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What a lot of people don’t seem to understand about LinkedIn is that the same basic principles that apply to making friends in real life apply to getting respect and attention from the people with the power to decide whether or not they’re going to let you through their doors and give you a paycheck.
Here’s what that means at a practical level. The features that matter to you are not the job boards or the applications. For people who will be entering the job market, the killer feature of LinkedIn is the ability to type a few words into a search bar and get all-encompassing awareness of the name and company name of every significant individual human being operating in your field today.
All of this information is exposed to search. You very easily can find 300 CEOs in the aerospace engineering business, 300 CEOs in the toy business, 300 regional managers of banks in the part of the country you want to live in, 300 CEOs and managing directors of the top agencies doing creative work for big brands, the 300 top alpaca wool companies in South America, you name it.
Enough of these people in every single industry are on LinkedIn that the people who aren’t are completely irrelevant to you within the context of what you’re doing. You can open LinkedIn, go to the search bar, type in the name of one company you want to work for, go to their company page, look at the job titles of everyone who works there, find the top people in the organization, and send connection requests to all of them for absolutely no reason.
You can do that to every one of the top 300 to 1000 people in your industry, and a good number of them will blindly accept your connection request, which makes it possible for you to send them a message.
Then, while you’re still living in the comfort of your college apartment or your college dorm, and you’re not in a panic because you haven’t found a job yet, you can go down the list of those connections and tell every one of them, in 3 sentences or less, that you will be entering their field in the next 12 months and that you would really appreciate any words of advice they could give you ahead of time about things you might not be fully aware of yet, if they have one or two minutes to spare.
If you play the numbers, if you connect with enough people, and if all you ask them to do is share their knowledge, a ridiculous number of them will reply and tell you everything they think you need to know. This is the most basic beginning of a relationship, the fundamental building block of everything that’s ever been built or created by humans on the planet Earth.
If you just alternate between asking all of those people a brief question once in a while, and just wishing them well and asking them how they are doing, then you will start to build real relationships with the people behind the other keyboard or smartphone.
You’ll remember their names and they’ll remember yours. You’ll remember which ones you really like talking to, and which ones you didn’t so much. They’ll remember that you not only valued their opinion and their input enough to ask for it proactively, but also that you’re committed to being good at your craft and growing personally, and that you’re not just a yes-person, a job-beggar, and an opportunist.
Now that you know how to connect with those people in the first place, here’s where I think it gets even more interesting. Here’s another opportunity 10 times even better than that, for the people who want to capitalize on it.
If you want to get really crafty and provide them with something more valuable and more memorable than just taking their time to ask questions, then once you have some rapport with them, you can ask if it’s alright for you to ask them five targeted questions for a LinkedIn article series you’re creating to provide a resource for your classmates.
Pick 3 to 5 questions that you think would be useful to you and your classmates — if you generally know the answers, getting different perspectives is the name of the game here—and just go down the list and ask everyone you have been having conversations with if they would be willing to contribute their perspective to the project.
To maximize the odds of getting replies from busy people, you can even use something like a Google Doc for each person, set to “anyone with the link can edit,” so that they can pull their phone and dump all of their thoughts into it while they are in an Uber, on a plane, or in line at the grocery store.
You could do this with dozens of your new contacts and most of them will reply and participate when they have the time, and the only real work you’ll have to do is editing and formatting to publish it on LinkedIn.
So many people out there have never been asked for their perspective or their opinion, have never been prompted to share what they know, that a really large number of them will jump at the chance if they have the time.
Every time you publish one of those articles, if you let the interview subject know about it, the odds are in your favor that they will share it with their network too. Something this basic can make a relatively low-profile person in any industry feel seen, heard, respected, and mildly famous.
Turning your personal LinkedIn page into a project that gives visibility to the people in your industry is probably the best strategic way to get visibility for yourself in an industry you haven’t started working in yet, and where you currently have zero authority, credibility, or connections of your own.
It’s a perfect and legitimate reason to start conversations with exactly the kinds of people you need to know, who you would only talk to you otherwise if you were asking them for something.
If you don’t want to do this because you’re worried about what people in your industry will think of you, and you’re convinced that they’re going to think you’re stupid or annoying, then you’re also missing out on opportunities for them to look at you like you’re an up-and-comer in your field, and to think that you’re a leader for taking some initiative.
A lot of people won’t accept your connection requests. A lot of people won’t reply to their messages. A lot of people won’t care. A lot of people will be too busy to care. That’s why you’re connecting with 300 or 500 or 1000 of them instead of 3 or 5 or 10.
If you connect with as many people in your field as you can, give them as much value and respect as you can, and you end up building meaningful relationships with 10% of them, you’ll have established yourself as one of the best-connected young people in your entire industry before you’ve even started.
At its core, this is an extremely basic marketing move. You are leveraging someone else’s expertise and knowledge, someone else’s network, someone else’s visibility, in a way that gives you an opportunity to create value for yourself, your peers, and your future contemporaries, all out of thin air, in exchange for visibility for yourself.
The dynamics at work here are all basic human psychology. People want to feel respected. People feel respected when they’re asked to weigh in on something based on the knowledge and experience they have accumulated through doing the work for years. People feel respected when they’re asked for that outside of the context of being paid to solve a problem or put out a fire. People feel respected when their input is wanted, not just needed.
So many people are playing the job application process like they’re downloading Tinder and trying to hook up with a paycheck on the first message, and people just don’t feel respected by that.
If you execute on this, you will have better connections and more options than anyone you know. If you can’t see the opportunity in that, then don’t do it. Almost everyone will ignore this and send their resumes off to fight it out in the robot arena, then wonder why nothing ever happened.
The process of making something happen doesn’t began with filling out a form on the Internet to apply for a job. The process of making something happen for you, personally, starts with recognizing that people only care about what gives them value, and then providing them with something of value in a way that very clearly sets your mentality apart from everyone else’s.