For any career-minded college student or recent grad, having a profile on LinkedIn is basically expected in order to stay ahead of the game and network with peers, companies, and other professionals. As a member of this 65 million person network, not only do you get to shamelessly market yourself for the entire world to see, but you are able to stay on the radar of recruiters for potential job opportunities, something no unemployed recent grad can afford to pass up.
There is no question that LinkedIn is a great tool for promoting yourself and garnering invaluable professional contacts, but the same reason LinkedIn is so great is what makes it so scary to use. Unlike Facebook, with its more carefree and social atmosphere, on LinkedIn you are potentially connecting with your employer, your professors, and other contacts you typically would not want perusing your Facebook profile and having access to your personal information.
While it is pretty easy to figure out the basics of LinkedIn, the specifics of how exactly you should utilize LinkedIn’s functions and figuring out what is appropriate and what is not can be tricky.
Neal Schaffer, author of Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn, is pretty much Her Campus’s go-to guy when it comes to learning about LinkedIn, having sat down with Her Campus contributing writer Betty Jin earlier this year to discuss almost everything there is to know about the site. In this article, Neal shares what exactly is acceptable on LinkedIn when inviting people to connect, asking for recommendations, and posting status updates. With his advice, next time you get that queasy feeling in your stomach when you go to connect with your boss on LinkedIn, you can breathe a little easier knowing that you are acting just as any professional should.
Inviting people to connect
Inviting people to join your network is one of the most basic functions of LinkedIn and embodies the whole purpose of the site. This simple task of reaching out to people may seem harmless enough, but becomes complicated when you come across someone such as one of your professors or the editor-in-chief of the magazine you interned for, and you are not quite sure whether or not to take the plunge and actually hit “connect”.
LinkedIn was designed to encourage people to connect with others they have actually met and know somewhat well. Friends, classmates, professors, and contacts from jobs and internships are all great people to use to expand your network. It becomes tricky when you want to connect with someone you may have met a job fair who told you to keep in touch or the head honcho of the company you interned for who you only met a couple times and doubt remembers you. Luckily, LinkedIn is evolving and it has become acceptable to connect with these types of people as well as people you might not know at all under some conditions; it just takes a little more work on your part.
Deciding how to go about connecting with a person on LinkedIn can be one of the most challenging parts of using the site. If you know the person well, the options that LinkedIn gives you when you go to add them to your network such as “Friend”, “Colleague”, “Classmate”, etc. should be easy enough to figure out. On the other hand, if you are trying to reach out to someone you do not know quite as well and who does not necessarily fit into those categories, you need to go the extra mile and pull a few tricks.
- Look at the person’s profile and see what groups they are members of on LinkedIn
- Become a member of one of their groups ONLY if it is relevant to you
- When you go to connect with the person again, an option will come up that you can select to explain that you are members of the same group
- OR you can use the group to send a message to the person explaining why you would like to connect
When inviting a person to join your network, you are always given the option to add a personal note to the request. Not including a personal message is a pet peeve of many LinkedIn users and could hurt your chance of gaining the connection; it also helps the person to remember you and gives you a chance to explain why you want to connect with them.
“Regardless as to how well you know the person that you invite, they may not remember you as well,” advises Neal. “Therefore, as a rule of thumb, you should always customize your invitations so that you indicate how you know the person and why you want to connect with them.”
Your note can be something short such as, “My name is Michelle and I interned for your company last summer. I really enjoyed working for the marketing department and would love to use LinkedIn to stay in touch with some of the people I met while interning there and build up my network on LinkedIn.” The most important thing to remember is to use common sense when reaching out to different people on LinkedIn, and to plan out your actions before you have the chance to make any mistakes.
Asking for recommendations
Recommendations on LinkedIn are virtual versions of letters of recommendation you would normally ask for from someone on paper, although these types are much shorter. If you are a serious user of LinkedIn, meaning you do not just have a profile because everyone else does, but because you honestly want to network and create a professional image for yourself, then recommendations are a necessary part of being a member of LinkedIn. Recommendations are also a must if you want to use LinkedIn to find future jobs and internships. They give you more credibility and add a sense of completeness to your profile which is appealing to those looking at your profile.
You only want to ask for recommendations from people who know you well and can vouch for your skills and abilities, not someone you hardly know. Internship or work supervisors are great people to ask for recommendations, as well as professors whose classes you did exceedingly well in. The best time to ask for a recommendation is shortly after you worked with the person or took their class, although asking for recommendations later is also fine as long as you provide a refresher on who you are and why they would want to recommend you.
Be sure to provide a thorough explanation for why you are seeking a recommendation, whether you are looking for a job or internship, trying to improve your profile, or whatever your reasons may be. Just as you would do when asking for a typical letter of recommendation, you should remind the person what you accomplished while working for them or what skills you displayed that were noteworthy.
“You’re not writing your recommendation for them, but merely serving to remind them about what you did for them so that they can paint a complete picture of you from memory,” said Neal.
If you ask someone for an actual letter of recommendation, discreetly ask if they might be willing to use an excerpt of it to recommend you on LinkedIn as well. The worst they can do is say no. Since we are talking about etiquette, one of the most important parts of asking for a recommendation on LinkedIn is to thank the person for taking the time to write one for you. Taking the time to do so will leave the door open for future opportunities, which can never hurt.
While tweeting what you are doing every five minutes is the new trend, I hate to break it to you, but your professional contacts probably do not care. Just like Facebook and Twitter, on LinkedIn you have the opportunity to post updates through the “Status Update” box on your profile, but beware, updates on LinkedIn should be treated significantly different than posting on other networking sites.
“The LinkedIn Status Update, while seemingly innocent, will post your update to your network in the News Feed on their Home Page,” warned Neal. “Since the majority of LinkedIn users used it before Facebook or Twitter, the current environment is one in which status updates no more than once a day are tolerated.”
Whatever you do, DO NOT link your Twitter account with your LinkedIn profile in a way that automatically posts every tweet to LinkedIn, especially if you tweet often. Status updates on LinkedIn should consist of positive information about your life that helps promote you professionally, such as updates about professional events you attended or projects you are working on for school, while blurbs about your tailgating plans for the weekend and how you loved the new episode of “The Jersey Shore” are not.
With these clarifications, you are now ready to fearlessly brave the seas of LinkedIn and use it to your utmost benefit!
Neal Schaffer, author of Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn