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How Do You Approach Someone on LinkedIn or Other Social Media?

A footprint on the moon. Where will you leave your footprints? Image source: Getty Images.

This note is specifically aimed at students and young professionals (YPs) who might want to contact or approach someone (probably a senior professional) in industry or academia via social media. I have some ideas on how to (and how not to) do so.

Why am I posting this? After a few years as the president of SPE where my responsibilities took me around the world and gave me the chance to interact with many YPs and students, it became clear to me that many of them didn’t have the same background in interacting professionally that I had. I spoke with many of my peers and found this to be very common. So here goes the do’s and don’ts.

Imagine you have stumbled on to the LinkedIn page of a senior executive with a company you admire. The idea comes to you to interact with him/her so you fire off a note saying:

“How r u?”

Do you think you will get a response? That might be a fine way to greet one of your friends via text messaging but I can guarantee you that won’t work. I probably have 300 of these.

NOTE 1: Make sure you have an actual reason to contact someone. Just want to chat? Do that with someone you know well.

NOTE 2: Use proper spelling and grammar. If English is not your native language and you really want to communicate with another professional have someone check what you want to write or at least double check it yourself. Consider this real life example (modified to not embarrass the person).

“How R u?

I having problms w my hmwrk need a help.”

Hello?

Why u no answr me u r on line?”

Remember that the person you are contacting may or may not know or remember you. They aren’t there to do things for you that you can (or should) do yourself. One of my colleagues at a publicly traded company was asked “How much were your company’s revenues last year?” The fact that the person asked a question that could be resolved in 30 seconds on Google conveys a lack of respect for the person’s time you are contacting.

NOTE 3: Don’t put the burden on the person you are approaching. “I need your help, can you assist me?” is a bad start. Maybe “I saw your talk at the XYZ conference and didn’t get a chance to ask you this question. If carbon intensity is calculated….”

NOTE 4: Be concise. I have a few questions on LinkedIn that go on for pages and I still can’t figure out what is wanted.

One of the worst new things LinkedIn does for job seekers is to suggest that after they apply online for a position that they solicit people from the company to highlight their application and/or LinkedIn page. Then I get a note that looks like this:

“Hope all is well with you! I came across the PETROLEUM ENGINEER SPECIALIZED IN RESERVOIRS role at YOUR COMPANY NAME and am interested in applying. Would you be open to sharing my LinkedIn profile with the hiring team so they know about my interest in this role? Happy to chat more if you have the time as well. Looking forward to hearing from you. --- Follow the link below to review the job.”

Now if you know the person you are contacting well and you are particularly qualified for the position that might work. But no one is going to go out of their way to do that unless they actually know you well.

NOTE 5: No SPAM. I just got this:

“My name is XXX YYY. I am a Bitcoin miner and I work with Elite Bitcoin Miners www.spambitcoinminers.com. I would love to introduce you to Bitcoin mining. Are you conversant with bitcoin? Reply for details. Thanks XXX”

OK, that example doesn’t really belong on the list but just keep it in mind. People hate SPAM.

NOTE 6: No desperate please for employment. I think this would be self-explanatory but many of us (including me) have friends and family in need of work. Explaining how desperate you are just isn’t going to help. There are many resources dedicated to helping people obtain employment. None of them advise pleading with strangers online.

OK, Nathan, Tell Us What Does Work

Here are some examples I know that worked.

1.    One graduate student I met was interested in a job and was perhaps overly specialized in his capabilities. I asked him about the professionals in industry who did similar things and he knew all about them. I suggested that he make a list of all of them and read some of their recent papers, then formulate some intelligent questions from what he had learned, and approach the lead author on email or social media or even writing them a letter and say “I just re-read your SPE paper XXXXX and have a question. In the case of …. .”  The favorite thing authors like to hear is that people actually READ their articles. But someone re-reading it, well that must be the sign of a brilliant mind. He followed this advice and didn’t say anything about wanting a job. He then struck up a real conversation with several. Soon enough they asked him and he indicated he was starting a job search. One thing lead to another, to an internship, and then to regular full-time employment.

2.    An economist working in a downstream company read one of my articles in World Oil and contacted me on LinkedIn with a question challenging my conclusions. It was well written and had a brief but clearly articulated (wrong) conclusion. Or at least I thought it was wrong and wrote to him explaining my opinion. One thing led to another and I hired him for a client and he went on to get a MSc in petroleum engineering at night, has had a successful career, and is one of my good friends. He still doesn’t think his opinion was wrong however.

3.    We want you to do an interview for our student magazine. We want you to do a video to endorse participating in our conference. Can you write a few sentences explaining why “negotiating skills” are important for petroleum engineers that we can use on our flyers advertising a workshop? Simple, clear requests generally work. Make sure the recipient knows how it will be used and precisely what you want.

4.    I am nominating professor ZZZZ for an award and would like for you to provide a support letter. Again, you should provide everything necessary to accomplish the goal.

5.    If you know the person well, you can ask for employment help. But you really need to be in a position where the person knows you well enough to recommend you. Meeting them at a meeting for a few minutes and taking a selfie doesn’t get the job referral.

[The article was originally posted in the author’s LinkedIn page. Reproduced with permission.]

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