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Growing Your Professional Network on LinkedIn

A job seeker recently asked me for tips on expanding his professional network. I'm not just going to tell him "go to events," because he's heard that before.

He's also heard "use LinkedIn" before. But in what way?

He has a LinkedIn network of over 100 people, but I think his network–building efforts can be improved in two ways.

- A more targeted approach.
- A less targeted approach.

Do I contradict myself? Let me explain.

Target!
Obviously you want to especially network with people connected to companies where you might like to work. Not just the company that just posted an opening – it's a bit late to start building relationships there. You'll want to build up a target companies list.

Like most job seekers, this person has a few companies in mind but hasn't really developed that list beyond five or 10 well-known companies. And yet, his next opportunity is very likely to come from a less-known company.

He could benefit from making himself known to people in many companies, and then gathering info with which to prioritize and inform his approach to them.

And sometimes, don't target!
It's less obvious why you should network with your accountant or the guy next door, especially if you work in a totally different field.

Yes, they may know someone who is in your field, and the best part is, their contact is very likely someone your existing connections don't know. Networking outside your usual professional circles can open up completely new networks.

This is why it can be very helpful to connect on LinkedIn with just about everyone you know, including your family, friends, high school and college classmates, Facebook Friends, Twitter followers, PTA members, church members, soccer teammates, and so on.

Then when you type that company name into the LinkedIn search field, you may find totally new – and relevant! – names popping up.

If your next-door neighbor isn't on LinkedIn, it may still be helpful to chat with him about your job search, but it will be harder for the two of you to figure out what helpful connections he may have.

Then what?
As you begin to find people on LinkedIn who you'd like to get to know, read their profiles. Find common interests, go to events of associations they belong to, join and participate in their LinkedIn Groups, read and comment on their posts, Like and Share as appropriate and share useful information.

In some cases an introduction will be in order, and a request to get together for an informational interview or a conversation about common interests. Build relationship. Ask good questions. After the meeting, report back on how you followed up on any advice or leads that were provided. And keep looking for ways to be helpful and visible.

Increasingly, you'll have a community within which some very effective job search networking can be done.