What LinkedIn CAN’T do–and how you should respond

“How to Decorate a Mortarboard” by TasselToppers on Flickr

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of college students and recent graduates. The conversation centered on the opportunity, as they transition out of college, to shift more attention toward using social media as a professional networking tool. And one of the best ways to do that, of course, is to put more time and effort into LinkedIn.

One question came up several times: how can you build a robust LinkedIn network when you don’t have much of a real world network? Time and again, my answer was the same: LinkedIn’s not a magic bullet. It works better in enhancing existing relationships than in helping you start new ones. That means young people are often better served by focusing on providing value to their current connections–however limited in number–and use those relationships as a bridge to building new ones.

Still, I told the group, there are a few things worth doing if you want to use LinkedIn to accelerate your progress toward building your network:

  • Ratchet up your real world networking and be diligent in following up with a connection request to everyone you meet. Request information interviews. Attend job fairs. Ask your professors to introduce you to people they know in the communities/industries of interest to you.
  • Join LinkedIn groups  in industries that match your interests. Be sure to provide value in those groups and over time you’ll build some relationships.
  • Consider starting a blog and use Linkedin status updates to share the content you create. Employers are absolutely going to look for experience, and a blog lets you demonstrate what you know (and demonstrate an interest in a specific subject matter area or industry).
  • Volunteer. Join nonprofit committees in your community and then connect on LinkedIn with those you meet. Try to align them with your professional interests as best you can, but be open to anything that gives you a seat at the table with more established professionals.
Unfortunately, there are few shortcuts when it comes to building substantive relationships. But if you make LinkedIn a complement to your other efforts, you’ll start to see results.

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