very important to be yourself and have fun meeting people. This is what will set you apart.

As you go forth in your LinkedIn networking efforts, please remember it is as much about how you can help as it is about how you can be helped.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Susan Ruhl

Susan Ruhl, founder of OI Partners-Denver, has developed a sharp eye for how job seekers can adjust their approach for a strategically focused career.

41 comments

  1. Great article. I was hoping you could provide me with your opinion.
    I’m interviewing at a company next week and will be interviewing the finance director there. On LinkedIn, I noticed I share a connection with the director with someone I used to work with at my current job. He said he would reach out to the director for me if I wanted. Would this be too soon or too much?

  2. Excellent, Susan. You mentioned “…if more than 5 people click ignore, you will be forced to only connect with those whose emails you actually know and can enter.” I just wanted to clarify the ‘rule’- if 5 or more people click on “I Don’t Know” or “Report as Spam”, the sender can experience temporary account suspension. (Selecting ‘Ignore’ is a kinder way to avoid the person, as it does not trigger red flags). Repeat offenders (read: intentional spammers) can lose their privileges altogether. With recent changes to the LinkedIn system, each of us now has the option to Accept, Ignore, or Report Spam, and the Accept button includes a little dropdown arrow that reveals a 4th option: “Reply, Don’t Accept Yet”. This is so handy, because it allows you to ask the sender questions prior to deciding whether to accept.

    Hope this helps!

    I invite all job searchers to join my new LinkedIn group, “From U to You: Job Searching for Recent Grads”…even if you’re not exactly a recent grad, the group shares excellent information. Susan, would love for you to join us as well!

    http://www.linkedin.com/groups/From-U-YOU-Job-Searching-5010413/about

  3. Hello Susan, Thank you for posting this article very very educative.
    One thing that baffles me is the idea that you have to give before the person you’re contacting can help. As a student there isn’t much you can do for a experienced professional. So how should a student approach networking ? Thank you.

    • Manny, I think you will be surprised that the majority of professionals will not see your request as think, “What can you do for me?” In my experience, I find the professional thinks more along the lines of, “How can I help this young person?” Those of us who received helped from a mentor early in our careers especially remember that we needed help when we were new. There are also plenty of professionals who believe in paying it forward. If they support you today, you might be the one supporting them in the future. Don’t be shy. Just be polite and see where it gets you. Anyone who won’t connect with you without a direct return immediately isn’t worth connecting with anyway as it’s unlikely they have a supportive perspective anyhow.

  4. Thanks Susan and all others with comments. This page was a good read.

    I think Susan’s advice applies to most networking efforts, and not just LinkedIn. We can’t just ignore human nature and the need for social etiquette for the sake of efficiency. I believe we all have something of value to offer, but only few of us communicate this in a meaningful way.

  5. Gabriel Mozzarelli

    Great article, but what about when we contact HR Managers of a company we would like to work for? I obviously do not know them, but for evident reasons I prefer to contact them through LinkedIn rather than send an unsolicited application that will end up “drawning” in an Outlook inbox. We are supposed to target HR Managers/decision makers if we want our search to be effective. And in that situation it is clear that I want something from them and have nothing to give in return. The help on how to word a personalized message is very valuable. Thanks!

    • In my opinion, if you think you’re the best person for the advertised role, you have just reduced the hiring manager’s and his/her HR administrator’s workload. They can stop collecting, screening, and interviewing candidates because you’ve got the job.

      So, it’s clear that you want the job, and they want to hire the right person for the role.

      To increase my chances of them reading my resume as well as compelling cover letter, I always try to leverage my network. I’ve had friends/colleagues working in the USA get me an introduction with the South Africa hiring manager. Even though my friend didn’t know the hiring manager personally, having the overseas introduction from my friend greatly improved my odds: I’ve gotten interviews and offers this way.

  6. Great article. I have a query, if I am looking out for a job and see that a guy in a senior position may be of help to me, how do I ‘pretend’ that I am of help for him and he should connect with me, when the reality is that in this case, atleast for the time-being the ‘help’ will be going only one way – him to me. For a direct person, who does not like beating around the bush and pretence, this networking bit becomes tricky. I know it is my weakness, but I am finding it hard to overcome it.

