One of the first pieces of advice I always give to job seekers is to network with the people you already know – friends, family, neighbors, former colleagues and fellow college alumni. These people are valuable members of your LinkedIn network and, ideally, will be happy to introduce you to potentially helpful contacts in their LinkedIn networks.
However, there are some instances where you’ll want to reach out to people who are not at all connected to your existing network and are, in your estimation, Very Important People. Your VIPs may include recruiters, hiring managers, senior executives at prospective employers or “stars” in your industry.
If you’re ready to network several rungs up the career ladder, here are some tips:
1. Ensure that your profile makes a great first impression. VIPs are busy people, so if they receive a LinkedIn message from you and decide to check out your LinkedIn profile, chances are they’ll only spend a few seconds reviewing it. This means your profile has to be stellar.
First, craft a profile headline that is very specific and sells your skills and uniqueness, such as “Deadline-driven copywriter with 10+ years of experience at top-tier ad agencies.” Next, make sure your profile is 100% complete so a potential employer can quickly understand your education, experience and key skills. Finally, quadruple check your profile for typos, grammar mistakes or “red flags” such as outdated certifications or unexplained gaps in your experience.
2. Do your research on each VIP. Before reaching out to anyone, but particularly to a VIP, thoroughly review the person’s LinkedIn profile. Take note of anything you have in common with this person, any recent changes in his or her employment or any recent status updates that might give you something to mention in your outreach. Doing your homework will increase your confidence and will ensure that you don’t make any big mistakes (such as asking the person what it’s like to work at a company he just left).
3. Write a “must-open” InMail subject line. If you have no connections in common with this VIP (and, therefore, cannot ask for an introduction from someone in your network), you will need to reach out by using an InMail credit (part of the Job Seeker Premium account upgrade). Since the VIP will not recognize your name, you must write a subject line that compels the person to open your message. Here are a few suggestions:
- Mention something you have in common, such as an alma mater, hometown, professional association membership or personal interest. For instance, if you recently attended the same event as the person, you might write, “Question from fellow attendee of recent lumber expo in Chicago.”
- Offer information. If after reading a VIP’s LinkedIn profile you come across an article the person might want to read or an event the person might want to attend, this information could be the key to connecting. For instance, your subject line might read, “Thought you might enjoy this article on special education in Africa.” (Just be sure it’s not a commonly known article or that the person hasn’t shared it on her own LinkedIn status!)
- Answer a specific request. If the VIP is a recruiter or executive who has specifically mentioned a job opening, then be clear that you are responding to that opportunity. For example, “Candidate for sales manager position you mentioned on WXXX radio this morning.” In this case, there’s no need to beat around the bush!
4. Write a concise, specific and polite message. A big mistake people make when reaching out to network with VIPs is writing too long of an outreach message or being too vague. Remember that this is neither a cover letter nor your life story. You must be straightforward about who you are and what you are asking this person. And you must always show respect for the person’s time. Here is an example:
Subject line: Request from fellow Detroit native inspired by your TED talk
I recently viewed your TED talk online and, as someone who grew up in Detroit, I was particularly inspired by your story of success as a journalist. I am currently transitioning from a teaching career into journalism and I was wondering if you could offer any advice or resources specifically related to launching a career in digital journalism. I know you are very busy, so any guidance or suggestions would be deeply appreciated – a particular niche you recommend I pursue, blogs I should read regularly or even a news outlet that you might know is hiring in the Detroit area. Thank you for inspiring me and for considering my request.
5. If at first you don’t succeed, try another way. If you don’t receive a response to your InMail when you reach out to a VIP, don’t despair (and remember that the InMail credit will be replaced if you don’t receive a response). But I also recommend that you don’t follow up using the exact same method. To reach a busy VIP who may receive hundreds of emails and messages a day, try something different, such as commenting on a group discussion this person has posted, replying to a status update this person has shared (You can follow people you share Groups with on LinkedIn by clicking “follow” under that person’s photo) or even reaching out to another person at his or her organization to make a good impression and then ask for a referral to the VIP.
Finally, remember to show your gratitude. If you are successful making contact with a VIP and that person offers you an informational interview or answers a few questions by email, don’t forget to send a gracious thank you message on LinkedIn. Even thought VIPs are busy, they will always appreciate (and expect) a polite and timely thank you note. Good luck!