How to Network Like a Boss — Online and In-Person (We Asked an Expert)

Let’s talk about networking… *shudder*. I know, I KNOW, networking can — and let’s be real, usually does — feel like going to the dentist on a sunny Saturday afternoon when you also have your period. In other words… a perfect storm of awful. Add in the internet and social media — i.e., the black hole for your professional brand — and forgettaboutit.

But, take heart, friends. It doesn’t have to be that way (seriously). There’s a way to get your pitch across and genuinely seem like a normal human being… I promise. How you ask? We consulted LinkedIn career expert Blair Decembrele, who filled us in on what we’re doing right (and what needs a little zhushing) in networking online and in person. What’s the best way to set yourself up for success so you can find your way into that omg-I-can’t-believe-this-is-real opportunity? Read on to find out. 


Let’s start with networking online — usually the first salvo into the conversation void.


What would you say makes a LinkedIn profile stand out from the crowd? 


Here are a few of my top tips:

  • First impressions always matter – treat your LinkedIn photo like a virtual handshake! When in doubt, a simplistic background and a chic blazer always do the trick. [P.S. Did you know LinkedIn has photo editing now, how cool is that?! No more blurry crops or bouncing back and forth between Chrome and Photoshop till your eyes cross — WIN.]
  • Don’t forget to highlight your education, volunteer experience, etc. – you never know if the skills you learned may be relevant for a future position. 
  • Include your current or desired location — often, recruiters will use advanced search based on location, so the more details you have the more likely you will be found and connected to your next opportunity.
  • Adding a summary of 40 words or more makes your profile more likely to turn up in a future employer’s search. Review desirable job descriptions for your field and include keywords and skills featured — an easy way to impress future employers or recruiters!


How can individuals leverage long-form content on LinkedIn? What topics do you find encourage the most engagement?


I recommend optimizing your posts with:

  • A great headline: The right headline carries a lot of weight: It can draw in readers who might otherwise skim and move on and it can give search engines valuable information. It is important to remember though, clear beats clever; use puns or jokes sparingly.
  • Multimedia: Articles with images get a whopping 94% more views (!).
  • Hashtags: To help put your posts in front of your desired audience, always add relevant hashtags so that others can easily find your content in search.


Besides moving job positions, what are other ways individuals can keep their LinkedIn profile new and interesting?


Every time you learn a new skill, get a promotion or start a new volunteer experience, you should be adding it to your profile in real-time. By continually refreshing your skills and experiences, you may find your way into a new opportunity. If you are finding yourself at a standstill in your current position, take it upon yourself to learn a new skill and add it to your profile! 


How do you start conversations when reaching out online?


First, it’s okay to be selective about who you are reaching out to. Your connections are really about quality over quantity – it’s not a numbers game. Connect with people who are a reflection of your professional identity. By doing this, you will create a network that is useful and effective in supporting your career goals and that you can help too.

When crafting a message, make sure the focus is something career-related and personal rather than generic. For example, if you saw a person speak at an event recently or if you share an alma mater, use that as the jumping-off point for a stellar opening line. Also, keep your note short, sweet, and to the point. Most people will want to connect and help, but may not have the time to read a lengthy message.


Do you have advice on when to keep following up and when to back off?


When following up, it is definitely essential to find the balance between appropriate and annoying. If a week has gone by since your initial message, it would be acceptable to send a short and sweet follow-up to bring your note back to the top of their inbox. If they still are not responding, you may want to back off for a while and try again with a fresh message the next month.

If you are following up after a job interview, the same rules apply. In this case though, if the recruiter or interviewer gave any indication of when you could expect to hear back, use this as your guideline. If you still haven’t heard back, a friendly, short note is absolutely appropriate.


Now that we’ve reached expert status in Online Networking 101, let’s move to the true terror: pitching face-to-face.


What do you look for when having a face-to-face conversation?


When networking in person, it is important to be confident, poised, and professional. If you are going to an event where you know who some of the attendees will be, take a moment to look them up online and get a sense for their background and interests. These nuggets of information can be great for breaking an awkward silence or starting a genuine conversation, especially if you share commonalities.

When networking face-to-face, be sure that the conversation is not one-sided. While it is important to talk about your experiences and accomplishments to tell your professional work story, be sure you are asking questions and giving the other person a chance to speak.


What’s the best length for a typical conversation at a networking event?


While at a networking event, it is important to try and speak to as many people as possible in order to expand your network, while still making meaningful connections. Depending on the length of the event itself, set a goal for yourself for how many people you hope to connect with. When you feel a conversation coming to a close (a lag in the conversation, a moment of silence), thank the other person for their time and ask for their information so that you can look them up later and keep the conversation going post-event. Don’t underestimate the value of a follow-up conversation!


What do you think is the best timeframe to follow up with someone you’ve met at a networking event?


If you meet someone in person and want to be sure to establish a connection, you can send a brief note or connection request right away. The fresher you are in someone’s mind, the more likely you are to forge a meaningful connection.

If you can’t connect in the moment, it is important to still reach out in a timely fashion. As a rule of thumb, send a connection request within 24 hours of the event. When writing a message, mention where you met and anything notable you discussed so they have a bit of context.


Any advice on joining existing groups or discussions when networking?


Joining a group may feel awkward at first, but having the confidence to introduce yourself and contribute to the conversation is key. Don’t be afraid to approach a group – after all, if it is a networking event, everyone is there to meet new people!

If you really don’t feel comfortable walking up to a group, take note if there is a refreshment table or bar where you might be able to meet someone to strike up a conversation in a more casual setting.


If you’re being pitched to, and you’ve recognized it’s not a good fit, how do you gracefully exit the conversation?


No matter what, always be polite. While this opportunity may not be a great fit at that point in time, you never know how that person or their company may be relevant to your professional life in the future – things have a way of coming full circle! If you are looking to exit the conversation altogether, find a natural point in the conversation to thank them for their time and offer to connect online to discuss potential opportunities in the future.


Any other tips on in-person networking for young professionals?


Master the art of the “humble brag!” Take the time to practice your elevator pitch so you feel confident, compelling, and engaging so that you are prepared to sell yourself to whoever you meet.


What’s the best or most memorable experience you’ve had networking? Tell us in the comments below!


This post was in partnership with LinkedIn, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl editorial board.