    • Neeraj, I go through the same doubts, especially when connecting to somebody who is many levels above me. But I look at it this way. We must take time to be polite.

      Suppose you come home and, before you even put down your briefcase, your roommate or spouse starts telling you all the things on the repair list and all the things that went wrong today. To-the-point requests make people feel the same way.

      People do things for friends that they will not do for strangers.
      Good manners includes telling a new acquaintance what interests you about them and explaining something you have in common. It establishes a bond. If you don’t have any reasons that you can turn into a compliment, then why are you connecting?

      The request. Remember, it’s about your contact, not about you. You don’t want to put him in a position where he has to sound mean. So I ask, “If you think our interests fit, may I join your LinkedIn network?” or “…would you add me to your LinkedIn network?”

      The offer. You try to connect with as many people as possible, right? If you, yourself, do not have confidence to offer help, you can still offer to connect them with somebody else who can help them. Sometimes I ask, “As I build my network, what skills or knowledge could I look for in people I might send your way?” (Of course, now, you have to start keeping track of the answers!) Another way might be, “Does your organization face any challenges where I could watch for resources for you?”

      I’m sure there are much better ways to say things, and you should always adapt them to the person you’re connecting with.

      Remember, establish a relationship before asking for something. Better yet, don’t ask for anything until (a) they offer to help or (b) you have been able to do something for them. When you’re desperate for work, it’s very hard to be patient, but it will get you much better results.

  7. This article is excellent and on-point. It is also what I communicate at our Accountability Group, which I moderate weekly. Networking is about building relationships, establishing those relationships, and keeping the relationships going long after one lands a new job. One should always be networking even when one is gainfully employed. I agree that networking is a two-way street. I am always amazed how many people will ask for help, regarding a job opportunity or a LinkedIn introduction, but never send a “thank you” note. I rarely receive the question “How can I help you?” or “if there is anything I can do to help you, please let me know.” Thank you for providing such excellent examples of what networking is and what it is NOT.

  8. As the author of the book “Face-To-Face Networking It’s All About Communication” I believe Susan is right on with this article. Too often people start networking with the idea, “What is in it for me?” When I am heading out for a networking I think to myself “What am I going to learn?” Remember you know everything you know–you want to learn about others.

    The same applies to social media. I have gotten in the habit of sending a note back and saying something like, “Have we met?” It is interesting the conversations that have started just because I replied to their Accept with some commentary.

    I think we need someone to go into the profession of a “Social Media Ms Manners.”

  9. Susan,

    Thanks for this article and providing an example of an invitation that will likely be a turn off and one that will likely garner a positive response. As I am starting the job search in earnest this reminder comes at a critical time for me. If you could comment on the wisdom of requesting an informational interview as part of the networking process on LinkedIN, I would welcome and respect your advise.

    Leslie

  10. I appreciate this article for clearly illustrating examples of networking.

    I have been working temporary assignments for over a year. Can you offer advice as to how I can network without coming across as condescending or pushy and desperate? My last assignment was with a team that was just not a good fit. I am a heads down and get the work done type while the team seemed to be more chatty and social, often having to stay late to complete work. I really just want to work and not feel pressured to be fake.

    • Hi Christy,

      I would love to answer that question. Can you give me a little guidance on the condescending, pushy, desperate part? Are you saying that is the feedback you are getting? If you prefer, you can just email me.

  11. I am new to LinkedIn and unfortunately have sent a few “generic” requests. Thank you, Susan, for the information.

      • Susan,

        Incidentally, I did smile when you pointed out the positive example you received. I agree it’s a much more effective approach, just that it contained “new” where “few” was intended, which playfully points (indirectly) to your comment about spelling/grammar.

        Otherwise, I concur with what you’ve offered. The majority of networking efforts I receive from others is sloppy, lacks respect, and often appears to be more about what’s in it for THEM.

