After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in 2011, I applied for numerous entry-level positions in the public relations and communications industry but soon found I was a victim of “hard times” created by recent economic setbacks.
In an effort to get more bang for their buck, many agencies in the Philadelphia area had revised their job descriptions to include qualifiers that created a barrier to employment. More than one agency’s entry-level position listing required 1 to 3 years of full-time experience in an agency environment—something that’s almost impossible for a recent college graduate.
To overcome this barrier, I started using LinkedIn as my number one professional networking platform in July 2012. I didn’t upgrade my Basic account to Premium or Job Seeker; I simply committed to 15-30 minutes of networking and interaction per day — and after five months, I was able to reach “All Star” profile strength and unlock the 500+ connections marker that’s visible on the profile of power networkers.
My networking efforts opened the door to recruiters and hiring managers, job opportunities, speaking opportunities and consulting project work with higher education institutions and have produced approximately one new LinkedIn request per day from someone interested in connecting with a power networker.
If you’re ready to start using LinkedIn to network and get ahead, here are five tips to help you grow your LinkedIn network to 500+ connections in five months:
1. Actively Network Every Day
Once you decide to aim for 500+ connections, you have to commit to actively pursuing this goal or it will never happen.
Set aside 15-30 minutes a day for networking. In my personal experience, the mornings were the best time for this since it allowed me the opportunity to follow up and respond to comments during the day. You can also use the updated LinkedIn Contacts feature to monitor network updates and stay in touch with contacts you may not interact with often.
2. LinkedIn Groups Are Your Best Friend
You can be a member of up to 50 LinkedIn groups at a time, but you don’t want to simply join groups that focus on your industry — that will limit your networking opportunities.
Join at least 10 professional LinkedIn groups, five networking groups, the alumni group for your alma mater, groups for your fraternity or sorority, groups for professional associations of which you’re a member (or hope to be) and five groups that will allow you to learn from others.
While your reasons for joining a group may vary, your activity in each one should not. During your daily logins, you should interact with at least five groups per day. Share original content from your blog or an industry article you found interesting. Read other group members’ posts and give good advice. This will allow you to remain active in discussions and also introduce you to other professionals with similar interests.
After building such rapport, it won’t be awkward when you send these individuals a request to connect, since they’ll remember you from past discussions.
3. Generic LinkedIn Requests Get You Nowhere
You hear it over and over again, but many of us are still guilty of sending that generic connection request saying, “I’d like to connect on LinkedIn.” Let me assure you, this is not the way to go.
When I receive such a request — where the individual didn’t even take the time to identify if we’re in the same group, we’re alumni or we met at a networking event — the chances of me clicking “ignore” increase by at least 80%.
Include a short note that either sparks the person’s memory or introduces yourself and your goals. In the past, I’ve used something similar to:
“Hi Mary, I enjoyed our discussion in the X Group and would like to extend you an invitation to connect on LinkedIn and keep the conversation going.”
Mary now knows we’re both in this group (which makes this seem less like a cold call) and that we recently had a discussion. Does Mary remember our conversation? Yes. Is she more likely to accept this request over the generic “I’d like to add you”? Yes.
My recommendation to you? Avoid LinkedIn default templates like your livelihood depends on it. In some cases, it might. (Like this thought? Tweet it!)
4. Dominate Searches: Include Keywords in Your Profile
This may come as a surprise to some, but your LinkedIn profile isn’t just an online resume. Think of it as your own little SEO factory, where keywords in your profile summary, interests section and skill endorsements can lead to an increase in profile views.
Start by selecting the top 10 skills you want to be endorsed as your “areas of expertise.” One PR professional suggested I stop selecting skills that were incredibly narrow and instead use skills that encompass subcategories and tools. This will force your endorsers to relate the tool to your top 10 skills and boost the endorsements you want to appear prominently.
For example, I’m a public relations consultant. It stands to reason I want to be endorsed for my skills in “Public Relations,” “Social Media” and “Media Relations.” In that respect, industry tools like Facebook, Twitter and press releases would fall into those categories, and an endorsement for my skill using Facebook would conflict with my primary skill that showcases my knowledge of social media in general.
Your interest section is now hyperlinked for search. This means a recruiter looking for someone to fill an entry-level position can simply search for people who are “interested in public relations” and quickly produce results. Update your interests section to include your top 10 skills, as well as industry tools and qualifiers commonly found in job descriptions. I guarantee you’ll start showing up more in searches and recruiters will start sending you requests.
5. Be a Power Networker Who Attracts Other Networkers
At this point, you should be power networking for 15 minutes a day. Your growing network will no doubt attract other people seeking to grow their networks. At this time, you can choose to be exclusive, to only network with people with a certain amount of connections or to be an “Open Networker” who accepts all invitations.
In my opinion, your network equates value on LinkedIn, and throwing it around like a party favor implies it isn’t worth much. I would suggest you consider the middle option: only network with people with a certain number of connections. Your goal is to be a power networker, so set a limit for how many connections a LinkedIn use must have in order for you to connect with them (let’s say 200) and stick to it.
The more LinkedIn groups you’re a member of and the number of connections you have will have a direct impact on your job search results, so be willing to network with people outside your field of interest. You never know who you may inherit as a second-degree connection, so the opportunities are endless!