Real Networking with Linkedin

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recruiting tipsI can almost hear the collective groans. “Not another blog post about networking with Linkedin…”

Well, too bad, I say. You’re here already and you might as well read on.

A lot has been said about how to network with Linkedin , and for good reason. The professional social network is a great resource for every type of professional and of course especially for recruiters. Over the years, Linkedin has probably contributed a lot to the overuse and watering down of the term “networking.” Ten years ago, we might have thought about networking as going to a local chamber of commerce meeting or one of those shake-hands-while-holding-coffee-with-your-business-card-in-your-teeth type breakfast meetings for industry or job connection meetings. Now, we’re much more likely to think of those casual emails and invites you get through Linkedin asking to “network.” To which the general response is, “uh… ok?”  What does the term networking even mean anymore? And who are all of these strange people that want to network with you?

The media has played into people’s need to network. It seems every national magazine that has an article about job search also has a piece about how to find a job through networking on Linkedin. However, most people’s efforts to network consist of little more than emailing a few random strangers and asking them to network or updating their status to their friends that they are “looking for their next great challenge at an employer of choice.” How many of these updates have you seen? Have you ever done anything to help these people? Maybe you have, but the vast majority of these general networking requests and updates go unnoticed, lost in digital undulations of funny cat videos and political blogs.

Recruiters essentially make their living off networking. You would think, therefore, that recruiters would be particularly adept at networking on Linkedin. However, you still see a lot of the same problems – abstract invitations, pointless introduction requests, and time wasting requests to network. The hype of social networking got a lot of people moving, but not moving intelligently. We’re left with a void of warmth and human contact – the hysteria has reached such a peak that outliers will succeed not by going with the flow of impersonal networking, but rather making the traditional rounds with in-person meetings. Go local, as the saying goes.

However, if you’re not ready to don your sunscreen yet and venture outside, it is very possible to network online in a real way, especially using Linkedin. You just have to be heard by being softer and a little more personal.

Here are some tips for more “real” online networking:

  • Start and end with the other person. Begin your networking request with a specific detail about the other person. For instance, “I noticed that you have worked in marketing at a few different retail companies around NYC…” It’s NOT about you. It’s about them.
  • Ask a question. When you are writing someone for the first time, talk about them, ask them to meet… but after that, ask them something else that is highly relevant and personal to them. For example, “BTW, do you happen to know Joe Franks in accounting? I did some work with him a little while ago and I wonder how he is…” The personal question is what will catch them, not the question asking them to meet.
  • Go over your head. If you’re a recruiter, you have an innate power that others do not. Your superiors (executives etc..) actually have a reason to meet with you. To them, of course, it’s self-interest. Don’t feel bad about sending networking requests to people well above your head. If you do so in a very deliberate, personal manner, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish and how much you will learn from meeting with those types. That being said, remember you are everyone’s equal – you’re not selling anything to anybody. You’re meeting with people. Learning. Having a good time.
  • Don’t “network.” When you ask someone to do something, for goodness sake don’t ask to network or “pick their brain.” No one wants to network and no one wants to have their brain picked. Ask them to go to coffee, ask them to have a have a quick call, ask them to lunch, ask to make their copies for them, ask them to do anything but something that they can’t understand.
  • In general, stay local. We all get and sometimes accept invitations and requests for calls from other states, other countries, and it sometimes appears, other planets. But for real networking success, the general rule of thumb is to keep it local and simple. Reach out to people that you can really meet and get to know. Whether you are looking for a job, a sales contact, a candidate, or a person to give you candidate referrals, you want to meet people in person. But the more important aspect of locality is your shared connections and experiences. You will be much more likely to know the same people and further cement your relationship if you are local.

In 2011, we seem to be at the point where networking for networking’s sake is finally and gratefully retreating. It’s time to get down to real networking again. If you’re a recruiter and you didn’t use these last down years to network “over your head” with senior folks, the window is closing. You’ll want to lay down the groundwork for a successful business in the years to come. As the best time to plant a tree, of course, was twenty years ago  – the best time to start real networking with Linkedin was years ago. But there is no time like the present to start networking or make the networking you do now more real.

By Marie Larsen