5 Steps To Connect With People Outside Your Network On LinkedIn

How to Network on LinkedIn from an Inbound and Outbound Perspective

If you’re reading this, you’re probably trying to figure out the best ways in how to network on LinkedIn.

If you’re like most people, once you move beyond the generic “add connections” option that LinkedIn has, you might want to specifically search for and increase your connections with people that you want to engage or collaborate with. The challenge is that restrictions exist within LinkedIn that may prevent you from inviting others to your network that you don’t personally know. You are entitled to try to connect with people without knowing their email address, but once five people respond to your invitation to connect by noting that they don’t know you, your ability to connect will be restricted.

So how to network on LinkedIn in light of these restrictions, in consideration that it is also very difficult to message 2nd and 3rd degree connections?

Let’s begin with an inbound approach that can help entice our target people to want to network and connect with us.

[Note: If you are a college student looking for advice on how to network on LinkedIn, check out my post on how college students can leverage LinkedIn]

Make Your Profile Stand Out

Make Your Profile Stand Out

Making your profile stand out requires you to focus on three key areas: your profile photo, headline, and the status of your overall profile. While it may be tempting to use the same standard profile photo across all of your social media profiles, LinkedIn is dedicated to professional work, and you should take the time to procure a professional profile photo. You do not have to visit a professional studio, but you should use a photo with a quiet, neutral background, wear appropriate attire, keep the frame above your shoulders, and look into the camera. Doing all of this with a self timer will suffice.

To make sure your profile stands out, take the time to fill out every single portion of the page. LinkedIn pages are more likely to come up in searches when they are completely filled out, including all relevant skills and education. In keeping with this, make sure you update your headline. Your headline functions as a summary of who you are and what you do, and is the first thing potential connections will see. 

Post Engaging and Relevant Industry Content

Posting engaging and relevant industry content makes it easier for new and existing connections to flourish, as it provides a way for connections to people to start off with a solid source of conversation. Demonstrating that you know about your industry and are interested in the latest innovations and news articles in that industry makes you far more appealing to users in search of employees, and makes you far more interesting to continually engage with after you’ve received requests from people looking for additional industry connections. 

Discussions on personal LinkedIn profiles can be sparse, and regularly posting content can ensure users see that you are a force to be reckoned with.

Now let’s switch to gears to the outbound method of finding and engaging with other professionals.

Let’s first look at how you’ll find people you’ll want to network with.

Identify People to Connect With

Identify People to Connect With

Finding LinkedIn users to connect with is one of the most important parts of using the site, as it allows you to engage in discussions with thousands of people you might not otherwise encounter. LinkedIn exposes you to the type of people working in your industry, and even though you may only really get along with or engage regularly with a handful of people, engaging with new users can help you develop strong online relationships, which can eventually translate into strong relationships in person. 

To accomplish this feat, use the advanced people search, which does far more than simply give you a photo of people, or give you a window into possible connections via their profile picture. Instead, the advanced search allows you to seek out people from specific companies and areas, and people who list specific interests or skills.

Read the contact settings

There are many people on LinkedIn who aren’t engaged on the platform. They signed up and forgot about their profiles, or they just simply “checked out” for some reason. Some may indicate in their contact settings that they are not open to receiving connections, but if they include their contact details here, or anywhere else on their profile, you have implicit permission to contact them. If you want to be cautious, first contact them and let them know why you want to connect. Also mention how you can help them. Then ask if you can connect on LinkedIn for a mutually beneficial – and connected – relationship.

“Read” the profile

“Read” the profile

A LinkedIn profile says a thousand things about someone’s attitude toward online professional networking, and by thoroughly reading the profile, you can determine how active a particular user is on the website. In general, the more active people are on LinkedIn, the more they will understand the value of business networking and thus the more willing they will be to connect if you send a personalized invite. This is especially the case if they are a LinkedIn LION or Open Networker.

Warm Leads are Always Preferred

As in real life, how to network on LinkedIn is all about introductions through a “warm” lead, or someone your target connection actually knows, who can make a personal introduction on your behalf, often leads to the greatest success. Rather than relying on a cold call or email, get in touch with the person who connects the two of you and ask him or her for a formal introduction. If your targeted user is a third-degree connection, find someone who could facilitate an introduction between you and a person who is actually connected to your targeted user.

