Using LinkedIn to job search gives you a host of benefits for networking. Using some reconnaissance to seek out influencers will help you begin the process of building relationships that can lead to opportunity. Because of the professional nature of LinkedIn, finding people in your industry is relatively easy. Searching by industry or institution can help you find users with whom you can connect. However, the number of LinkedIn connections you have is insignificant compared to how you use the platform. Yes, it’s true: maneuvering within the platform and building relationships is far more effective than seeking connections with random people you do not know.
Below are some tips for making the most of your LinkedIn experience.
First, seek to connect with people based on their position and what you can learn from them. For example, when I was in my doctoral program, I sought connections with educational leaders who I wanted to interview for projects I had to complete. Informational interviews were an important part of the coursework I was taking and brought me into contact with the financial director for an educational consortium of the Commonwealth; the head of an online program based out of the University of Australia that brought higher education into refugee camps; and the educational director of a Jesuit program that created online programs for refugees from courses offered by Georgetown, Regis, and Gonzaga.
In another example, I reached out to the membership director of a naval architecture trade organization, seeking student membership information for my high school son who is majoring in the subject in college. She granted him a free membership (which was not something I had requested) as she said he was the first high school student they had ever had in the organization. Yes, LinkedIn is powerful when you go in with the expectation of learning rather than taking.
Second, begin the process of connecting with hiring managers at your dream schools where you want to teach. Don’t have a list of dream schools yet? Make a list! Then do a search online and on LinkedIn specifically to find out who hires online instructors for your subject area at that institution. Once you know who the hiring managers are, find out more about them. Are they going to be presenting at any upcoming conferences? You can find that out with a quick Google search of their name. Attending that conference can put you into contact with them directly and help you build a relationship.
An easier method, however, is just to get their presentation notes from the conference (probably shared on SlideShare) and reach out to them via Twitter with a comment about their presentation. Alternatively, connect with them on LinkedIn and thank them for the information they shared. Authenticity is key, however. You must be genuinely appreciative of the information they provided, and ask follow up questions that show you to be interested in the content.
Searching for research publications authored by influencers with whom you want to connect is relatively easy within LinkedIn. Most likely the people with whom you want to connect will list any publications on their profile. You could also do a Google Scholar search or a library database search for publications they have authored. Follow up with questions for them about their research using the InMail feature on LinkedIn or just regular email.
Third, make connections with hiring managers, deans, and department chairs in groups not filled with adjunct online instructors looking for the next teaching job. Yes, those adjunct groups are great for getting ideas, finding out who is hiring, and learning about the academic culture at an institution, but they are not where the influencers are necessarily hanging out. Join groups related to the institutions where you want to work. Perhaps the university supports a particular philanthropy? Maybe the department in which you want to teach has a LinkedIn group to discuss the latest trends. Consider, too, a general LinkedIn group based on your industry and not just higher education. Finally, consider groups that are listed on the profiles of the influencers with whom you connect. Make sure they are groups where you can contribute value (such as groups related to your industry).
As you can see, a little bit of reconnaissance on LinkedIn can help you maneuver within the platform effectively without thousands of connections. Building relationships is the key element. Provide value in groups, ask meaningful questions that demonstrate your interest and expertise, and attend conferences or read conference presentations given by influencers with whom you want to connect.