You’re new to the industry, you’re enthusiastic about building relationships and connections, and LinkedIn is like a massive networking party where all the bankers you could ever want to meet are in the same room, and if you can increase your number of powerful connections, well, surely you’ll be seen as more powerful and influential, too.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
As an analyst, it was a point of pride to see your Rolodex grow fat with new connections.
Back in the day, investment bankers relied on a Rolodex to store and keep track of their connections. Newly acquired cards would be handed to assistants, who would jot down the date of the meeting on the back of the card, flip through the Rolodex, find where it should go, and slot it into a transparent little holder.
As an analyst, it was a point of pride to see your Rolodex grow fat with new connections as it traveled with you from office to office, role to role, and company to company—the first thing unpacked after every move.
It was only about five years ago (somewhat of a late starter) that I ditched the Rolodex and finally went digital, replacing physical cards with LinkedIn connections. It’s now so much easier to build and maintain connections. Job change? I know where to. A lot of press coverage? I get alerts. Work anniversary? I have a reason to reach out.
I view a LinkedIn connection as a recommendation in itself. If I see a shared mutual connection, it provides a sense of secondary endorsement.
LinkedIn has over 400 million users and, in addition to tanking Rolodex sales, its easy access and browsing capabilities make it pretty seamless to network with anyone who seems relevant. After all, without connections, LinkedIn is just an empty Rolodex.
I've found people tend to add connections in one of three ways:
1. Passive mode
An account is setup—probably half-heartedly—and the user waits for people to connect with them, that is if they can be recognized with no profile picture…
2. Follow-up tool
Connections are added over time, whether from a conference, a meeting, or a bar. A little legwork is required but it results in a slowly built-up contact base.
3. Treating LinkedIn like a cozy club of 400 million
If someone is on LinkedIn, that means they want to be connected with right? After all, isn’t the world just a small village? So invitations are sent to anyone who could be "valuable". As they say, it’s not what you know, but who you know.
Most bankers I know fall into the second camp (although a surprising amount fall into the first; just because you haven’t changed jobs in years doesn’t mean LinkedIn doesn’t apply to you.) The first few months of platform use, connections spike to a few hundred—maybe more—but eventually only 10 or so new connections are added each month.
It’s the third approach—“we’re all separated by six degrees so let’s just make it official and connect”—that I have a big problem with when I see it executed by bankers. In fact, I would go so far as to say, if I could, I would forbid it completely (and I’m not the only one, LinkedIn actively discourages users from adding people they don’t know in real life).
I view a LinkedIn connection as a recommendation in itself. If I see a shared mutual connection, it provides a sense of secondary endorsement, communicating career history and people worked with.
“That’s exactly the point!” You may say, “I want to work with those people!” Well, what about the day a potential new boss sees the two of you share a connection—someone she went to college with—and she pings that person to ask for details. Do you really want the response to be, “Who? Never met the guy.” Getting the 500+ connection badge may look like an achievement but if the connections can’t vouch, recommend, or point you out in a line-up—what’s the point?
LinkedIn makes it really easy to add people. Just push a button and an invite goes out. I understand the temptation to use it as a virtual shopping cart, adding new people to your basket that you one day want to meet. But not only can it get you blocked from the platform, it can put you on your target connections' radars for the wrong reason.
I’m more likely to engage with someone who’s taken the time to tell me why they want to connect, and in turn, why I may want to connect with them, too.
If you’re determined to build your network or want to connect with a particular person, there is a way to do it that communicates not only a genuine interest on your part but also serves as a warm intro for further contact, better than just racking up LinkedIn numbers: A tailored invite.
I have CEO in my title, and as such, receive quite a few random requests to connect, and I’m always shocked at how few people take the time to personalize their cold outreach.1 If you want to connect because you’re interested in working together, if I can help you with something, or for some other reason, explain this in your request. Make it clear to me that you’re not just “shopping for connections.” I’m much more willing to engage with someone who’s taken the time to tell me why they want to connect, and in turn, why I may want to connect with them, too (after all, connections are a two-way relationship, you have to show your connection is of value to both parties).
So please bear in mind what your connection request habits signal to not only those you send them to but also to everyone who can see them. Keep them genuine. Keep them relevant. Building a network requires patience and diligence.
What are your thoughts on building LinkedIn connections? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or even connect with me on LinkedIn, I promise to accept your invite if you say you read this post.
Common perpetrators of this crime are, shockingly, social media experts. Honestly, if you can’t make the effort to research me, my company, or even better find someone in my marketing team to email using a platform you are trying to pitch yourself as an expert on then you don’t get my business. ↩
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