How Do You Find CEO's in 1,000 LinkedIn Connections?

I came, I saw, I Linked-In... I went down in a hail of robotic missives, this has been my week.

Last week I had the dubious insight to vastly increase my networking opportunities by agreeing to connect with anyone at all on LinkedIn, with the understanding that I’d stay honest and try to build a real relationship (or at least an email or two) with each new Connection.

The first part of this series, "The Accidental LinkedIn Celebrity" is located here:

Go Big or Go Home

My “go big or go home” was adding over 1,000 LinkedIn Connections in under a week.

This is the part where I take a note from my favorite author Tim Ferriss and tell you that, “When you try to achieve something really big, it’s hard to fail entirely.”  Tim was talking about trying to cook, with the aid of professional chefs, every recipe / assignment from a culinary school curriculum in just 48 hours.  Tim ended up exhausted and still not a professional chef, but enthusiastic about cooking and energized with the experience of a thousand things that had gone right and a thousand mistakes to correct for the future.  My “go big or go home” was adding over 1,000 LinkedIn Connections in under a week.

It started out alright.  As users began to accept the thousands of connection invites I’d sent out, I started to write them messages in response.  I met a lot of people from other parts of the United States, which wasn’t immediately helpful, but hey you never know.  As time went on, it became increasingly clear just how many non-US users LinkedIn has (and how many I am now connected to).  Those individuals were less valuable as contacts, but many of them spoke decent English.  As more people accepted my Connection invites, the rate of English speakers dropped off too.  On the other hand, the rate of automated, spam accounts rose dramatically.

Making the Grade

It’s worth noting that having a bunch of non-English speaking foreign LinkedIn Connections is not worthless as they still increase your likelihood of being only 1 or 2 degrees away from the hiring manager you need to reach.  However, these are what might be referred to as “C” Grade Connections.

Before we get too high and mighty, let’s keep in mind that for at least several million of LinkedIn’s 347+ million users, you and I are “C” Grade Connections ourselves.

“A” Grade Connections are people you know, who live in the same region, who either have connections that are valuable to you or at least work in the same sector, and who would at least provide a cursory introduction on your behalf to a third party when asked, if not an outright reference.

“B” Grade Connections speak the same language and work in the same domestic market, but possess some immediate deficiency such as not knowing you well enough to recommend you or working in a drastically different sector or geographic location which limits their usefulness.  The “B”s would be “A”s but for that deficiency.

“C” Grade Connections are individuals who, to put it politely, are only valuable for their ability to potentially afford you access to the LinkedIn profile of someone who might actually be able to help you.  Language barriers?  Spammy posts?  Multi-Level-Marketing schemers?  HR department rolodex accounts?  Those are “C” Grade Connections.  Before we get too high and mighty, let’s keep in mind that for at least several million of LinkedIn’s 347+ million users, you and I are “C” Grade Connections ourselves.

Finding the Needle, Keeping the Haystack

Like it or not, these accounts are a part of LinkedIn’s system...

I wanted to nuke all of my “C” Grade Connections immediately, but that would be a mistake.  I found their constant offers of free copies of their ebooks to complete strangers (me) to be utterly distasteful.  I didn’t feel a need to watch their webinar or commit my life savings to create a “revenue stream” that involved selling PowerPoint presentations featuring kittens out of the back of a van.  In short, if these individuals had contacted me unsolicited (instead of responding to my very broad Connection requests), I would have absolutely marked them as spammers and scammers in a second.  In the end though, I didn’t.  Like it or not, these accounts are a part of LinkedIn’s system which rewards you for having as many Connections as you can muster (up to 30,000), and other than a pervasive eye twitch inspired by reading their messages, they weren’t actually hurting me.

In case of Robots... use phone?
Pro-Tip: There is a sort of account that I will report as fake every single time.  Robots!  If, somehow, I am able to glean that one of my Connections is a recruiter or HR group’s account used solely to access profiles (or a sales organization doing the same), I’ll report it.  While even those accounts can result in valuable data for the rest of us, their negative impact as members of the site who take far more value than they bring to it is simply too much to stomach.  Actual recruiter accounts and salesperson accounts manned by real people are exempt from this rule of mine, even when they too border on the obnoxious.  Seriously folks, all I ask is that you be a human and not a company or a bot.  Is that really so hard?