        Cheers!

        • Actually, it was “new” instead of “next” but you probably knew that already.

          Doesn’t take away from the bottom line.

  12. A very timely article.

    Out of an event I attended last week, three people had put their foot in it regarding social media! One person had been blocked from LinkedIn for direct approaches.

    As a newbie to this group and a “silver fox” more used to offline rather than online networking etiquette, are there any other mistakes I should avoid when in a group?

    • Thanks, Jane.

      Good point about getting blocked from LinkedIn. I believe, if more than 5 people click ignore, you will be forced to only connect with those whose emails you actually know and can enter. Another good reason to not use the generic invite. Personally, I try to never click ignore. Rather, I send a response saying “Thank you for the invitation to connect. Can you remind me how we know each other?” Often I get no response back.

      Thanks for your comment. I am going to think on other mistakes you should avoid and get back to you. Maybe my next article will focus on what you SHOULD do!

  13. Susan,

    Great tips! I teach LinkedIn workshops to Chambers and community groups. My biggest pet peeve is when people send an invitation that is not personalized. I make participants in my sessions raise the left hand and put their right hand over their heart and promise to never send a generic invitation again.

    Additionally, I advise them to never ask for help in the invitation but offer their assistance to the person.

    A fellow marketing person I know was contacted by someone to whom she had not spoken in a few years. Right after they connected she received a message about joining an MLM company. Took the fun out of reconnecting!

  14. This is SPOT on! I can’t agree more with the author. Stop “asking for something” and start offering something when you are networking. I live by the philosophy that networking is 100% about giving not getting! Earn trust and respect through personalized messages on LinkedIn and email, especially in today’s digital world where manners seem to have completely disappeared.

  15. While I appreciate what you are saying, I feel LinkedIn is distinctly different from the street. It is a website which we join with the implicit understanding that others like us are searching for work or for employees. Therefore the background is established and the rules of the game should be implicit. It is distinctly different from “the street” for this reason. There is no implicit connection between strangers on the street as there is on LinkedIn. Yet even in writing this I come across a connection between pedestrians. They are implicitly connected by their geographic location. If one pedestrian asks another for directions, is that unreasonable?

    Would you respond, “I don’t know you so why would I give you directions?”.

    Requiring that people know you outside of LinkedIn, that they have something relevant to offer you and that they make you feel good, puts a number of obstacles in the way of the individual whose agenda should be self evident as a result of their membership on a networking website.

    I appreciate that you would take the time to make a post, but I must request that you consider the fact that we are in tough times and what we need is a greater willingness to help each other rather than a greater desire to serve our self interests. There are enough obstacles standing in the way of a job seeker please don’t put down any more.

    Thank you.

    • Thank you, Ryan, for your response.

      I am certainly aware of how tough times are and work diligently to help those in job search and very often for no pay. I think you have misunderstood my point. I am not requiring that someone know me outside of LinkedIn or pay me compliments or any of that. All I am trying to say is that everytime you reach out on LinkedIn, you are promoting your personal brand. As with everything in life, there is an ettiquette that must be followed for maximum results. In reference to your example, when I receive these emails, they are not merely asking for advice, which I would gladly impart. They are requesting that I put them in front of my contacts when we have no established relationship at all. The relationship I refer to is not necessarily personal. that relationship might solely be on LinkedIn. Just because it is virtual doesn’t mean its not personal and should be treated as such.
      I hope that clears up any miscommunication

    • Thank you Ryan, from the perspective of a mature woman in career transition who is finding the doors to my aspired to career slamming shut. I agree that having to tell a potential contact what you
      can do for them is part of the coldness I am finding in my job search. It is always about what I can do for the employer, what my value is to them, whether I will be an asset to them.

      I would love a mentor but am afraid to approach people due to this implication that I am a stranger and am someone to be afraid of and resented. Not all of us can afford to go to career conferences. I thought that was part of the purpose of LinkdIN, to allow a connection with people you would not normally be able to meet but more and more I see it’s about people who are already successful.

