Written by: Val Maun, owner of Career Cheat Codes
“You only get one chance at a first impression.” or something to that effect. In the world of the most important professional social network, screwing up your first (and most of the time, only) opportunity to make a connection can be costly. Connecting and making connections may not be immediately apparent, but over a long enough timeline, it may make a difference in your career. Think about networking and your career over a very long timeline.
There are many people in the business world who never need to worry about networking through LinkedIn, but we’ll ignore that demographic for this post. Whom this post may be pertinent to spans from fresh job seekers to well-established people looking to make a move in the future. I know people who could get a job without any sort of network, but not everyone is as (no doubt well-earned) fortunate. What does that leave for the rest of us? Playing the LinkedIn Connection-Request game! It’s not a fun game. Sometimes there is no winning. But damnit, sometimes you need to play!
The week I joined my company, a pretty well known video game company, I was told to expect a flood of connection requests and I didn’t believe what they said would be true. So why does someone have such a large amount of unrequited requests? To sum it up, professionals are busy and as the requests come in, they’re too busy to accept. If they don’t accept immediately as they pile up, paralysis sets in and they never get back to the requests. What goes through my head when I see a connection request? I don’t believe I’m alone and many employers or representatives of companies may be in the same boat. But before I tell you what goes on in my/their head, let me show you what most people default to:
What are you doing wrong? What are thousands of other people doing wrong? Even though we’re mostly working digitally these days, people love to have their egos stroked. Myself included. But if not their egos, they’d at the very least like to know you’re not shotgunning LinkedIn requests to the world. Or at least feel like you’re not shotgunning, even though you are.
When I was in design school, I despised the term “art for art’s sake” and I knew many people who practiced just that. The word “networking” gives people different reactions. For some it is poison, for others it’s drudgery, and for the rare few, it is fun. When it comes to networking, you’re not networking for networking’s sake. It has to be something that you’ll do instinctively and you’ll reap the benefits of it. It’s like cleaning your toilet, brushing your teeth, or something that you have to do on a daily/weekly basis but it has intrinsic value.
Let’s get in the mind of your potential connections. Here is the process that goes through my mind when I see a request and look at the person who’s requesting’s profile.
- Read name
- Read title – what do they do? Do they relate to anything I do/am hiring for?
- Read company – how big is the company? Is it relevant?
- Read history – are they a job hopper? Do they have gaps in their history? What caliber of company have they been at?
- Decide if they add/subtract value for the job I’m doing or long-game:
◦ Will they add value now, in the near or the distant future?
◦ Do I think they’ll ask for a ‘favor’ or help in their search?
The last is probably the most important for myself and probably most professionals. Not because I’m an ass (which admittedly I can be), but because it is a matter of time.
When you’re asking for a request, they’re asking how much time can you save them, or how much time are you will potentially be asking of them. Most likely, you’re going to cost them time. Professionals are busy. Recruiters are busy. They’re in the business of finding the right fits, not “maybes” or helping the requester in their job search. This is not easy for me to admit publicly, and probably even more painful for you to hear. And you’re probably thinking recruiters are heartless and you wouldn’t be wrong. But we have to be, because this is our job.
So what can you do to not be like everybody else and to be more appealing?
- Spend a little time to do more than the arduous process of one-clicking that pre-canned, connection request
- Read the person’s work history, clubs, associations. Look at them as a human and address them as a real person on the end of the line.
- If you’re inclined, if the person you want to connect with has links to a personal/professional website, I encourage you visit those sites. You can use that information to make a more personalized request.
- If you’re feeling especially bold, you can even apologize about not actually knowing them but stating why you would like to connect. If I was on the flip-side, I’d even go so far as stating why I want to connect, that I’m not looking for any help and that I’d want to connect for future opportunities.
Here is my sample request. It is not always effective, but it’s better than the soulless request everyone uses as a default.
These tactics will not be 100% successful, but as I’ve said, giving yourself a better than “instant-reject” chance will be more successful over time.
Also, if you ever make a LinkedIn request to someone you’ve met in person, be sure to be specific about what you talked about and/or how/where you met them. If you really want to take your game to the next level, when you’re talking to them in person, ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn, then follow up with the best takeaway from the conversation you had (to ensure that they remember you).
Val Maun is a Recruiter at a video game company in Southern California, and the owner of the “Career Cheat Codes” (url: www.careercheatcodes.com) blog. He started his blog to help people understand the games behind the (career search) games. He can also be found on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/valmaun