Mira asks: LinkedIn requests for networking haven’t necessarily worked out for me. How can I connect with people I’m interested in networking with if I don’t have any common connections?
Tami: Hi, Mira! Well, getting people who don’t know you to connect to you is hard. It helps to be concise but also to state clearly what you hope to gain from the conversation. But people are busy and wary, so your overall response rate may be low. Also, a connection on LinkedIn in itself isn’t super meaningful — plenty of people will accept a connection but won’t meet with you because they don’t really know you.
What isn’t hard is getting the people you already know to connect with you on LinkedIn. If you’ve been reluctant to reach out to colleagues from your past, read this post. But don’t restrict yourself to people you’ve worked with professionally. There are a lot of people in your life who may prove to be great connections! Connect with everyone you know — the other parents in your children’s schools and activities, anyone you’ve done volunteer work with, neighbors. As you get to know them as professionals – as opposed to another Cub Scout parent! – you can ask for introductions to people in their network. This is how your network grows!
And the people you already know are more likely to be open to a conversation, not just accepting your LinkedIn request. And that’s where things get interesting, because networking is about knowledge.
A lot of us have a tendency to focus on some ideal connection — a certain person or someone at a specific company — in the hopes that will open the right doors and get us into our dream job. But the better strategy is to focus on the resources that are most immediately available to you — and that is the people who are already in your network and interacting with you regularly. By talking to another soccer mom about her job you might find that she works at a company you’d never heard of before but that could offer opportunities that are perfect for your background.
When it comes to networking, LinkedIn really is magical. But the magic doesn’t come from blindly reaching out to people you don’t know. The magic comes from connecting with everyone you do know! And then seeing who they are connected to. And so on and so on. I can’t overstate how important it is to start connecting with anyone you’ve ever worked with and anyone you meet with. At first it will seem like you aren’t making much progress. But pretty quickly you will see that when you search on a company or even a specific person that you are more closely connected than you could have ever imagined. And, eventually, you may even discover that you are only one connection away from your dream job.
Good luck (and remember to keep going!),
Returning to the paid workforce can be both an exciting and daunting challenge. My work as Executive Director of Path Forward has given me a unique perspective on both sides of the employment equation. I’ve answered questions for thousands of job seekers and I understand their worries. And I have gained insights from HR and talent executives at the more than 75 companies we’ve partnered with. I’m eager to help you leverage this insider advice to help you get back to a fulfilling career. If you’ve got a burning question you’d like me to answer in an upcoming edition of “Ask Tami,” you can ask it using this form.