By Anne Evenson
Grow your professional network using LinkedIn, without feeling inauthentic.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Dr. Brené Brown, Research Professor, Lecturer, Author
LinkedIn is all about making connections, and now that you’ve set up your LinkedIn profile, it’s time to start building your network. LinkedIn offers the opportunity to grow a robust professional network, which will become a vital component in your job search.
While you build your LinkedIn network, consider how you can generate meaningful professional connections with the right people. Make sure to connect with people who work in your field of interest and who may offer you something of value regarding your job search. LinkedIn can also help you identify key decision-makers within different companies, so you know you’re targeting the right people during your job hunt.
Lay the Foundation
Start by connecting with people you know, including friends, family members, classmates, school alumni and current and former colleagues. You can simply search for them on LinkedIn and send them an invitation to connect, or you can sync your LinkedIn profile with your email address book. When someone accepts your invitation, they become a first-degree connection. Personalize your request when you’re reaching out to someone, don’t just click the “connect” button. The most important thing to remember is always to approach networking with a sincere, selfless attitude. Successful networking should be a mutually beneficial relationship, like a good friendship. For example, ask how someone is doing during these turbulent times; this demonstration of kindness is often appreciated.
Once you’ve connected with people that you know personally and professionally, tap into second-degree connections (people who are connected to your first-degree connections) and third-degree connections (people connected to your second-degree connections). Don’t be afraid to contact someone you’ve never met. If you find a person on LinkedIn who interests you, introduce yourself, or request an introduction from one of your first- or second-degree connections. Keep in mind that developing a connection doesn’t have to revolve around a specific job or opportunity, but rather, shared interests. Follow up with them periodically, so the connection doesn’t die out.
Generally, new job opportunities don’t emerge from your primary network but your secondary and tertiary networks because those contacts have access to people and organizations that you don’t. Remain connected to those in your primary network but reach out to those who are more distant too, and you’ll have a more successful job search.
If you’re introverted and find it challenging to engage with people you don’t know, consider taking Communication Strategies for Introverted Business Professionals, offered by the UT Center for Professional Education. You will develop conversation skills that will help you effectively communicate with other business professionals while maintaining your confidence and letting your true personality shine.
Tip: A good habit to develop is to follow up any meetings, interviews or conversations with LinkedIn connection requests; this keeps your network fresh and current. For example, “Thank you for taking the time to be my interview subject; it was a pleasure to get to know you better. Let’s stay in touch.”
Millions of members visit LinkedIn every day to connect, learn and share. Some of the ways you can generate positive engagement around your job search are by posting content, participating in conversations and joining LinkedIn groups.
You can educate and engage with your professional circle through the content you post, so now might be a good time to polish those writing skills! Whenever possible, share compelling stories and informative posts that reflect your professional interests and what you’re learning about your own business or industry. It’s even better if you can publish your long-form content as an article on LinkedIn. These can be blog posts or opinion pieces, and you can include a headline, a cover image and other rich media like video links, slides, tweets and Instagram posts. It’s like having your own blog on your LinkedIn page. Articles are an excellent way for you to demonstrate your professional expertise and can influence how decision-makers perceive you.
Tip: Add hashtags to your post so your content will reach more users. Type a hashtag into the LinkedIn search bar and find out how many people use and follow it.
With LinkedIn, you get what you give, so like and share other people’s posts. Engage with your existing connections by commenting on their post or congratulating them on their success, especially your VIP connections. They may not be in a position to hire right now, but when they are, you want to be top of mind. When someone’s post resonates with you, take a moment to provide feedback, even something as simple as “Great info, thanks for sharing!” can expand your reach. Sharing your insights or asking questions will increase engagement and exposure even more.
Another way to grow your network on LinkedIn is to set up or join a group. LinkedIn groups are places where members come to explore ideas and exchange industry information. You can search for groups by name or using keywords in the search bar at the top of your profile page. LinkedIn will sometimes recommend groups based on your interests. Once you’re a group member, you can join discussions, ask questions and send messages to other members. LinkedIn groups can be a valuable resource for industry expertise and support, and if you share your knowledge with group members, they’ll likely reciprocate.
However you choose to engage with other LinkedIn members, Dynamic Communication, offered by the UT Center for Professional Education, will help you cultivate and hone your communication skills to make you memorable. You’ll learn how to strengthen your listening skills, sharpen your storytelling abilities and when and how to ask the right questions.
Tip: LinkedIn cautions against self-promotion in groups. Exhibiting your expertise is okay but stay away from the gratuitous promotion of your business. You can be banned or expelled from a group if you break the rules or code of conduct.
Give and Receive Recommendations
While skills endorsements give people a brief and concise sense of what you’re valued for when they’re looking at your profile, recommendations take things a step further. Recommendations are testimonials that highlight your professional abilities written by LinkedIn members who have personal experience working with you. Consider whom you respect and admire professionally and ask them to write one for you. Request that they emphasize the positive attributes or achievements that stood out most to them while working with you.
If you request a recommendation from one of your LinkedIn connections, proper etiquette dictates that you offer the same in return. You’ll find the most success on LinkedIn if you remember that it’s not just about people supporting your career, but also about you helping others reach their goals as well. Consider accepting invitations to connect or reaching out to people who are seeking career advice that you can provide. Take that professional goodness you’ve received and pass it on.
Tip: Only give and receive recommendations from people you know, like former colleagues, someone you met at an event, or a person with whom you’ve communicated via a LinkedIn Group or other professional networking social media group.
Ultimately, your success on LinkedIn depends on maintaining your professional reputation and sustaining healthy relationships with your network. Always remember to behave professionally, avoid sharing the personal content that you post on Facebook or Instagram, and never spread rumors or gossip. Be mindful of how you talk about your organization and be cautious when you request, or make, an introduction—do so only if you think it will benefit both contacts. Finally, keep in mind that your integrity is your calling card, so avoid overselling yourself and let your achievements shine on their own without embellishment.
LinkedIn is of the most powerful networking tools of our time, enabling you to connect with people you might never meet in real life. So, get out there, and have fun while you grow your professional network!
Anne Evenson is a native Austinite and a proud Veteran’s spouse with over 20 years of marketing, communications and program coordination experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. She is also a sculptor, jeweler and all-around dabbler in the arts and loves to help military-connected individuals discover their inner creativity.
Learning and professional growth go hand in hand. For regular career insights and information on continuing education programs offered by UT’s Center for Professional Education, subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter, It’s Your Career.