When it comes to networking – either in person or via technology – what you get out of it is directly proportional to what you put into it. Furthermore, there is no quick way to make networking work. There are no shortcuts to developing the right contacts or to acquiring the job you want through your network.

Networking takes time, diligence, patience, and above all, respect.

Because LinkedIn is a professional networking tool, using it effectively also takes time, diligence and patience. There are no shortcuts or easy wins. That said, if you put the work in, LinkedIn could be the single-most valuable tool for finding your dream job.

Research

Once you have perfected your LinkedIn Profile, the next step is to begin your research. Start with the ‘people you may know’ tool to discover who in your immediate network is already using LinkedIn.

As you reach out to connect to people, LinkedIn offers the option to send either a template message or to craft one of your own. Taking an extra two minutes to devise one of your own is well worth the effort (especially when connecting with people you haven’t seen in a while). Getting personal goes a long way, so don’t skimp out on this step. Seriously! Sending that pre-programmed message could actually hurt you rather than help you.

While this is a step you’ll spend a good amount of time on at first, as your network grows, your ‘people you may know’ options grow with it. This means you should spend about 15-30 minutes a week looking for and reaching out to new potential connections. The more people you’re connected to, the more exposure and opportunities you will have. Just remember to keep all communication meaningful (such as sending personalized messages).

You may not be sure how to send personalized message to a second-degree contact. After all, you don’t know them personally yet! In this case, it’s helpful to think about what you might do in person. If you were meeting someone for the first time in real life and it was someone with whom you share a friend or colleague, you’d likely start the conversation with that commonality. You would talk about how you both know that person, your experience together, and so forth. The conversation would then naturally flow to whatever else you have in common. You can do the same thing when reaching out on LinkedIn.

Send a message using the following template:

Hi xxxxx!

My name is xxxxx. I noticed that you’re connected with xxxxx, whom I know from xxxxx. I’d love to connect with you and learn a bit more about your experience and how you know each other.

Kind Regards,

xxxxx

This is a really basic message. If you have more connection points, include them. For example, maybe this person is in a field you desire to be in or works with a company you’d like to join. Or maybe they just know a lot about something you’re interested in - talk about that! Add as much relevant information as you can to illustrate why you’re reaching out, so it doesn’t feel like a random connection. You don’t want to seem like someone who’s growing their network just to see that connection number rise.

In addition to building your network through people you know and people they could connect you with, you’ll want to really start diving into serious research. Look up companies you’re interested in and find people you’d like to connect to who already work there. Do the same with industries and interest areas you’d like to grow your network in.

To avoid the awkwardness of reaching out to new people, follow an email template like this:

Dear xxxxx,

My name is xxxxx. I’m reaching out to you because we share an interest in xxxxx. I’d love to connect with you and chat about your experience! I’m interested in xxxxx, so any information on this would be greatly appreciated.

Kind Regards,

xxxxx

Some might think it’s strange to make a request like this, but consider this: being transparent about what you want, while being respectful of someone’s time, makes the interaction much easier for both parties. They won’t feel like you’re making a veiled attempt to get something and you won’t have to manipulate your way through the situation. Everyone appreciates honesty, especially when it is coupled with a large dose of respect for someone’s time and position.

Finally, you can build your network by searching for groups that have to do with your industry or area of interest. Join these LinkedIn Groups and become an active participant that offers meaningful contributions to the group. If you can do that, you’ll have an opportunity to really get to know others in your industry or desired industry!

The Cherry on Top

Whether it’s in-person or online, there’s one key thing you can do to achieve an advantage when networking: pay attention.

Opportunities are everywhere, but it’s up to you to recognize them and take action. This means never taking anything at face value. When networking, always look beyond what someone is telling you and think about the implications, deeper meanings and potential in what is being shared. When you do this, you prove to be more valuable to your network and can leverage opportunities first and even create opportunities that didn’t exist before.

For example, let’s say you met someone who’s looking for a graphic designer, but you’re a writer. Since it’s not something you can do, you might just close the connection and move on. However, if you know a talented graphic designer, you could refer them and make the introduction. If the referral works out, you’ve just added value to two people’s lives – both of whom may do the same for you in the future.

The same goes for job opportunities. Let’s say you connect with someone on LinkedIn who works for your dream company, but they’re not hiring. If you build that connection and nurture it over time, you may find ways you can get your foot in the door as a consultant or intern. This could result in an opportunity you created for yourself or position you for the next opening. If you can’t contribute right now, in the meantime you can maintain a relationship with that person. Then you might just be on their mind when a new opportunity comes along.

In short, always pay attention. Consistently invest 15 minutes every week exploring new potential contacts. Build and nurture connections. See opportunities where other people see closed doors or unsynchronized connections. If you do this in life and on LinkedIn, you will always be ahead of the game.