Thursday, January 19, 2012

Networking Styles Part 2, for Job Hunters

Finding your LinkedIn "Style" of Networking

PART II Your networking style if you are in a job search.

In our last post  we discussed the different styles of online networking, from timid to gregarious.

Your decision on which networking style you want to use should depend on your networking goals.  Your personality and approach to marketing Me, Inc., are also factors. Some people who are bashful in person-to-person networking (my kind of people, actually) may find online networking more comfortable. Those who are trying to create networks in new career fields or in other physical locations (say, Chicago, San Francisco, Boise, Lubbock or Shreveport) may find online networking and phone networking essential.

When is the best time to grow your network for a job hunt? This question is similar to the (Japanese, I believe) adage:

When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago.
When is the second best time to plant a tree? Today.

Likewise, the best time to grow your network for a job hunt was three or four years ago. The next best time is right now. (If you actually did start to network on LinkedIn, collect recommendations, and develop your profile years ago, congratulations! Now is a good time to get a bit more aggressive.)

If you are job-hunting, there are practical reasons for creating a larger network. Many companies are now using employee referrals to vet potential hires. Some companies even give bonuses to employees if those referrals result in hires. One of the current trends in HR circles is to use employee's connections to help find new employees instead of using expensive search services and recruiters

Therefore, to find connections from your list of target companies, you want to use the LinkedIn's Company listings. Look for people in your geographic area or work in the same locations you want to. Find out what professional (or other groups) they belong to that are of mutual interest. Join them.

If that seems too much like stalking, see if they have a Twitter or other social media link on their profile. If so, that's an invitation to connect with them there. Also check and see if they advertise themselves as a LION. If so, feel free to send them a personalized invitation. Note that some LIONs get so many requests to connect, it could be difficult to get noticed in the crowd. If they have a blog, that's also an invitation to read it and leave a comment.

Once you get to know these people, they could be great advocates for you if the right job opens up. (This is similar to the approach that Richard Bolles has espoused for many years in What Color Is Your Parachute?, way, way before online social networks.)

When you join professional groups on LinkedIn, if you have a free account LinkedIn may still put a few obstacles in your path to contacting 3rd degree connections. Mainly, they may hide the last names of 3rd degree (or further) connections and make it difficult to send them a message (unless it's one of their $10 InMail messages.) There are many ways around these restrictions, but one way is to connect with one or two LIONs in that group. (LION = LinkedIn Open Network.) Do that and nearly everybody in that group, however large, will be a 2nd degree connection. That's a good incentive to accept an invitation from a LION in that group, too. How do you know if a person is a LION? Look at their profile. Many LIONs actually post in their profile the term, LION, or announce that they accept all invitations.

You can also make it easier for other people to find you when they have the same problem of indentifying you. It’s easy. Just re-type your name in the Headline section (just below your name, next to your photo). You do that by clicking the Edit button next to your name when you edit your profile. This way if a group member points at your photo in a group, they might see your first name and last initial from the name field, but they will also see your full name in your headline. You can also add your full name to your links to your Twitter address and other accounts on your profile. This can make it much, much easier for people to find and identify you for jobs and networking.

Also, when people write you a recommendation on LinkedIn, simply ask them to use your full name in the recommendation. If an HR person is searching recommendations instead of entire profiles, your name will pop up there, too.

You can also be strategic in accepting invitations, especially if you get one of those boring, canned "I'd like to invite you to join my LinkedIn network" invitations. When you get that invitation, that could mean one of three things:

1. The person sending the invitation doesn't know how to personalize their invitation, especially when LinkedIn gives them the option to connect with people. (That means they’re a newbie and might not be particularly helpful to you.)

2. The person doesn't really care enough about you to send a personalized invitation, they just want to collect connections. (Why would you want to connect with somebody who won’t even take the time to personalize an invitation?)

3. They assume you are an open networker and will accept most if not all invitations. (A less impersonal, but still careless error unless, of course, you actually ARE an open networker.)

There actually is a fourth possibility: they clicked the wrong button and sent you an invitation by mistake. It does happen. Again, this is not usually a great way to start a networking relationship.

If you get one of these impersonal invitations from somebody, be strategic. Look at their profile. If that person is in your field or one of your groups, consider accepting the invitation and writing back, "I'm happy to connect. Was there a particular reason you sent me an invitation? How can I help you?" This could be a good way to start a conversation. If they don't write back in a reasonable time, you can always disconnect.

If that invitation is from a person in the HR field, they might be working strategically to build their network for their specialty, or they may be flailing, randomly sending out invitations to anybody they can find who is connected. Again, if they are a specialist in your field or in your region, consider accepting the invitation. If (as in some recent invitations I've received) they work in an entirely different part of the country (or world) and/or place clients in a field unrelated to yours, you can simply hit the Ignore button with a clear conscience.

When job hunting, you also need to make sure your profile is close to or at 100% completion. Use keywords for your occupation in your job descriptions and use those to make it easier for HR people to find you, too. There are other techniques we'll talk about in other posts, too.

If you are thinking of planting your tree now, start digging.