For many people, networking can be harder than interviewing. You might not know whom to reach out to, how to reach out, or why people aren’t responding to your networking emails and requests. This can be very disheartening, especially when you only hear back from a couple of people after reaching out to 50.
The good news is there are ways to improve your networking response rate. One way is by improving your digital first impression. The first impression you make affects someone’s thoughts and decisions about you. This is human nature, whether you like it or not. So, use this to your advantage and maximize your digital first impression.
On LinkedIn, one of the platforms people use to network and engage with other professionals and alumni (Firsthand is another), there are four crucial factors that determine first impressions. Below you’ll find these factors, along with simple, specific ways to improve each.
1. Profile picture
The most important and influential part of your LinkedIn profile is your picture. This is because people use whatever is fastest and readily available to form thoughts and opinions about something. Here are the factors to consider when choosing your profile picture:
- Make sure you’re smiling (a smug and serious look makes no one want to talk to you)
- Dress professionally (as if it’s your first day of work, which differs by industry)
- Wear well-fitting clothes (not too baggy, not too tight)
- Shoot in great lighting (your face must be bright, warm, and inviting; no shadows on your face)
- Reduce noise (aim for a blurred, non-distracting background; you’re the focus of the picture)
Here are the easiest ways to take a great profile picture:
- Use portrait mode on an iPhone
- Take your photo outside or next to a window with natural lighting
- Make sure the background isn’t too dark, contrasting, or distracting
2. Profile headline
Once someone forms an opinion based on your picture, the next element they consider is your headline. Your headline communicates who you are as a professional: a social media marketer, technology consultant, financial manager, etc.
How do you want your viewer to perceive you? What’s important to your ideal profile viewer? The titles and information you include in your headline will directly affect how your viewer thinks about and “sees” you. What are the most relevant titles for you based on your responsibilities that are truthful and honest? What skills or knowledge areas might you include?
Below are two examples of good branded headlines that are LinkedIn SEO friendly (note: your headline is heavily considered by LinkedIn’s SEO):
Account Manager at (Company) | Software Sales | Account Executive | Business Development | Strategic Partnerships
Financial Analyst at (Company) | Investment Analyst | Investment Research & Analysis | Equity & Fixed Income | Portfolio Management | CFA Level II Candidate
3. Outreach message
When you send a connection request on LinkedIn, you can “Add a note”—and so. always add a note. Your connection will show three elements: your picture, headline, and outreach note.
Your note must clearly and directly communicate why you’re reaching out. No beating around the bush. Few professionals appreciate vague messages, such as, “I’d like to expand my network.”
Three elements I recommend your outreach message include are:
- How you found them and what you noticed specifically that led to your reaching out
- Why you’re reaching out to them (i.e. what’s your interest)
- Your ask of them (i.e. connect, chat, advice, etc.)
4. Profile “About” section
Finally, before someone accepts your request to connect, they’ll scan your profile. The next factor they’ll consider is your profile’s About section. Your About section should not be used for writing history; instead, you want to use it for selling and marketing your immense value as a professional—your experience, skills, and knowledge. If someone views your page, how are you communicating your professional value to them? What do you have to offer?
I recommend the following elements in this order when crafting your About section:
- A one- or two-sentence summary of your professional focus, expertise, and background.
- Your three or four most valuable professional skills or knowledge areas you have to offer, which should be relevant to your targeted viewer. Elaborate within each skill or knowledge area, perhaps including notable achievements from your career.
- Personal interests or a little about who you are outside of work.
- Contact information: email and cell number.
- Paragraph of typed skills for further LinkedIn SEO.
A final note
By consciously tailoring these four elements—your picture, headline, outreach message, and About section—you’ll dramatically improve your cold networking response rate. Good luck. And always remember: when networking, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Jamie Carlstedt is a career coach to business professionals. Many people want to make a change in their lives and careers but don’t know how, and Jamie provides the coaching, training, and resources needed to help them advance their lives and careers, grow professionally, and make more money. Jamie’s the Founder of Redstone Coaching and previously worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs (in NYC). He's coached 100+ business professionals, is certified in Life Coaching & Business Mastery, and was the first student in Michigan State's history to land a job with Goldman Sachs’ investment banking division.
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