written by Eric J. Ma on 2023-04-02 | tags: linkedin professional networking connection mistakes profile optimization value exchange mentorship career development personalized messages networking tips
I've been on LinkedIn for a while, and many people have reached out to connect with me professionally. In this blog post, I suggest practices and recommend resources to better connect with others on LinkedIn and explore why they matter.
What are we trying to accomplish on LinkedIn?
The purpose of LinkedIn is to serve as a professional social network with quality connections. Quality connections imply being able to:
- Receive content and information relevant to their profession through weak contacts,
- Associate with like-minded individuals,
- Reach out to their network for professional assistance when needed.
- Advertise personal skills and capabilities to potential employers.
It's safe to assume that most LinkedIn users will have one or more of these goals. As users of LinkedIn, the question, then, is this: why would anyone else want to be connected or associated with me?
LinkedIn has a 30,000 connection limit. Most of us are never going to get close to there, but LinkedIn also suggests one other thing: to "only keep quality connections in your network." The value of a social network comes from sparsity, which is the result of active curation. When requesting to connect with others, we need to take the initiative to let them know why we would be a valuable connection for them. In other words, how would you add value to them?
Common mistakes when connecting on LinkedIn
With this lens, how to remedy the following mistakes when connecting on LinkedIn becomes clear.
Mistake 1: Cold connecting without a note
The first mistake is this: having never met the other party in person, you click that "Connect" button without leaving a note for them. Doing so leaves the other party guessing, "How will connecting with this person be a quality connection for me?" Any guesswork that we can take out is going to be better.
Mistake 2: Connecting with just a generic note
This mistake is related to the first one. A generic note without substance still does not let the other person know why you would be valuable to them.
Mistake 3: Making an ask of the other party when connecting
This mistake ignores the value exchange that takes place in professional settings. For example, asking someone to do something for you without offering something back is an unfavourable value exchange for the other party.
Keep in mind the value of the other person's time. For example, a junior data scientist is paid \$150,000 per year. Assuming an 8-hour workday and 250 days per year, that professional's effective hourly rate is approximately \$75/hr. More senior people would have a higher effective hourly rate. One should always be mindful of the other party's time whenever one makes an ask outside of work.
I've received this ask multiple times in various forms: "please let me know of any opportunities." Big no-no! That's like asking me to do the job search for you!
This is a terrible phrase to use in a cold connection/message. Simply doing a cold-hearted calculation on the value of my time makes it hard to justify why I should take the initiative to look at your profile when there are other, higher-value things I could be doing with my time. So instead, ask if you could chat about specific roles or if the other party might know the hiring manager and request to make an introduction to them.
Mistake 4: Not having a fleshed-out LinkedIn profile
One of the ways we determine whether someone would be a valuable connection for us is by seeing their LinkedIn profile. Therefore, keeping your LinkedIn profile updated - roughly the same way you would keep your resume updated - is essential to communicating your potential value to someone else.
The Remedy: Exchange Value!
As with all things professional, making a professional connection means asking, "What fair value can we exchange here?" But what would be of value to someone on the other side? Especially if you're a junior person just starting?
Let's think about what kind of needs others may have professionally.
They may be seeking cutting-edge knowledge
By definition, industry professionals' knowledge will become outdated 2-3 years into their careers. The demands of professional and personal life mean they will likely only have the time to keep up with the latest knowledge if they were involved in producing it in their roles. Almost by definition, the new "generation" of graduates will most likely be equipped with the practical know-how to wield the latest knowledge productively - if they are keeping up with these trends. (Pro tip: this is a great way to stay differentiated amongst new graduates!)
They may be seeking talented individuals to join their team
Industry professionals who have years of experience under their belt may be looking to connect with individuals whose skills match up with their business needs. Doing so can reduce their burden when doing hiring -- which is a very, very time-consuming thing to do! In addition, if your LinkedIn profile adequately shows off your skills, they can verify this information efficiently.
They may appreciate affirmation
Work is hard, so words of affirmation are likely to be appreciated, especially if the person you're connecting with posted something original and insightful from which you benefited. However, be careful not to descend into flattery here.
They may be looking to pay it forward
Not everyone will be like this, but those with the heart and bandwidth may be looking to pay it forward. By requesting to connect to seek a short amount of time (30-45 minutes) to ask them career advice questions, you will be giving them both affirmation of their expertise and an outlet for them to engage in mentorship.
Examples of great LinkedIn messages
Affirmation of a specific thing
Hello, I found your notes on setting up Jupyterlab helpful. (https://ericmjl.github.io/data-science-bootstrap-notes/turbocharge-jupyter-lab-using-language-servers/)
Happy to connect!
