LinkedIn is a powerful tool for building your professional network, which can help you discover opportunities. What if you don’t actually know any cybersecurity professionals? Where do you start?
Start by searching LinkedIn for people in cybersecurity, who you have something in common with. Someone who went to the same school. Someone from the same background. Someone from the same country of origin and/or ethnicity. Someone who is also a woman (if applicable). For the career changers, someone from a similar previous career. Even someone hails from the same state. Find some bit of commonality. This provides an emotional hook that may inspire a busy professional to help a stranger on their career path.
It’s helpful to search for people of varying levels of seniority. Executives and senior managers likely have more insight to offer. Mid-level managers and junior professionals likely have more time to help.
Now it’s time to reach out. This is the part that people get wrong. Some people want to start firing off contact requests. It’s poor etiquette to send LinkedIn contact requests to someone you’ve never met, spoken to, or been introduced to. You’re likely to have such requests ignored. Admittedly, some people accept every contact request that comes their way. Usually, out of a desire to have as large a LinkedIn network as possible. These connections won’t be particularly invested in you. (Note: Adding an introductory note to your blind connection request doesn't make it much better.)
How do you reach out to new connections? Write them a thoughtful, individualized LinkedIn Message. An effective introductory LinkedIn Message has several elements. Open by expressing what intrigues you about their background. This communicates that you’ve actually read their profile. (Statements like, “You have a really impressive profile,” communicate that you haven’t read their profile or you have nothing thoughtful to say about it.)
Next, mention that commonality in your backgrounds. Don’t expect them to review your LinkedIn profile to determine you went to the same university or both worked in the same profession. It can be tempting to leave visually evident commonalities (such as, ethnicity or gender) implied. Still express those clearly to help plant an emotional hook.
Now comes time for the ask. You want to make a request which leverages their experience and knowledge, rather than their position. It can be effective to ask them about how they got into cybersecurity and any advice they can offer you. It’s great, if you can schedule a 15- or 30-minute phone call to talk, but chatting over LinkedIn Messaging can be effective too. Asking about an open position you’ve seen posted at their company can be effective, but you probably don’t want to open with them.
Asking if there are any job openings at their company will be poorly received. It makes it seem like you want this person you’ve never met to do your homework for you. Some might consider the inability to use a search engine to find a company’s job board to be a barrier to entry in cybersecurity.
You want to develop relationships in cybersecurity, rather than appear transactional. This approach takes more effort than sending tons of blind LinkedIn connection requests. Not everyone will reply. But the connections that you do make will be more meaningful. You’ll be able to go back to your new contacts with questions as they arise. They may even be willing to refer you to future opportunities.
After you’ve had a solid dialogue with your new contact (either phone call or chat), then is an acceptable time to send a LinkedIn connection request. She or he might even send it to you first. Cybersecurity is more of a relationship business than one would expect. These LinkedIn relationships can be a useful start to your cybersecurity professional network.