Your eventual goal is to be introduced to your second-degree connection, who can then facilitate the introduction with your third-degree connection.

But what if there is no one that can make the introduction on your behalf? That’s when you’ll want to consider sending them an invitation to connect.

Send Connection Requests to a Potential Connection with a Personal Note

Send Connection Requests to a Potential Connection with a Personal Note

When you send connection requests on LinkedIn, be sure to answer one of the most important questions on the site: WIIFM, or “What’s in it for me?” Asking questions like these before you send a request is vital, because it means that you are able to send requests that provides a legitimate reason for them to accept your request. Communicating with people through messages allows you to make connections while letting them know why you would be a wonderful connection or resource for them. This can be simple, such as identifying your continued interest in the kinds of content they are interested in, or more complex, such as detailing your job history and your ability to make in-person relationships flourish in your industry.

Join the Same LinkedIn Group

A simple tactic you can use to contact someone on LinkedIn without sending them a connection request is to join one of his or her LinkedIn Groups. Of course, this only works if your desired contact has the default settings on, which allows group members to send messages to each other. At present, the option to send a message to a group member does not appear as an option when you find a common group member on an advanced people search result; instead, you will be prompted to send an InMail. No worries: simply navigate to the same group that you are member of, do a member search, and you will have the option to send a message from that user interface.

Send the “Hail Mary” InMail

When all else fails in how to network on LinkedIn, we have the InMail. InMail is a paid LinkedIn service to contact people who are not first-degree connections, which I consider to be the equivalent of a “Hail Mary” toss in a football game. LinkedIn promotes the use of InMail as being a very effective way to communicate. Currently, only paid accounts to get access to InMail. Though some people might shirk at the idea of paying for such a service, consider it a business investment that may have lucrative potential. Everyone’s experience will be different, so you should at least experiment with the InMail and determine your own ROI.

Don’t Forget Your Manners

Just as you should continue to foster warm leads in the “real” world, you need to do the same online. Don’t forget that, behind every online persona, there is a real person. Whenever you communicate with someone online, you should personalize your communication and give him or her a reason to connect to you. Always remember that manners apply online just as they do offline, and LinkedIn (as well as all social media sites such as Twitter) is simply an example of “new tools, old rules.” 

What have your experiences been in reaching out to new people and learning how to network on LinkedIn?

The above is a summary of selected content from my critically acclaimed LinkedIn for business book “Maximizing LinkedIn for Sales and Social Media Marketing.

Boost Your LinkedIn Skills Overnight
We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

Hero photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

Actionable advice for your digital / content / influencer / social media marketing.
Join 13,000+ smart professionals who subscribe to my regular updates.
Share with your network!
Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

Articles: 436


  1. Hi Dante: I think, in professional networking, it comes down to “What’s In It for Them?” Why should they go out of their way to make the connection? That’s why I always think it is best to use your 1st degree connection to facilitate any introduction to a 2nd degree connection: Warm leads will always be the most successful. However, it can be more difficult when it goes out to a 3rd degree…

  2. Can you suggest some ‘incentives’ to offer people (2nd or 3rd degree removed “cold calls”) to connect you with a prospect, whether for new business or career development (i.e. hiring managers).

  3. Thanks for your comment! LinkedIn InMails are only to be used strategically. Sure you can build connections and send messages for free, but you won’t be able to do that for all LinkedIn users, especially business decision makers who might have small, closed networks or aren’t members of Groups. For these people, InMails can be efficient.

  4. is that $10 per person you contact?
    Better off building connections and sendng messages for free…

    We were looking to use LinkedIn InMail feature to advertise our new UK business / Ecommerce forum (link deleted by admin) but at that price just to tell them about it we could never afford it.

  5. “Don’t forget your manners!” Classic and relevant. Being personal with communication is always the key to ensuring people remember your name and face.

  6. Thanks for the post Neal. It’s a nice high level summary for a question I probably get at least twice a week.

Comments are closed.

Table Of Contents