In this example, the person sending me the message included a link to something I posted on the internet.
The last sentence, "Happy to connect!" can be misinterpreted as being condescending in some situations, but I recognized that this person was likely not a native English speaker. A perhaps less-easily-misunderstood way to phrase it would be "I'd love to connect!"
Offering up talent
Hello Dr. Ma, I am interested in doing a research internship at Moderna this summer and I have a few questions about bioinformatics opportunities. I am an MS student in Biomedical Engineering at X University with a strong computational background. I look forward to discussing with you!
This person recognizes that I, or others in my network, am hiring co-ops/interns and is offering us the opportunity to reduce the time spent in the hiring effort. Looking at their LinkedIn profile, with relevant education and work experiences filled out, suggests that they may be worth a 30-45 minute call to chat.
Offering a new opportunity
This is XYZ from Some Company. We have an interesting opening for algorithm/methodology development in GROUP NAME, there are many challenges in AREA OF APPLICATION that your skillset and knowledge will help. Are you interested in learning more about this?
This person is my peer, possibly more senior than myself. They offered a chance to explore a new opportunity, which I would always appreciate even if I'm not actively searching, and it was not Recruiter Spam. (Recruiter Spam results in them sending me job postings below my current responsibilities.)
Demonstrating receptiveness to mentorship
I hope this message finds you well. I wanted to express my gratitude once again for taking the time to speak with me during your paternity leave and providing me with valuable feedback. Your insights were truly helpful in improving my resume.
I have taken your feedback to heart and made some significant changes to my resume. I would be honored if you could spare some time to review the new version and provide me with any further feedback or suggestions that you may have.
Thank you again for your time and consideration. I hope you have a wonderful day.
This message made my day! Having spent 45 minutes with this person, hearing that they acted on my suggestions (even rejecting my proposals but giving good reasons is considered acting on them) made me feel great about the time invested in them. This person was thoughtful, polite, and considerate about my time.
I can only do this for some cold connections, as coaching like this would be a full-time job. (This person came to me through a mutual connection on LinkedIn.)
I found your profile on LinkedIn and I appreciate the content you've been posting, and I would love to be connected with you professionally here.
If you have the bandwidth, I'd like to explore whether my profile is a good fit for the
( ), and discuss some questions I have about career development in general. In return, I am happy to explore with you how I might be of value to you as well.
Again, it'd be an honor to connect. Thank you for your time!(Video) How to Make a Great Linkedin Profile - TIPS + EXAMPLES
The last bit about being "an honor to connect" made me blush, as I don't consider myself a big shot. To me, it bordered on flattery. But there's no denying the affirmation that I felt from the message.
With messages like this, this person's goals are clear: to get feedback on whether they were a match and to ask questions about career development. They were courteous and professional; they avoided fluffy language and were crisp and concise; and they were also doing one other thing that's awesome - seeking to explore how they may be of value to me. Fair value exchange, right there!
Offering non-tangible value
I'm reaching out as I'd like to ask you a few questions about the current state of the biopharma industry. In lieu of payment to you, I am happy to make a donation of up to $100 for your time, to a charity of your choice. Would you be open to discussing?
This one had all the correct elements in there. Though I had no monetary benefit, I could tell that my time and expertise were valued and that the other party was willing to recognize that tangibly. (I asked that they donate the money to NumFOCUS.) The short and crisp message offered me a non-tangible value in exchange for valuable information to them.
Here are some resources I've curated demonstrating how to use LinkedIn professionally.
Jeff Su: How to connect like a pro
In this video, Jeff Su suggests 5 ways to level up how you approach connecting with other people on LinkedIn. My favourite tip from him is to always leave a customized note.
KISSS Career Coaching: How to write a compelling personalized LinkedIn connection request message
In this video, Bart Zych gives a template for writing personalized LinkedIn connection messages. This one is worth looking at!
Connecting with others on LinkedIn is essential to building a robust professional network. You can create meaningful connections that benefit both parties by avoiding common mistakes and focusing on exchanging value. Remember to be courteous, concise, and considerate of the other person's time and expertise. By offering value, seeking mentorship, and demonstrating receptiveness to feedback, you can establish quality connections that will help you grow professionally. Finally, update your LinkedIn profile and utilize the resources mentioned in this blog post to further enhance your networking skills. Ultimately, the key to successful networking on LinkedIn lies in understanding the importance of value exchange and actively curating a network that supports your professional goals.
I send out a newsletter with tips and tools for data scientists. Come check it out at Substack.
If you would like to receive deeper, in-depth content as an early subscriber, come support me on Patreon!