Only because my reading audience extends beyond LinkedIn, let me first inform you if you don’t already know, that LinkedIn is a social media platform. On it, people post their professional profile, network with others, and explore job postings, post jobs, discuss issues pertinent to groups they are involved in and brand themselves.
Now just as Facebook has friends and Twitter has followers, LinkedIn has contacts; and it’s these contacts that I want to speak about today. Or rather, I want to know what if anything you are doing with your contacts.
After you create your profile, one of the key steps is start building your network. Many people will start with people they know; co-workers, people they regularly speak with in other organizations, professional contacts they do business with. Then at some point, you might decide to expand your network and try to connect with people who have similar job titles to your own in other towns, cities, provinces, states or countries.
This last part puzzles some people. After all why what might you have to gain by connecting with someone who does something similar to you half way ’round the world? In reality what you get out of such a relationship would largely depend on what your goal is and how much you take responsibility for initiating and nurturing the relationship. Doesn’t that sound like it’s true whether you are talking about someone around the world or just down the block?
Now me personally, I’ve found that I’ve had conversations with people; each conversation with a varying purpose than others from a number of perspectives. Sometimes people approach me and ask me to look over their resume. Other times they want to ask what I think of their profile, or to ask me something about how to get into the field of Social Services in general or become an Employment Counsellor specifically. Not as often, people reach out to me and ask me if they can be of some help in some way to me.
The question as to ‘why’ to network in the first place really comes down to what would you like to know or contribute. ‘Getting’ and ‘giving’ in the best of relationships is a two-way thing where you’re contributing as much as you are taking. Oh sure there will be people on LinkedIn who are in it only for themselves and what they can get out of others, but isn’t that true of people everywhere? The way I see it, I’ve got a career that makes me very happy and provides a lot of satisfaction. If I can therefore help out others and they don’t offer anything in return, that’s just my way of giving back.
The opportunity to help other people sometimes comes when people knock on your door to collect bottles for fundraisers (a local hockey team did this at my home on Saturday), or a youth organization gives you an apple for a financial donation, or possibly donating used clothing to a non-profit group. But it can also come in the form of donating your knowledge, your expertise, your experience in a mentoring capacity.
In addition to this, you might be after a new job. Once you’ve identified the company you are interested in working for, you might want to look up people via LinkedIn who work there now. Checking out their profiles could be a tremendous advantage for you in getting to know what people actually do there, what their backgrounds are including education, skills, causes they support etc. By reaching out to some of these people, you might find someone who would be willing to speak with you about the opportunity you want; how it came about, and what qualities not on the posting might be best to put forward.
Then there are discussion groups. Discussion groups are numerous and can focus on a specific group of people such as resume writers, or can be broad in scope such as people talking about professional development. You can search groups to find others with similar interests to your own and join a group, or you can initiate a group on your own and define the participation guidelines. Once you are in a group, your involvement could be only to read the thoughts of others or it could be to contribute on a regular basis to discussions, or anything in between.
When you do speak with others around the globe, you get perspectives and outlooks on topics that might alter or support your own point of view. You might find a best practice in the field you work in being done in England and you decide to try it out in Peru. You could be going about your business in Papua New Guinea and want to respond to a request for help from someone living in Iceland.
So how do you – YES YOU – utilize your contacts? Maybe you connect with people and never actually exchange emails or message each other at all. By sharing how you use your network and how you contribute to it, you can spur others to action who are perhaps very interested in actively engaging with others but don’t know where to start.
So what I’m asking you readers to do is take a moment or two and share what your experience has been in working with your connections on LinkedIn. It would be most appreciated I’m sure.