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Use LinkedIn to Create a Referral Network

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I'm getting pretty good at using LinkedIn, but I'm wondering what's the best way to get a job referral from outside my network. How should I approach that person?

A: LinkedIn is a valuable resource for your job search, including for getting referrals. Spending some quality time on the platform will help you learn to maximize its networking features to expand your connections.

First, remember that recruiters spend time on LinkedIn looking for candidates. Be sure your profile is up to date and showcases your knowledge, skills, abilities, volunteer experience, passions—in other words, it gives a recruiter a reason to contact you.

You can also use LinkedIn to find organizations you would like to work for. Then, check out that organization's careers page to find jobs you may be qualified for. Look for people in your network who might be connected to that organization, but if you don't find one, take advantage of one of LinkedIn's best features: the ability to connect with people who aren't currently in your network.

My rule of thumb is to not ask someone to connect unless we have at least 10 connections in common, but you can set your own limits.

Before you start reaching out to people you don't know, build up your connections. It takes time, but there is a fairly painless way to get new online connections using the ones you've made in person. Start by connecting with everyone you can think of in your current or former workplaces. Don't overlook family members—they can have good networks, too!

Then, as people accept your invitations to connect, go to each new connection's profile and see who you know in their network. Carefully, select some of those people to send an invitation to join your network. My rule of thumb is to not ask someone to connect unless we have at least 10 connections in common, but you can set your own limits.

So, how should you craft your invitation? Don't use the standard "I'd like to connect with you on LinkedIn" message. Instead, write something personal to get the person's attention. For example, if you and the person are in the same LinkedIn group, mention the group. If you have contacts in common, mention a few names to help the person feel more comfortable engaging with you. If you do this each time you make a new connection, you can build up your network over time.

If you would like to connect with someone who is not in your network, start by finding someone in your network who is connected with that person. I strongly suggest that, if possible, you call that person to ask them to refer you, but you certainly could use email, too. However you contact your connection, be specific as to why you are asking them to refer you to the other person. For example, if you are looking to connect with someone who works for a specific company, say that. If you want to know more about the culture of the organization, say that.

If your invitation gets turned down, look for someone else in your network to ask, and don't give up until you find the right person. Remember, the larger your LinkedIn network, the more opportunities you'll have to find the right referral for you next career step.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]

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