  16. Hi, Susan. I liked your article. Written clearly and informatively. We rarely find such instructive and specific materials on the web. People should listen to the experts. I am sure your article has helped many to improve in search for career and professional connections.

  17. Here’s one I got back in November of 2011:

    On 11/06/11 6:21 PM, “Anin” wrote:
    ————–
    Hello,
    While I continue to look for a new job, I have taken on a small project recruiting beta testers for “http://www.WebsiteNameHere.com .”

    Please take a look at the site, let me know what you think, and if you would be interested in being a beta tester.

    WebsiteNameHere is the world’s first site offering 100% free B2B data with complete data, including email addresses. I think you will find it interesting.

    Looking forward to hearing back from you,
    Anin

    My Email Response:
    On 11/07/11 4:47 PM, Marvin Wilson wrote:
    ——————–
    “Anin”,

    While I would like to help you, at this time I can’t. You see, I don’t know anything about you since your LinkedIn profile isn’t complete. Secondly, I don’t have the time to beta test for another company or product that has no value to me.

    Keep in mind that most people would love to help you, but you must give them a compelling reason to help you. In other words, what’s in it for them. I know this might seem selfish on their part, but they want to know if the time invested is well worth it.

    Wishing you the best,

    -Marvin

    PS: Be careful. Some might consider such an email request spam. Especially if you just recently connected with them on LinkedIN.

    ————–

    This was a bulk email sent out to me and other LinkedIn members. No personalization at all!
    At this point my goal was to help Anin. I didn’t want to belittle or discourage her. I hope this helped her and gave her a sense of what NOT to do on Linkedin or any social media site for the that matter.

    - Marvin

    • Hello Marvin,

      I understand where you’re coming from, that you have limited time, but consider this. So does the person trying to recruit beta testers. If they went about trying to personalize every message they sent, it would be grossly inefficient. If you wanted to know what they had to offer you, couldn’t you have asked? “What’s in it for me?” you could have written, to which the recruiter might have responded with a lucrative offer and business might have been done where none was done. Why not? Because they didn’t draft a seemingly personalized message into which your name and prefix/suffix could be inserted?

      How many e-mails and letters have I received, from companies like Starbucks, that seem personalized even though that company doesn’t know me from Adam. When I receive one that’s personalized I immediately suspect they are pandering to me. “Who is it that wrote this?” I wonder to myself. I know that they don’t know me so who are they kidding when they write that they sincerely understand, or care, or whatever. It a bunch of bolshevik as far as I’m concerned. I honestly prefer it straight up no chaser. “We are a profit driven institution and you are a potential customer, you have money, we have products, lets trade”.

      I hope that I don’t offend you in writing this. It is simply my personal opinion that sincerity, in the digital realm, must be suspect and therefore proven after initial contact has been established. Initial contact is justifiably performed anonymously and en masse. Mass contact and anonymity are simultaneously the wonder and the tragedy of the digital business place.

      • Ryan,

        No one asks himself the question, “What’s in it for me?” This is something that happens subconsciously. Nonetheless, it’s a question (“What’s in it for them?”) all sellers of products, services, and ideas must asked themselves when contacting buyers . In this case asking LinkedIn members for help.

        The burden of providing benefits to the buyer always falls on the seller. Perhaps, I could ask what benefits I get from the sellers products, services, or ideas. But if I chose not to ask and you haven’t given me a compelling reason for buying, then that’s being inefficient.

        I agree with Susan. Relationships should be established first.

        Wishing you the best in 2012 and beyond.

        - Marvin

        • Thanks, Marvin

          I appreciate the feedback and the support. I understand Ryan’s points but as someone who works with those in job search, I see a lot of mistakes. I am just trying to point out the reality of what can be a turn off to those that can help a job seeker.

          I hope your 2012 (and Ryan’s) is wonderful as well!

  18. Great article! This should be required reading on LinkedIn. Thanks for putting together an article with such practical insight.

  19. I really enjoyed this article. I always find it helpful to be reminded of the basics of networking and recruiting. Good article.

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