Every LinkedIn user has had that moment: You’re scrolling through profiles and stumble upon your role model. Whether it’s someone who works for a company you love or someone who has the career of your dreams, you’re now dying to talk to him or her.
The question is, how do you reach out without it seeming weird, random, or awkward?
Well, it’s not quite as hard as you think. Here’s my advice for actually reaching out to a stranger on LinkedIn—and getting a response.
1. Figure Out if LinkedIn Is the Best Way to Reach Out
Before you click the “Message” button and declare your admiration, make sure you check that person’s profile to see if there are any specific requests about messages. For example, does he only want notes from people he already knows in person? Does she ask people with inquiries to send her an email instead of a LinkedIn message? These are things to figure out beforehand, because it could keep you from getting a response.
For example, my website, The Prospect, has a high school internship program that requires applicants to send materials to us via our company email. One day I opened up my LinkedIn profile and was surprised to find a high school student’s internship application in my inbox with no explanation of why I was receiving it on my personal profile. Not only was it random, but I could tell that the person obviously didn’t follow our application instructions. Why would I consider someone for an internship who obviously didn’t follow directions or offer any reason for doing so?
My advice? Do a little digging (er, stalking) before you send a message. For all you know, you could be shooting yourself in the foot by sending it to the wrong place.
2. Find Common Career Ground
Since LinkedIn is centered around careers, it’s important for there to be some job-related link between you and the person you admire. This could be pretty much anything, from working in the same industry to knowing a couple of the same people, but it’s important to do a little more digging—both on LinkedIn and on the web as a whole—to find that common ground. Believe me: It’s much easier to break the ice when your message is tethered to something career-related and personal than to something generic (“Hey, I see that you live in New York…”).
For example, if you saw this person speak at an event recently (as in, within the last week or so), use that as the jumping off point for a stellar opening line to your message (“I saw your speech about Y at event X and had a couple of questions for you”). If you have a mutual contact who both of you know very well, that person can also be a great tool (“Jenny Smith and I were talking the other day about awesome programmers, and she suggested I contact you”).
3. Avoid the “Can I Have a Job?” Line
This is an obvious one, yet people still do it all the time: Do not ask for a job from someone you admire but don’t know. Rarely do people hand out jobs to strangers they’ve never had any contact with before. Plus, chatting with people on LinkedIn is great for making connections with colleagues in the same field or professional circles, but it’s not meant to be the pinnacle of your professional relationship with someone—just a jumping off point. A connection on LinkedIn should lead to a working online relationship or a lunch or coffee meeting, not just more online interaction.
Some great reasons to want to contact someone on LinkedIn? If you’re looking for specific industry advice from someone in your field or wanting to meet up with someone in the future (again, be specific about why), then LinkedIn is the place to go.
And if your main reason for admiring someone is because he or she could potentially get you a job? You may want to rethink the entire reaching out process.
4. Draft Your Message
When you’re ready to reach out, write out the message you want to send before you actually send it. It’s easier said than done to say, “I’m going to tell so-and-so that I admire him!” and it’s important to think through what specifically you want out of this correspondence beforehand. Think to yourself, What would be the optimal response I’d receive from this person if everything were to go perfectly? And, How can this message open the door for said response?
Draft your message by separating out an introduction, body paragraph, and conclusion where you explain who you are, why you’re reaching out, and (briefly) what you want out of the correspondence. Again, the name of the game is brevity; your message should only be a couple of sentences tops (what person wants to read an eight-page summary on the life of someone they don’t know or don’t know well?).
I once sent a version of the following LinkedIn message to someone I briefly (literally a three-minute conversation) met at a conference two days prior:
It was awesome meeting you during the lunch break at [event] this weekend and talking about our favorite college admissions websites.
I remember you were discussing how much you were hoping to re-launch your website’s social media platforms but weren’t sure where to start and wanted some outside input. If you still want some help, I’d love to be of assistance.
Let me know if this is something that interests you, and feel free to contact me at [email address]. Hope you’re having a great week!
I ended up getting a response to this message only a couple of hours later—and since then, this person I barely knew but really admired has turned into a valuable contact for me all because of a brief LinkedIn message.
Freaking out about reaching out to someone you don’t know at all? I once received this awesome message from a fellow blogger and entrepreneur I’d never met (she’s a high school student, no less):
Hi Ms. Herman,
My name is [name], and I run a student-run website called [blog name] that seeks to empower young women to follow their dreams.
I’ve been following The Prospect for quite some time now, and it’s amazing to see how much it has grown over the past several months. The Prospect really is an inspiration for my website, and I was wondering if you had any tips for growing your team while keeping the content quality up? We’re hoping to expand soon and could really use some pointers.
Thanks you so much, and congrats again for running such a great website!
I loved this message because it was short, straightforward, and friendly (but not pushy). The writer asked a career-related question that wasn’t too vague (like “How do I run a website?”), and it led to me giving her my email address so we could chat (and we’re still professionally connected months later). Above all, our LinkedIn interaction led to greater connection elsewhere, which is key.
Above all, try not to overthink your message. While you should dedicate a lot of time, care, and proofreading (typos are the enemy!) to your message, at the end of the day, it should sound natural and not too stiff or overly formal. You want to come across as approachable and likeable, someone who anyone would be happy to talk to and help out.
About the Author
Lily Herman is a New York-based writer and editor. In recent months, her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Glamour, Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, TIME, Newsweek, Fast Company, and Mashable. You can check out her website, LinkedIn, and Twitter.