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Why LinkedIn Is Worth Your Time

by Maggie Graham, MEd, CPCC

Many of my clients have a healthy distrust of LinkedIn. Whenever you’re asked to enter personal information and spend your time (our most valuable asset!) on a task, there had better be a significant ROI.

There is. Unequivocally.

In answer to the “what’s in it for me” question, there are three strong answers:

A robust network on LinkedIn (>500 connections and >50 groups) allows people to find you.

A good metaphor for your LinkedIn profile is a pebble dropping into a pond. Imagine this pond has >460M people in it in the form of buoys. If you drop a tiny pebble in the pond, only a few people feel its ripples, but if you drop a boulder into the pond, many people bobble in response.

If your LinkedIn profile is small with just a few connections, it’s a tiny pebble and its waves won’t have much impact. When you post an update on LinkedIn, update your profile, add to your connections, join groups, or participate in some way on LinkedIn’s platform, people in your network are notified of your activities. You show up on their radars. You cross their virtual path in the form a professional update or contribution. If your network is substantial, you have the potential to be noticed by people in your sphere, people who matter and can influence your career progression or business growth.

When recruiters, hiring managers, or potential clients for your business run a search on LinkedIn using keywords or specific criteria, they won’t find you if a) they haven’t paid for a premium account, which provides them with access to LinkedIn users, or b) you’re not in their network, either as a first level connection, a connection of one of their connections (2nd or 3rd level connections) or membership in a group that they’re in. You can’t do anything about the first condition, but you have a great deal of control over the second.

Whom should you invite to connect with you (or accept invitation requests from)? That’s a matter of personal preference. It’s rather like deciding which breakout sessions to attend at a conference, whom to sit with in large cafeteria with shared tables, whom to approach at a networking event. Here are some categories to consider and recommendations (for all of these categories, use the entire timeline of your career no matter how much experience you have – go way back in time and also look at people who are in your current sphere):

Professional Colleagues and Team Managers
Definitely connect with these folks unless there’s bad juju between you. You can give and receive recommendations, follow one another’s paths, and support one another in your respective career progression. This group is the raison d’etre of LinkedIn.

Definitely connect for the same reason (and with the same caveat) as the above categories. You know one another well, you’re in the same arena, and you can easily step into synergistic support of one another.

People you’ve encountered on your professional journey such as customers/clients, people you’ve encountered at professional conferences
It’s a good idea to connect because these folks know your professional presence and that familiarity can only help you. Use your judgment about connecting – might it seem intrusive if you sent them a connection invitation? If so, err on the side of caution. In general, however, people welcome a connection invitation from a familiar and friendly face, but follow the ethics of your professional and common sense (for example, therapists should obviously not connect with clients).

Personal connections (neighbors, people from your faith community, people from your kids’ school, for example)
It’s a good idea to connect with these people because they know you and they can speak positively about you, even if it’s a remote connection. Connections that are built on a loose thread often have remarkable value, particularly in a job search or as you’re building a business. Common sense and good judgement factor strongly into these decisions, so if you notice that you’re hesitating to send a connection invitation, heed that inner voice. Be sure to personalize the invitation that you send to everyone you invite to connect, but particularly these folks (see video below for details).

Cold connections (people you’ve never met but you admire or share something with them, such as an alma mater)
It’s a gamble to connect with these folks. When LinkedIn first launched in 2002, it was built on the premise that users would only connect with people they knew. Over time, informal protocols have shifted (LinkedIn still maintains that your network should be comprised only of people you know and trust). There are many people on LinkedIn who call themselves open networkers or superconnectors (Google “LinkedIn LION,” which stands for LinkedIn Open Networker to find prominent open networkers who have thousands of connections) and also people who will simply accept your request if you give them a good enough reason (see video for details). The advantage of accepting invitations from and/or reaching out to people you don’t know on LinkedIn with having met them first is that it dramatically increases your reach on LinkedIn – your LinkedIn profile is more useful to you when you have many connections. You can see others’ profiles and they can see yours. Plus, LinkedIn is essentially selling access to your (and everyone else on LinkedIn) account through the premium memberships. At the same time, you’re vulnerable to spam and invasion of your privacy if you connect with people you don’t know. These aren’t small risks. Identity theft is one of most serious threats we encounter nowadays. If you decide to network with people in this category, make sure your settings protect people in your network (see video below for details) from the risk that you’re taking.

Your strong LinkedIn network gives you research capabilities that essentially allow you to sneak in a side door to a business.

The more connections you have on LinkedIn, the more your profile works for you. When you are researching potential employers, searching for people who will be on an interview team for an upcoming job interview, or looking for business partnerships, you will be able to view an exponentially higher number of profiles (and likely the profile of specific people you’re seeking) than if you have a small number of connections and groups that you’re in.

I got one of my favorite jobs through a cold outreach on LinkedIn. My clients have gotten interviews, picked up valuable intel prior to interviews, and made great business connections through their LinkedIn networks. More is better on LinkedIn. The decision isn’t whether to invest time in building your LinkedIn profile. The questions you need to answer are what’s your optimal use of your LinkedIn profile and whom do you want to connect with.

A complete LinkedIn profile provides potential recruiters, hiring managers, and (if you’re in business for yourself) customers, to meet you virtually and form the starting point of a relationship.

If your LinkedIn profile is a skeleton of content, you are missing an opportunity to forge connections with people who matter to your forward progress. When viewers click on your profile and they see very little detail, they’re hungry. It’s a bit like having an hors d’oeuvre when you’re ravenous. Don’t leave people guessing. Create compelling professional content that allows them to identify your brand, know your value, and want to meet you.

Bonus reason: Your investment in strengthening your LinkedIn profile and building your network now offers you some insurance against future career disasters, such as a layoff or a need for a quick pivot in your business.

I’ve worked with 100s of clients who have been laid off, and most them – even if they had an inkling that it was coming – are reeling from it. They can easily become buried with tasks as they search for another position. If their LinkedIn profiles are in decent shape, they’re miles down the road compared to their colleagues in similar situations. It’s not just about whether their profiles have substantial content – the size of their LinkedIn is a huge variable in whether they’re able to transition quickly or scramble to build LinkedIn into a useful tool. Don’t be caught in this situation – there’s enough stress for job seekers as it is.