Professional networking can be a nerve-racking process, especially for recent graduates with little real-world experience. Many adults young and old want to stand out but are shy or nervous in a networking setting. They have to fight that introverted feeling to really build up their networks.
For Gen Yers (like myself) who grew up communicating through AOL Instant Messenger and Facebook, in-person networking may be especially stressful. In fact, if you think about it, we’ve used these digital tools to communicate on so many levels, from breaking up or getting together with a significant other to sharing a baby’s birth or engagement to finding a job. So, it would seem LinkedIn would be the perfect tool for current and soon-to-be professionals. Using LinkedIn, they can build their professional networks without even leaving change from their PJs or leaving their bedrooms!
But, while LinkedIn certainly has its uses, will Gen Y be able to use it effectively and ethically? Here are three LinkedIn features and tips ethically minded Millennials may want to keep in mind on LinkedIn.
Are LinkedIn recommendations useful? It depends how users obtain them; if they follow similar ethical procedures you would follow for offline recommendations, then they’re probably quite useful. For example, would you ever ask a best friend with no professional affiliation with you to write you a letter of reccommendation? Maybe, but you’d be more likely to ask a former supervisor who loved a project you worked on under him as an intern. The dilemma on LinkedIn, though, is that often a person viewing your profile won’t know that you and your best friend agreed to give each other stellar recommendations to look good. Because giving recommendations on LinkedIn is so seemingly simple, why wouldn’t you ask your BFF or mom or boyfriend?
Hopefully, you would consider that it’s unfair to employers who obviously won’t know about that “agreement.”
2. Group Discussions
LinkedIn is essentially bragging about yourself and sharing your interests subtely. An offline networking rule applies to LinkedIn, too: Networking is not about asking for a job.
Professionals should be careful using LinkedIn to send broad status messages asking for a job. They could more effectively and ethically use the site if they focused on building relationships with each other, perhaps making each other aware of professional interests and needs as the relationship develops. Remember, in the end, social networking of all types is about building relationships through discussion, not about trying to sell, sell, sell!
3. Messages & Introductions
LinkedIn’s private messaging tool functions like e-mail and is a great way to meet and be introduced to new like-minded professionals. However, as touched upon above, it’s important professionals go about messages, introductions and connection requests in a personable, respectful manner.
For example, avoid saying in your connect-to-me request, “Hi, I’m Sally and I’m looking for a job in marketing. Can we connect?”Also, you don’t want to use the generic “Can I add you to my professional network?” That makes it look like you don’t really care about taking time to see what the person’s about. Instead, personalize the message, even if it’s something brief, such as “I found your profile in the St. Bonaventure Alumni group and noticed you are involved in marketing in the Rochester area. I’d love to connect with you!”
This whole post comes down to the importance of respecting ethical principles valued on almost all social networking sites and also those extra set of principles valued in the offline networking world. Whether you’re on LinkedIn or at an alumni networking event, when building your professional network, you should try to act strategically, aiming for quality over quantity.
Working on long-term relationships like this can lead to increased expertise, a larger professional network, and, down the road, even a job!