from Dr. James Michael Nolan, President of Southwestern College, Santa Fe

Why Join Linked In??

Why Should I Join LinkedIn?

(Originally posted in February of 2010)

Linked In          No doubt most of you are at least familiar with, if not already active in, the world of Social Media. Well, I have recently conducted a pretty in-depth study of the major Social Media forums, and am moving into some of the lesser known ones.

As the president of Southwestern College in Santa Fe, a graduate school with hundreds of students, alumni and faculty, I really want to share with you the power of LinkedIn for your career and future. I will write this intro to LinkedIn in Four Parts. If this interests you, and it should, you really ought to read all four parts. Seriously.

A lot of you won’t, but those of us who do will have a proverbial professional leg up on those that don’t, so there you go. It’s not a complicated matter. If you do the groundwork with some thoroughness, you will benefit much more than those who scribble a few things, connect with a few people and get lazy or lose interest. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s just that those who work harder are always appreciative of those of you who do not, especially if you are their competitors in the field. They will thank you in advance for not taking this seriously, especially as they get the internship or job they were really after, and you’re still living in your mom’s basement, playing Farmville and Mafia Wars.

(OK, just making sure you’re still with me here…)

Jim—I Already Have a LinkedIn Account, But…

OK, let me guess how many of you will say something like the following:

“I have an account, but I’m not even exactly sure why I have it, or what it’s for. People send me an invitation to connect, and I just click “OK”, but I’m not sure what good it does.”

Well, if that is all you do, then probably not much.

You see, Linked In parallels the idea of “six degrees of separation” (which Social Media guru Mari Smith opines is now more like three).

The people you connect with are your “first degree connections.” The people they know that you do not know are your second degree connections, and the people THEY know are your third degree connections.

So your total network of connections includes those three levels. For example, I have 360 or so first degree connections, from which I then have fairly close connection with (at last look) well over 2 million people—they are in my network. The exponential factor is stunning.

Jim–Why do I care?

If I have to convince you of the power and advantages of networking in terms of finding jobs, internships, and other resources, I can’t really help you much, and you might as well quit reading. Good luck, and I hope all those employers out there keep knocking on your basement door.

But if you already get the power of networking, LinkedIn can become a hugely powerful tool for you in creating an electronic “resume on steroids” (Wayne Breitbarth’s phrase) and positioning yourself to create the kind of professional life you dream of. LinkedIn is the largest online business networking site in on the planet. It has over 100 million users and growing rapidly every day. In a 2009 study, about 78% of LinkedIn users had college or post-grad educations, with an average household income of $107,000. Average age, 43. Again, I love Facebook and it has great value, but this ain’t Facebook. If that is a turn-off to you, if it sounds too strategic, or business-y, well, it is strategic and business-y, and so it goes. But if you want to use one of the most powerful tools available to us to build career networks and opportunities, this is the Cadillac of that world. You have to decide for yourself. LinkedIn creates the opportunity, and I am trying to enhance your awareness, but you are driving your own bus.

So, Jim What Exactly Is a “First Degree of Connection?”

Obviously your first degree of connection, that is, the people you have connected to because they emailed you and asked you to do so, should include people who are important. It is really key that you be somewhat selective about who you connect with. Your reputation in LinkedIn kind of rests on whom you hang out with. This is not Facebook. To play fast and loose with connections or to present yourself in a casual or flip way on LinkedIn might be like wearing cut-offs and sandals to a job interview, or showing up with your cousin Looie who just got out of the joint… Feel free, good luck.

On LinkedIn you might want to consider two criteria for accepting or extending invitations for First Degree Connections. One, can you make contact with these people and ask them for something? A recommendation, an introduction?  (and vice versa, I might add…) Two, are they high influencers in your field or in some area that is of interest or relevance to you? If neither of these is the case, then you might want to be Facebook friends, and you might give a second thought to whether you want them as a LinkedIn connection. Make sure each first degree connection is intentional, even if your criteria differ from mine.

So why do you need to contact first degree connections on LinkedIn, if you already know them and could call them up or send them an email? You probably don’t. You could contact them directly if you needed or wanted to do so.

The real power of LinkedIn comes in the second and third degree connections. People you do not know (or do not know well), who are connected with your first degree connections. Yes, this is like, when you tell your best buddy that you are going to Budapest, and he says “OMIGOD, my cousin lives in Budapest! You have to look him up—he loves it there, he’ll show you around! I’ll give you his email.” Yes, it is like in the 18th and 19th century novels where people from the provinces came to the big city with formal letters of introduction from influential people back home, hoping the introduction would help them gain audiences with influential people in the city.

It’s networking, and it helps you open doors more easily.

So connect with people you respect, people who you truly would endorse if they were interviewing for a job and your own reputation was on the line. Also, think about important and/or influential people in your life or field, or in some area that interests you, and try to connect with them.

Build your connections selectively. Don’t use that little scripted intro they give you that reads “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” Write a line or two. Or whatever you need to convince the other person that you are a worthy connection. You may not have to impress your brother, but you might have to sell it a little to the president of a national professional organization. It makes a difference. Think of professors, employers, former employers, potential employers, luminaries in your field, colleagues whose work or character you admire, either in your immediate field or any field that interests you. Look them up. Make connections.

Part Two of this series on LinkedIn is going to be “How to Create an Optimal Profile”, Part Three will be “Recommendations—Why to Get Them, and From Whom”. Part Four will be about “Groups—Why Should I Join and How Should I Participate?” Something like that. Maybe there will be a Part Five. Who knows. This stuff is so far-reaching, you just never know.

I hope this is helpful. I know, there are a lot of things out there clamoring for your time and attention. But this one is definitely worth it, especially if you are serious about building a career.

Jim Nolan

President, Southwestern College

Santa Fe

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