• Mel Butcher

Networking on LinkedIn for Young Professionals

Updated: May 15

Even before the pandemic, career networking was being pushed more and more online. It's not like the day of your parents or grandparents, back when it might have been acceptable to physically show up to an office and inquire about job openings.

We must lean on networking we can do casually, in professional settings and online. And online, the primary place to do your professional connecting today is - LinkedIn.

First, we have to talk about what NOT to do. I'm going to show you a redacted version of a real message I received from a young engineer. I know this person now, and they have gone on to adjust their approach based on the methods I taught them (...and they landed their dream job, btw!!). But this approach is not unique; I've received dozens of messages like this. So, let's have a look together and then break down what's not working.

Keep in mind - this is the first message I received from this individual after we were connected on LinkedIn. I didn't know them at this point and we had never spoken before...

Hello Mel, I hope you are having a great week. I hold a masters degree in environmental engineering and am seeking full time entry level opportunities in the field of water/wastewater/drinking water treatment. I am passionate to work in this field. I have come across several entry level openings at Carollo Engineers and I am very interested in these roles. I am attaching my resume for your review. Would you be open to sharing my resume with the office/hiring managers? I would be glad to discuss my relevant experience with you. Looking forward to your reply.

What's wrong here? Three things:

  1. There is an inappropriate ask of a complete stranger. Essentially this person, whom I don't know (at the time), is asking me to stop what I'm doing to help them land a job. Not knowing this person, I don't know their work ethic, their commitment, their trustworthiness... I know nothing about them except they're asking for my help via an online platform. Think for a moment - is this how you would start a conversation with a professional you just met at an industry networking event? If not, then it's probably also not the right approach to take on LinkedIn.

  2. The entire message is "me focused". The entire message is all about the sender, what they like, what they want to do, how I (a person they have never met) can help them... Imagine for a moment you have one chance - just 1 - to impress someone who can help you advance your career. Talking about just yourself and your needs in that moment, in that one chance is not the right approach... Take a moment in your mind to compare professional relationship building to dating. Imagine you get set up on a blind date and throughout the entire date, the other person talked about how great they were, everything they like and want in life, but never asked you anything about you - would you want to go on a date with them again? Same thing applies here! This is relationship building 101.

  3. And related to #2, the message does not give any indication that this person did any work to understand me, who I am, or what I care about. It seems as though all they have done is look at where I work + my job title and assume that I both can and would want to help them (reminder again: a total stranger!) get a job. This simply is not acceptable. If you are approaching someone whom you want to make a good impression with on LinkedIn, read their entire profile. You can pick up multiple pieces of information about them to use to begin building the relationship.

How to Network Like a Pro on LinkedIn

All levels of professionals need empathy, just like you do. Be cognizant that a busy professional you want to approach may not just be busy with their job responsibilities and a boss breathing down their neck, but also with children, sick family members, an illness of their own, a break up, volunteering commitments, etc. What I'm trying to say is this:

The best approach to beginning to build a relationship with another human is to approach them with empathy and express a genuine interest in them.

This is how you can do that on LinkedIn.

You've read their entire profile. :) Now, you can look deeply at their interests. There is literally a section on profiles titled "Interests". Let's use my profile as an example.

If someone new wanted to approach me on LinkedIn, they might look at my interests and see that I follow Gary Vaynerchuk. If this person also followed Gary, they might use that to their advantage. So, their first message to me might say:

Hi Mel, I noticed you're also a Gary V. fan. I was wondering if you saw his latest ___ content about marketing ___. I think you might find it helpful in your services marketing work. I'd also love to connect here on LinkedIn if you're open to it. Thanks! -Sam

Why is this good? This is good because Sam has shown me that they've looked at my profile to understand a little bit about who I am and what I'm interested in. Then, they've taken it a step further and tried providing a resources that would be valuable to me. Thanks, Sam! Yes I want to connect!

What else?

Assuming you're approaching someone in your industry, there's a good chance you are (or should be!) involved in the same trade organization. [And if you'e not involved, you need to get involved!] At the time I'm writing this, you should be able to see "Organizations" under the "Accomplishments" heading on their LinkedIn profile. This is where professionals can list trade organizations that they volunteer for or are members of.

Using myself as an example again, if you looked at my profile and past posts, you'd probably be able to work out that I am an active member of WEF. Let's say you are too and you're a volunteer on a committee (high five!!!!!). When you want to reach out to me, it might be something like this:

Hi Mel, My name is Erin and I'm on WEF's XYZ committee. We're looking for speakers on ABC topic and I wanted to reach out to see if you know anyone. Thanks for your help and even if you can't think of someone for this, I'd still love to connect to you and learn about how things are going on the Industrial committee. Thanks again! - Erin

Erin took the time to learn that we're actively involved in the same org and she enlisted me in furthering it's mission. And it's safe to assume that I care about that mission. Absolutely, Erin, I would love to connect and see if I can help you/your committee!

And one more approach - the current job. If you want to approach specifically about the company the person works for or their role, you could ask to do an informational interview. This is bolder, but it can work. Here's an example:

Dear Mel, I see that you currently work for Carollo Engineers in the industrial water space. This is an area I'm actively trying to learn more about, especially to better understand career opportunities. Would you be willing to answer some questions by email or on a 15 minute call? I will be respectful of your time. Thank you for considering. -Mel

The thing I want to highlight here is letting the professional know that you respect their time and that you'd be happy to have your initial questions answered via email or phone. Yes, we are trying to build up to a deeper relationships, but it's polite to give the professional an "out" (answer the questions by email) because, again, you two are complete strangers and you have no idea what kind of difficult life situation the other person might be dealing with on the day they receive your message.

You're looking for an initial "yes" here to get the ball rolling. Later, if it feels right, you can work towards that deeper connection.


Feel welcome to reach out to me on LinkedIn with questions. Sign up to hear about upcoming Underdog Engineers courses here.

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