So you have a great LinkedIn profile that supports your personal brand. You have a great photo, a keyword-packed descriptive headline, and summary and experience sections that really sell your talents. You’re golden.

Unfortunately, you only have 70 connections. This is not good because 1) a paltry number of connections limits your reach; 2) hiring authorities will not be impressed; and 3) your small network is telling people you are not embracing the purpose of LinkedIn.

In short, your low number of connections is harmful to your personal brand. You come across to others on LinkedIn as a nonparticipant.

In my workshops and during individual counseling sessions, many people ask me with whom they should connect, how they should connect with people they don’t know, and with how many people they should connect. Today, I’d like to answer these questions for you, too.

With Whom to Connect

When people ask this, I explain that they should look at their potential connections as a pyramid. The goal is to connect with as many second- and third-degree connections as you see fit – although third-degree connections should be the last ones with whom you connect.

On the lowest level of the pyramid are people with whom you worked, e.g., former colleagues and supervisors.

The second level contains people who share the same occupation and same industry. These people are like-minded and have similar aspirations to yours.

The third level is people who share the same occupation but in different industries. So, if you’re a marketing specialist, you want to look for other marketing specialists in industries outside of your own.

The fourth level is people in other occupations but the same industry. Connecting with these people will provide you with possible entries into your target companies.

The fifth level includes people in other occupations and other industries. This may seem counterintuitive to some, but consider that the V.P. of a manufacturing company that is on your target employers list may need an accountant. You’re not a V.P., and you don’t work in manufacturing, but you are an accountant.

The last level consists of your alumni, people who are likely to connect with you because you attended the same schools at some point.

How to Connect With LinkedIn Members

In my LinkedIn workshop, I tell my attendees that typing an occupation title in the search field is one step toward finding people. (For example, if you’re looking for software engineers, you type: “software engineers.”) From there, you select second- or third-degree connections and read through their profiles. See if they might be people you’d like to have in your network.

Social NetworkingAnother way to look for valuable connections is by using the “find alumni‘ feature, which is a great way to connect with LinkedIn members who are more likely to accept your requests than mere strangers. After all, you attended the same university or high school.

Probably the best way to connect with someone is by selecting a company that you’re targeting and finding an employee at said company. This is a great way to get your foot in the door for an open position – or, better yet, to start building your networks at target companies before jobs are even advertised.

Note: When asking someone to connect with you, make sure your note is personal – not the default message that LinkedIn provides. That said, I’m not a fan of connecting with people by using your smartphone or trolling your email contacts and sending mass invites. I see this as lazy.

How Many People to Connect With 

The answer to the age-old question – quality or quantity? – comes down to personal preference.

I personally aim for a combination of both – that is, 300 or so quality connects with people who share your interests and or goals. If you look back at the “pyramid” above, you’ll see that focusing on connections in the first three levels is a good way to achieve the quality + quantity goal.

When you build connections in this way, you solidify your brand as someone who is focused on a specific audience. You have the chance to build a tight-knit network of individuals.

On the other hand, focusing too much on quality does limit your number of connections – which means you’re limiting your access to other LinkedIn users who could be of assistance.

If you focus on quantity, you’re less selective. You may come across as having little direction and less focus on an audience. In my mind, this is not the best way to brand oneself.

Quantity does have its benefits, though – particularly if you are a business owner and want to advertise your products or services.

Finally there is the extreme strategy: the LinkedIn Open Networker (L.I.O.N.) strategy. L.I.O.N.s are LinkedIn members who are interested in collecting as many connections as possible. They believe that more people create opportunities. They are also more likely to be victims spam.

Recruiters and hiring managers will take notice of your number of connections on LinkedIn – and they’ll look to see what kinds of people you connect with.

They may even go to your connections’ profiles and by chance notice some not-so-savory things. In other words, you could be found guilty by association. Let’s say, for example, one of your connections is affiliated with someone in a controversial group. This could look bad for you.

Because you are responsible for choosing connections that support your image, you must also consider how each and every connection may affect your personal brand.

Now that you’ve branded yourself on LinkedIn, you’re ready for the next step: engaging with your connections.

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