Question: I am trying to get my LinkedIn going, as I have 18 months until I separate from the Coast Guard. It seems very few people are willing to connect with me. Am I doing it wrong?
Answer: Imagine you walked into a party where you didn't know many people. You have two options: You can stand by yourself and hope someone approaches you to start a conversation or you can introduce yourself to others and initiate the conversation. You choose the latter.
In introducing yourself to others, you again have two options: You can approach someone, tell them who you are and start talking to them (assuming they will play along and converse with you). Or you could introduce yourself, mention why you'd like to get to know them and ask them something about their work, background or experience.
You like the idea of the latter option, but at this party you don't know anything about the people you might approach. You don't know the kind of work they do, who else they know or what their experience is. This makes introducing yourself and inviting them into a conversation trickier.
On LinkedIn, however, you DO know something about the stranger you seek to approach and initiate a conversation with. You can look over their online profile and glean insight into their history, interests, mutual connections and more. All of the information you need to personalize the introduction is right there, in the open, on their profile.
When inviting someone to connect on LinkedIn, follow these best practices to increase your chances of having your invitation accepted:
1. Personalize the invitation. Review their profile to see what common interests, experiences and connections you have. For example, if you want to connect with someone who served in the same job as you in the Coast Guard, refer to that in your connection request. Similarly, if the other person has authored an article you enjoyed reading, grew up in the same area or is similarly passionate about fly fishing, mention that in your invitation. When invitations are personalized, they get noticed, read and accepted more than generic ones.
2. Resist being too familiar.
If you truly share a common friend, it's fine to mention that. But referring to someone you know casually and implying there's a close connection can become problematic. Similarly, if you approach your new connection with an overly familiar tone, it can sound presumptuous. Defer to showing respect and polish rather than being too casual. I received a connection request from someone I didn't know who wrote, "Hey Lida -- ready to throw back a cold one? Let's connect and the first beer's on me!" This was an off-putting and unprofessional invitation.
3. If you have an ask, be upfront.
If you need or want something from the person you're connecting with, be upfront about it. Most people are willing to help if you're transparent about your goals and clear about your ask. Being cryptic or misleading the other person can tarnish your reputation. Consider this scenario: You seek to connect with a corporate leader who is speaking at a large conference near your base. You can't afford to attend the event, but you'd love to hear this person present their new ideas and business.
In your invitation to connect, you might say, "I've been a long admirer of your business acumen and success. I've read all your books, even while I was deployed! I noticed you are speaking at the XYZ event, and while it's close to my duty station, I'm not able to afford the admission. If, by some chance, one of your colleagues is not able to use their ticket, I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to hear you in person and meet you. Thank you for considering my ask." It may be a long shot, but it never hurts to ask! At a minimum, they might accept your connection request and the conversation is started.
Remember, the people you seek to connect with are busy, so the more direct, professional and welcoming you can be, the more likely they are to engage with you on LinkedIn.
The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication, and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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