LinkedIn is a great resource for job seekers because it can be used to expand your network without actually attending a networking event. LinkedIn allows you to connect with total strangers and begin a dialogue that may lead to a great job opportunity. However, as great a tool as LinkedIn is, if it is not used properly, your efforts can completely backfire on you.

When you’re searching on LinkedIn and find someone at your target company, some may reactively hit “Connect” in efforts to begin a dialogue. However, this rarely, if ever, works. Why? Because it is a completely cold connection with no context. The person receiving the connection request not only has no idea who you are, but also no idea why you are contacting them. Thus, they are more than likely going to ignore the request altogether.

To avoid getting dismissed, it’s important to customize your connection request.

Similar to the way in which you would customize a cover letter for a job application, a LinkedIn connection request should be equally customized. To do this, take advantage of the optional message box that accompanies a connection request prior to sending it.

DO NOT use the standard message that LinkedIn automatically provides: “I’d like to add you to my professional network.” This is the equivalent of not saying anything at all and just clicking the “Connect” button.

Instead, compose your own message stating that you’d like to connect despite never meeting. More importantly, explain WHY you’d like to connect, and, as usual, a little flattery goes a long way, so include a brief note of admiration in your message, too. Finally, keep it short. There isn’t much space allotted for this message, so you’ll need to be as concise and direct as possible.

In terms of message content, depending on what your goal is, there are many different approaches you should consider taking when deciding exactly how to customize your connection request. Here are some examples below:

 

1) The Experience Approach

One way to customize a connection request is to highlight that the person’s background is what caught your attention and that you’d like to learn more from their experience.

“Hi Jack,

We’ve never met, but your profile came up when I was looking for top editors at Science. I’m really impressed with your background and would love to learn what drew you to the company. They are very innovative in their editorial content! Can we connect?

~ [Your Name]”

This is a great way to highlight Jack’s accomplishments without obviously trying to flatter him with fluff words (i.e., “your work is amazing,” “I really admire your work,” etc.). This message also acknowledges that you do not know each other and later gently asks for permission to connect instead of just sending a request with the assumption of connecting. Finally, the most important aspect of this connection request message is that, instead of overtly stating that you are looking for a job at Science, you are simply requesting to learn more about the company.

This should put Jack more at ease, thinking that he can help by providing genuine information, instead of feeling pressured to help you find a job. No one likes to feel used, but more often than not, people are willing to offer thoughts and advice if you ask nicely. 🙂

 

2) The Project Approach

With this type of connection request, you fixate on a certain item or project in their LinkedIn profile that is related to something you’re doing. In this way, you’ll be highlighting something the two of you have in common, which usually makes it easier for them to agree to the connection because connecting makes logical sense.

“Hi Jack,

We’ve never met, but your profile came up when I was looking for people with successful experience managing projects that involve XYZ software. I just started using this technology and was hoping to get your thoughts on its usefulness. Can we connect?

~ [Your Name]”

This message concisely highlights exactly why you’d like to connect, and it implies that you admire the person because you are seeking their expert advice on the topic. Moreover, if this software/technology is specific to a certain field, Jack may view the connection as mutually beneficial.

In other words, for example, if the technology in question is a new type of genome sequencing software that is only used by a particular scientific field of study, you’ve unintentionally highlighted that you and Jack work in a similar field and that you could potentially collaborate on future projects together; thus, Jack may be more willing to accept your connection request for his own reasons of personal gain.

Finally, notice the subtle hint of flattery included here with the use of the word “successful,” which will likely sit well with Jack when he considers connecting with you.

 

3) The Perspective Approach

Similar to the Project Approach, asking for someone’s perspective on a new innovation or a novel finding is another way to highlight that you share mutual interests.

“Hi Jack,

We’ve never met, but your profile came up when I was looking for top scientists in the field of structural biology. I was interested in getting your perspective on the new methods of X-ray crystallography that were recently published in XYZ journal. Can we connect?

~ [Your Name]”

Alternatively, you could ask about the changing market trends if you are seeking a connection from someone in a non-academic position.

“Hi Jack, 

We’ve never met, but your profile came up when I was looking for scientists at top pharmaceutical companies. I was interested in getting your perspective on how the newly imposed FDA regulations affect Research & Development efforts at companies like yours. Can we connect?

~ [Your Name]”

In either situation, you’ve clearly stated that you are merely seeking their expert opinion. Whether or not you actually have ulterior motives in requesting to connect (like inquiring about a job later), asking for someone’s advice does not actually convey “I want a job at your company,” or “I want to do my postdoc with you.”

Of course, after the initial contact and some dialogue, you can certainly move the conversation in that direction, but up front, you’ve simply flattered them by seeking their expert opinion. Not to mention the use of the word, “top,” also adds a bit of flattery to your message as well.

 

4) The Respect Approach

This is the type of angle to use when the person you are trying to connect with is MUCH further ahead of you in their career (or much higher ranking than you) and the connection would seem odd or out of place at first glance.

