You clicked this post so hopefully, I don’t have to sell this too hard, but I want to impress on you that the value in having a robust personal and professional network is that your connections can help surface previously inaccessible job opportunities, provide professional development opportunities, provide career or professional mentorship, dispense grad school or academic program advice, grab coffee with you when you’re working remotely and just need a “people fix”, etcetera.
Does the phrase “robust personal and professional network” scare people? You bet. Does a network take time to build? Most things of value do. Are you behind if you don’t have 500+ LinkedIn connections already?! Certainly not! We are going to focus on a strategy here that you can employ when you have the spare time to build and maintain your network.
Let’s first put a definition to some of the key items we’ll be discussing in this post. LinkedIn is a social media platform geared towards facilitating professional networking and career development. Networking, in the broadest sense, is purely about finding connections.
To learn the mechanics and rules of the road for messaging on the platform, click the LinkedIn help article here. The post you are currently reading, however, goes a little deeper into the strategy behind your LinkedIn message, or what I like to call Networking’s “Four C’s” of Communication because every good process should have an alliterative acronym.
Call-to-action (CTA): Why should they read your message? What’s this all about? Why are you reaching out to this person? What’s “in it for them”, or (cards on the table) what’s “in it for you”? This is a one-liner, so you can think of this as the subject line (where applicable, you can actually use it as the subject line – think InMail) or simply your purpose statement. This concept is similar to “answer-first communication” which, to oversimplify the term, means that you’ve communicated your position so well in the first line of your correspondence that the recipient (of a request or response) knows exactly where you stand without reading the rest of the email/text/IM/DM because, let’s face it, if it takes longer than 10 seconds to read, chances are they probably won’t. See also TL; DR.
Credentials: Who are you? Despite the fact that you are literally reaching out over LinkedIn, the individual you are messaging is not going to take the time to comb through your profile unless they have already bought in to your CTA. Possibly not even then. So, give them some help; in one line, what are your best, most relevant qualifications?
NOTE: Some people lead with their credentials. This is risky, in my opinion, as my top two reasons for ignoring a LinkedIn message are, ONE: The would-be contact led the conversation with credentials that aren’t relevant or don’t resonate with me, and TWO: The ask is not clear in the outreach, making me concerned I could be wasting my time with a disguised sales pitch. In other words, be sure your “opening bid” is something that is going to click with the other person or risk losing their attention.
Cause: What do you want? Now that you’ve hooked your reader and established credibility, you can spend a little more time (just a little – a few sentences at most) to fill in the salient details you may have left out of your CTA for brevity’s sake.
Close: What are next steps? You just put in all this work making your case and establishing credibility, do not let ambiguity kill your momentum now! Share the concrete actions that you or your contact will take should they accept your proposal.
Put it all together and it looks something like this:
“Hi Lauren! I am interested in applying for the Junior Analyst position at ACME Analytics. I noticed you are a fellow Boston University alum working in the Marketing Analytics department; I myself am a recent Business Analytics grad (May ’22). I would love to get to know a little bit more about the company culture and day-to-day aspects of the role before I apply and am hoping you are the best person to ask! Are you opposed to connecting for 5 mins sometime in the next week?”
Once you’ve found a formula that works for you, you have what’s known as a “word track.” Word tracks are statements designed to anticipate and overcome questions or pushback when you are trying to persuade your audience. In the context of LinkedIn messaging, you want to convince your contact (or would-be contact) that responding to your message is worth their time. This means finding the exact phrasing that yields a response after your first outreach attempt the majority of the time.
Now, for those of you already familiar with the platform, this method does not pertain only to messaging existing connections. You should be customizing your invite messaging this way too. One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons is a picture of a Trojan Horse with the caption “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” (it doesn’t play as well when I describe it to you, I know) which aptly describes how your would-be connections on LinkedIn are going to feel; you haven’t made a purpose statement and your motives are suspect. Use this approach for InMail communication as well.
Don’t get overwhelmed! A low-risk place to start building your LinkedIn network is with close friends, classmates, and professors. Try the “Four C’s” out on these folks until you feel you’ve established a good word track, then turn around and try it out on some folks that may feel like a bit of a reach for you.
Go do it now; you got this!