I started on LinkedIn during my first year at Washington College, after a Career Center appointment that nudged me in the direction of networking in order to succeed. But as far as social media goes, LinkedIn is more enigmatic and structured than anything I had previous experience with. It is not a place for pithy quips and unfiltered thoughts, like Twitter, but it is not the exclusive territory of parents and grandparents, like Facebook. I soon learned that LinkedIn prioritizes who you know and where you’re going, and the most important goal to bring to your brand-new LinkedIn profile is an ambitious drive to build 500+ connections.
500 connections can seem daunting. And, if you aren’t exceptionally driven to get there, it can take a long time to build a professional network of that size. Here are some tips that helped me get to 500+ connections within a year of being on LinkedIn, and why it’s important to get to that magic 500 number.
First, 500 is the cutoff for LinkedIn. At 498, they’re still showing an explicit number of just how many people you know. But whether you have 501 or 2,001 connections, after 500, it simply shows up as 500+. This is like LinkedIn’s notice threshold: at 500+, the platform starts taking you more seriously.
Getting there is not a matter of having friends or not knowing people, it’s a matter of determination and intentionality. Don’t wait for every person you meet to become a trusted, close friend: LinkedIn connections are not as personal as Instagram follows. Instead, add everyone you recognize. LinkedIn soon learns where you go to school, so add your classmates when they pop up. On your first day of a new semester, learn your classmates’ names and add them on LinkedIn. You can also reach out to professors, admin, and staff that you meet as you live your daily college student life – most will be happy to connect with you and help you grow your network – it grows theirs, too.
My LinkedIn network started with my friends, then my family, then my classmates. Next, I started adding professors I’d met or interacted with. Then, I started a summer internship.
At my internship, I hesitantly asked my supervisor if I could add her on LinkedIn. When she said yes, she didn’t just add me back – she started sending me people to follow, other accounts to connect with, and industry publications to put in my feed. From her help, I learned that you can reach out to people you don’t know yet – especially if you share a workplace, an alma mater, an industry (like software, communications, or research), or a mutual friend. By the end of the summer, I had added at least 150 people from work, whether I had directly met them or not. All of them were eager to provide advice and new connections, which is how LinkedIn is supposed to work: you grow your network, and then your network grows you.
My next move on this journey to 500+ was to see if I’d missed anyone. I went through my parents’ lists of connections, my friends’ lists, through all of LinkedIn’s suggested profiles. LinkedIn networks are collaborative, and you can grow yours by looking at other networks for people you may not have encountered yet, or may have overlooked. Finding people who share a mutual connection improves your chances of your connection request being accepted.
Lastly, remember that LinkedIn is a tool – especially for following up and staying in touch. Whenever you attend a workshop and hear from someone, LinkedIn is the place to find and follow them. Most of the time when you request to connect and add a note referencing where you saw them speak, they are all too eager to add you back and help you grow. Once those connections are made, make sure to actually keep up with their work by commenting on posts and interacting with their content in your feed.
LinkedIn isn’t like most social media, and that can make it initially confusing. The prospect of meeting and connecting with 500 people can feel impossible, but when you take it in steps and stay consistent in following up with people who cross your path, you’ll find it’s not only attainable, but also helpful. Each connection will teach you countless new things as you follow each others’ professional journeys online. And the more people you know, the more future possibilities you’ll have when it’s time to find a job, or when you have questions for someone who’s been there and done that. When you achieve the goal, 500+ shouldn’t just be about a number – it should be about growing a network that will empower you to soar and succeed.