Make LinkedIn a Contact Sport: Reaching Out To Build Your Network Specifics on using LinkedIn

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Katie Smith, Assistant Director, Duke University Career Center

Thumbnail You’ve created a profile and you’ve made connections with those people in your immediate network. You know you can use LinkedIn to build your network. The only question left is, how?

The best way to find people on LinkedIn is to conduct an advanced search- click “Advanced” next to the search bar at the top of your LinkedIn homepage. This way, you can enter information pertinent to your interests- keywords for your industry, a specific company that you are considering, etc. You can enter “Duke University” under “School” to specifically search for alumni, and you can search by zip code as well if you have a geographical target for your search.

Take some time to scan through the people who come up in your search results. Where do they work? Have you heard of the company or organization? What does their career path look like?  Conducting an advanced search can be a great way to learn more about possibilities within your field of interest and widen your scope of opportunities that you are focused on.

As you’re reading through different profiles, let’s say you come across someone, Xi, who looks like an awesome potential contact. Xi’s job sounds super cool, she’s in a city that you like, and she even graduated from Duke. How can you get in touch with her?

First, determine how much of her profile you have access to and how you are connected. Can you see the groups she’s a part of? Is she a second-degree connection, and if so, who connects you? Is she a third degree connection, or further removed from your network?

LinkedIn gives us a number of ways to reach out to potential contacts. Let’s explore the options:

1. Shared group
Check out Xi’s groups. Do you share any groups? If not, does it make sense for you to join any of her groups based on your own interests and affiliations? If you share a group, you can go to that group's page, click on the number of members, and search for her name. When Xi comes up in the search results, you have the option to send her a direct message without actually connecting.

2. Second-degree with a strong mutual contact
Is Xi a second-degree connection? Perhaps you’d rather have your mutual contact help facilitate a more personal introduction. If so, you can reach out to your mutual contact via email (you should have access to his email addresses in the contact information bar under his picture) and ask if he can introduce you to Xi via email. Because people tend to check their email more often than their LinkedIn accounts, this option can be more efficient than #3.

3. Get introduced to a second- or third-degree connection
Similar to #2, LinkedIn has a “Get Introduced” function where you can ask your mutual first-degree connection to pass along a message to Xi. You can find the “Get Introduced” option by clicking on the arrow to the right of the "Send Inmail" button on the Xi’s profile. Using this feature, you can select your mutual contact and send him a message asking to be introduced to Xi. Be sure to include basic information about yourself and why you would like to connect with her in your message.

In order for your introduction to reach Xi, the contact facilitating the introduction must log in to their accounts and pass your message along. They may also write their own messages in addition to sending your message to their connection.

4. Connecting directly
Instead of sending a message or contacting Xi through a mutual connection, you also have the option of connecting with her directly. If you choose to send a connection request to Xi, be sure that you write a personalized message explaining why you are seeking to connect. While some people are open to connecting with people they don’t know on social media such as LinkedIn, others approach this more cautiously.

Remember, when you are reaching out to Xi, your goal is to build a relationship and have a conversation, NOT to ask for an internship or job. Your message should be concise and should include brief information about yourself, why you’re reaching out, and the next step for getting in touch. Ideally, this is the first step towards a conversation, or informational interview, where you can connect more directly with Xi to ask about what she does, how she got there, advice that she may have for you, etc.

By using LinkedIn to reach out to people, you have the opportunity to increase your network quickly and exponentially while learning about opportunities and paths related to your interests!

For questions about how to use LinkedIn as an effective networking tool, be sure to visit the Career Center during Drop-in Advising or by setting up an appointment by calling our office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 919-660-1050.  Additionally, see the Career Center’s guide for informational interviewing to get more tips.