Searching for Links in All the Wrong Places

As it quickly became clear that I was wasting my time writing even the shortest of notes to individuals in Cape Town and Mumbai, I knocked off that strategy after a few days and turned to LinkedIn’s search function to help me come up with a better method.  Luckily, there is one.  LinkedIn provides a robust set of search tools that you can use to search your own network, including both your Connections and those 2nd and 3rd degree members you may wish to connect with in the future.  Using this, I could finally find and prioritize my “A” Grade Connections!  Instead of asking about the weather in Madrid, I could talk shop with execs in my region.

Perhaps the greatest proof of the usefulness of LinkedIn’s search tools was my ability to find fellow alums from both college and grad school who I would otherwise never have had any contact with.  Somewhere in this mix of now 1,400 Connections were individuals with whom I had a tangible tie to a common past.  Targeted Search was the other half of my networking equation.  In fact, so great is the importance of the search function that it is likely a topic worthy of a post in and of itself (HINT).

Digging Yourself Out

So if you have a lot of Connections and you’re trying to find the valuable ones, where do you start?  Just a brief set of steps lays out the process.

How to Find Your “A” Grade Connections:

  1. First off, hover over “Connections” and click “Keep in Touch.” In addition to providing a handy summary of updates in your network, this page also lists individuals you’ve recently spoken with on LinkedIn.  For the busy and ingenious, this simple tool does most of the work for you.  If a Connection in on this page, there’s often a good chance it’s someone you should be speaking with.
  2. Second, hover over “Connections” and click “Find Alumni.”  You’re going to see a lot of people here that you added right after college and whom you know well.  Skip them.  The people you are looking for are business contacts you made at a trade conference six months ago and have shamefully neglected ever since.  Scan through this page and every once in a while you’ll find yourself saying, “Wait, SHE went to the same school as me?  I had no idea!”  When that happens, write those people messages!

    Pro-Tip: Don’t forget to use the “Change University” button to check other schools you've attended.  Did you do a Summer Exchange program or Continuing Education credits?  Check those schools too, even if you’re only a spiritual alum and not an actual graduate.
  3. It bears repeating: The “Keep in Touch” and “Find Alumni” features actually do a lot of work for you.  However, when you've got over 1,000 Connections, it also helps to do some searching.  We all have our “Dream Companies:” firms we’d like to work with or work for.  You should browse your Connections to see who might work at those firms.  LinkedIn changes its interface periodically, but right now the best way to browse your Connections by criteria such as employer is to first visit your profile.  Next, click “Advanced” at the top of the page next to the search box.  Now, click “Close” in the box that pops up.  On the right-hand side you will see your Connections.  On the left-hand side, you will see a category called “Current Company.”  You’ll see that something like 17,000+ of your Connections work for IBM... wrong!  You need to click the “x” next to “Group Members” and “2nd Connections” at the top of the page so you are only browsing your actual 1st degree Connections.  When I did this, the results got much more disappointing... however I still found that I actually had a direct Connection to 4 IBM employees, 4 HP employees, and 3 Oracle employees!  Those are some huge companies with a lot of available positions, so those are some pretty valuable Connections.

    Pro-Tip: The “Add” link in the “Current Company” box lets you search for Connections at a specific company.  You’d be crazy not to try plugging your Dream Companies into that box.
  4. There is no fourth step.  These first 3 will get you through the majority of the “C” and “B” Grade Connections in your account to the “A” Grade ones that you need. 

Do I go to church with the VP Finance of a world-class MNC?  This is a very good question to answer.

There are 1,001 other tactics for LinkedIn, from using well-written emails to convert your Connections to clients or blog readers, to adjusting values in the search tool to locate actual Connections in your neighborhood.  Do I go to church with the VP Finance of a world-class MNC?  This is a very good question to answer.  The point of this article is, whether you ARE a CEO and your Personal Assistant is reading this on their lunch-break to make their job easier or you are a student just out of college with no work experience, LinkedIn is the plow that levels the playing field.  With LinkedIn, we stop trying to talk our way in the door to see the Hiring Manager and we approach the Hiring Manager in a place where there are no doors and no walls.

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