LinkedIn is a crucial resource to your return to work journey. It’s a forum for showcasing your resume and skills, as well as announcing that you’re back on the job market. But its primary function is as a connection builder — a place to both grow and make use of your network.
Many people think that the best way to accomplish this is to send blind connection requests to people within your industry. But if people don’t know you, and you have no connections in common, you might face a lot of rejections or a lack of responses. It may help to be concise and 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. Not only that, but 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 should you do to build a more robust LinkedIn network instead?
Get people you already know to connect with you on LinkedIn. This should include old colleagues, 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, for instance, 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 it 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. That’s why it’s important 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 for 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.
Tami Forman is the founding executive director of Path Forward and a frequent speaker on issues related to caregiving and workforce participation.