Each Monday, BND staff writer Brittney M. Helmrich will answer your questions about careers, leadership, office life and social media in her advice column, "Dear Brittney." Got a professional problem you just can't figure out? Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Dear Brittney" to have your questions featured.
I want to make new connections in my field, and there are several people I'd like to reach out to on LinkedIn about potentially getting coffee and discussing work. I feel weird about sending a connection request, because I don't know them. But their email addresses aren't listed on their profiles, and the only way I can message them without sending a connection request is to subscribe to LinkedIn's InMail feature, which has a fee. What's the best way for me to get in touch?
- Unlucky on LinkedIn
Dear Unlucky on LinkedIn,
LinkedIn is a social media platform designed for professional use, so it can feel like a privacy violation to use it to reach out to people you don't know. Whereas people are usually wary of friend requests from strangers on social networks like Facebook, there's a little more leeway on LinkedIn. After all, the platform is intended for professional networking, which is exactly what you're trying to do.
You don't have to pay a fee just to avoid sending a connection request because you feel like it might be awkward. Your best bet is to just send the connection request, which I promise is not as strange as it sounds. Here's what will make all the difference: Write a personalized message in your connection request.
When you start your connection request, LinkedIn will automatically populate a message that says, "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn." This may be fine to leave in when you send a request to someone you know personally, like a friend or a co-worker you talk to regularly, but you should never use this message when sending a request to someone you don't know, for several reasons.
First, I have to be honest — I think that sending a connection request to a stranger without personalizing your message is creepy. Doing this does feel like a privacy violation akin to those weird unknown friend requests on Facebook, so I understand your hesitation. Personally, when someone I know or have worked with requests me and leaves the generic, prewritten message in their request, I don't think twice about it. But anytime I receive a request from someone I don't know and they don't explain who they are in their message, I automatically deny their request. [See Related Story: 10 Ways to Make a Perfect LinkedIn Profile ]
Second, leaving the prewritten message in place is lazy. It doesn't take long to write out a brief message about who you are and why you're contacting someone, so not doing so says, "I can't be bothered." And if you can't be bothered to write a quick message, the person you're contacting probably won't bother with you. Writing a personalized message shows that you understand how important it is to put in effort, and you'll be taken much more seriously.
And lastly, sending a connection request to a stranger without personalizing the message just isn't professional. You wouldn't send your résumé to a potential employer without a properly addressed cover letter, would you? If you did, you wouldn't get the job. You may not be applying to a job in this scenario, but your way of sending your connection request can affect your career.
So, how do you craft the perfect message? All you have to do is explain why you're reaching out, and introduce yourself. The message should be positive and polished, and you can save the long explanations for when they respond. For example, if I were a PR professional sending a connection request to a journalist, it might look something like this:
I recently read your piece about [topic] on [publication], and I really enjoyed it and wanted to get in touch. I do PR for [company], and I would love to connect to see if there's a way we can work together in the future.
Your message will look a little different depending on whom you're reaching out to and why, but the point is, keep it short, sweet and direct.
Your other option is to see if you and the person you're trying to get in touch with have any mutual LinkedIn connections. If so, reach out to those connections in a message. Explain to them whom you're trying to get in touch with and why, and politely ask them if they'd be willing to introduce you in an email. If they can help, they likely will.
Of course, you also have to keep in mind that the people you're looking to network with may not be willing to get coffee or share their advice with you. It could be that they're busy, or it could be that they just don't want to — and that's their prerogative. So, at the end of the day, if you don't get the response you're looking for — or, if you don't get a response at all — don't sweat it, and don't follow up. Eventually, you will make connections who are willing to help you.