In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.
Question: I’ve been trying to use LinkedIn to make contacts for my job search. I try to select contacts carefully and send a good note with each request. But this seems to be as big a waste of time as responding to job postings. Is there anybody out there? Is there a way to make LinkedIn work for me?
Nick Corcodilos: When the time comes to go job hunting, you turn first to your personal contact list. But no matter how many contacts they may have, people cry to me that, “I’ve run out of contacts! What do I do now?” They see the ugly specter before them: cold calls. And they cringe.
But you don’t need to make cold calls. Today, you can use professional networking sites like LinkedIn to expand your network. While I think LinkedIn is over-used and misused as thoughtlessly as all those job postings online (see “LinkedIn Job Roulette: A career suicide game?” and “Linked into the haystack”), it can be a good resource if you know how to use it wisely.
The problem with reaching out to people on LinkedIn is, while you can find new contacts, they must want to talk to you. Are you worth talking to? You have to prove it.
When you reach out for personal referrals and job leads, and when someone gives you a career contact, how do you know it’s any good? How does the contact know you’re any good?
The value of a contact
How verifiable is the referral? How verifiable are you? The value of a potential link, or contact, in a professional network depends on proof. Make it your business to prove it every time.
Executive career coach Matt Youngquist published some classic tips in 2010 about how to use LinkedIn effectively — and they’re still among the best. In “The Beauty of LinkedIn Introductions,” Youngquist lists five ways LinkedIn greases the skids when you give someone a lead — or when you get one yourself. Here’s the short version:
- LinkedIn allows people to quickly vet one another before spending time actually reaching out. Youngquist tells you to dig into a person’s information. Are they really worth contacting? Then make sure what’s in your profile proves you’re worth talking to.
- A network like LinkedIn (there are many others that are specific to an industry or field) requires proof of relationships. Contacts must be approved by intermediaries. We all know that nowadays people “connect” on LinkedIn even when there’s no real connection between them. So it’s important to pick people carefully. Will they prove you out?
- Don’t ask just anyone for referrals. Ask people who are willing to add value to your request to make a contact. Don’t chase empty introductions. Get endorsements — but not just the ones people post on LinkedIn. Get your new contacts to endorse you directly to a potential employer. That’s a true endorsement! Read more about this method here: “The Preemptive Reference.”
- Here’s where the proof really comes in. Youngquist points out that you can’t force anyone to respond to your request to connect. But that’s what makes the system so powerful. That’s why you must give back some value. Put some effort into it. Become known as someone who makes introductions thoughtfully — to contacts that pay off. (Yes, this means culling your network to people you really know.)
- It takes time. And it should. Don’t be in a hurry. Let the intermediaries do their work. Not all requests for contact will pay off. If you do it right, the contacts you get will be ones that are truly helpful.
“I find that 80% or more of the referrals I make this way tend to go quite smoothly—and a win/win connection ends up being made by all concerned!” Youngquist wrote. But don’t try it without first understanding what can make LinkedIn an enormous waste of time: “Linked into the haystack.”
Youngquist makes a powerful point that’s so often ignored: Even if you do it online, proving you’re worth talking to is still an enormous amount of work.
Dear Readers: I think LinkedIn is way over-used to make selfish requests that yield no value to the other guy. Especially when a desperate job hunter has run out her own personal contacts. What percentage of requests that you get via LinkedIn are dogs? Which ones have paid off best—for you or for the other person?
Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”
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