“Hi Jack, 

We’ve never met, but your profile came up when I was trying to find experts in clinical research. Given that you’ve been conducting clinical trials and writing on the subject for 25+ years, I was hoping we could connect so that I could learn more through your work.

~ [Your Name]”

Clearly there is a significant age disparity here if you are a graduate student or a young postdoc, so emphasizing that you appreciate Jack’s career’s worth of work is not only respectful, but also flattering in itself because it indicates that you’ve done a little homework on him.

Given that your target connection is much older and likely much busier than you, it may be more difficult to connect with them and seek their advice, but it’s always worth a shot, and you can’t go wrong with the Respect Approach.

 

5) The Mentor Approach

This connection request is a form of “thank you” because you first explain how the person’s work has taught you something valuable for your career and/or professional development. In essence, you are appreciating them for what they’ve done for you, whether or not they realize the impact, if any, they’ve had on you.

“Hi Jack, 

We’ve never met, but I’ve been following you on LinkedIn, and your advice has really helped me understand the business aspects of scientific consulting and develop an interest for this career path. Your recent piece on sustaining client relations was the best yet! Can we connect?

~ [Your Name]”

This message conveys admiration and appreciation for Jack and highlights that you’re interested in learning from him, not necessarily asking him for a job. Again, that could be your ultimate goal, but don’t start with that at the forefront of your professional relationship. People are much more willing to offer advice and help than they are to bend over backwards to help someone they don’t know get a job, and simply making the connection is more important in the beginning – you can always steer the conversation in a particular direction later. Thus, always go the route of asking to learn rather than asking for a job or a connection to a hiring manager.

Additionally, taking the Mentor Approach is a humble way of acknowledging that you have a lot to learn before you can even dream of asking about potential job opportunities. It tells the other that you know your limitations but that you are eager to learn and improve.

 

6) The Interview Approach

This type of connection request is posed as more of an opportunity for the person you’re trying to connect with. Asking for a quote from the person for a blog post or an article you are writing is a great way to begin a dialogue with someone. However, you must then actually write the piece! You can’t just say you will and not follow through on that promise – that would look very bad for you!

This may constitute more work for you, especially if you were really trying to connect for different reasons, but this is a great way to make it easier to connect up front. From there, you can nurture the relationship and later turn it into a viable lead for job prospects.

For example, after writing the piece, you’ll undoubtedly want to write to them again to give them a copy of the article or give them the link to your final piece. This gives you a great excuse to rekindle the connection and strike up more dialogue with the person that possibly doesn’t pertain to the article or blog post at all. And given that you did something nice for them, perhaps this next conversation could, in fact, lead to a new opportunity or job prospect for you.

“Hi Jack,

We’ve never met, but I’m writing an article for the CNSPY blog/Newsletter, and I wanted to get a quote from you regarding careers in Pharma. I’ve been following your work, and I think our readers would really appreciate your perspective. Can we connect?

~ [Your Name]”

First of all, this message poses as a completely selfless act. It’s as though you are not searching for any personal gain whatsoever: A) you’re reaching out to Jack to benefit your readers, not you (at least not necessarily), and B) you’re doing Jack a favor by featuring him in your article. At face value, there appears to be no gain for you, which makes others, like Jack, feel less used.

Additionally, being asked to provide a quote or be featured in an article is flattering in itself. You could have picked a number of other people at a number of different companies from whom to seek a perspective, but you chose him. How flattering! By asking him to provide insight, you’ve implied that, of all the options, he is the one you admire most and view as THE expert. Who wouldn’t want to accept that kind of flattery and recognition? Very few… very few. That’s why this approach is so successful.

So, if you’re stuck or feeling intimidated about the idea of cold connecting with someone, consider writing a piece for a student organization or your own blog to be able to start making connections in this way. It’s a very strategic move that works really well! Trust me, I would know! 🙂

 

Overall, cold connecting with someone on LinkedIn is not easy, but taking any one of these approaches will make you much more successful at securing a new connection than simply clicking the “Connect” button on someone’s profile page. Depending on why you are contacting the person, one approach may be more successful than another, so it will take some thought on your part to figure out which method will be best for a given individual.

However you decide to connect though, just make sure you include a few key points in your message:

  1. State that you’ve never met. This addresses the figurative elephant in the room and makes the connection less awkward, even though it is inherently a bit awkward by nature.
  1. State WHY you want to connect. Without a reason, you will get nowhere fast.
  1. Add a subtle touch of flattery – it goes a long way! But the emphasis is on ‘subtle’ here. Don’t be overly obnoxious with flattery, as this tends to come off as disingenuous.
  1. Ask to connect. Don’t assume the connection will simply come just because you reached out. Asking for permission is always a gentler way of getting what you want.
  1. Be concise! You don’t want to flood your message with too many words or details. Not to mention, LinkedIn won’t allow long connection request messages, so choose your words carefully and be concise!

Take these tips to heart and apply some of the approaches described above and you’ll be able to grow your professional network quickly by cold connecting with people on LinkedIn without ever leaving your desk! No networking events required!

 

** Customize your cold connection requests on LinkedIn and let us know how it goes! **

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