How to become an academic networking pro on LinkedIn

You now have a solid LinkedIn profile, but you don’t quite know what to do with it.

After all, it’s difficult for scientists to self-promote. To many, it just feels unnatural. Plus, your contacts are out of date, and LinkedIn functionalities like Endorsements seem to be not quite right you as an academic.

Given that, how exactly are you supposed to use LinkedIn appropriately to connect with other scientists and find job opportunities?

You’re in luck. On top of the tips we compiled for our last post, we’ve found the best strategies for using LinkedIn to network in academia.

In this post, we’ll tell you the keys to networking for academics on LinkedIn: how to find and sustain a professional relationship with colleagues and experts in your field, get others to Endorse and Recommend you in the right ways, and connect LinkedIn to the rest of your professional life.

1. Get connected to your existing web of co-workers and advisors


It’s surprisingly easy to find people you already know and add them to your network on LinkedIn.

Use the Add Connections tab in the top right corner of your profile to connect LinkedIn to your email account.

LinkedIn then suggests Connections based on your contacts. A rule to follow for LinkedIn, as opposed to Twitter and Facebook, is that you should only select Connections you actually know and feel comfortable asking to keep in touch (former collaborators, co-workers, and friends are good choices).

When Connecting, it’s a nice touch to send a message saying hello. Networking is all about building meaningful relationships, not how many people you have in your virtual Rolodex.

2. Request introductions to new contacts

If you want a good way to meet potential collaborators or get an “in” for a job, Connecting with strangers can be useful.

But how do you get around the awkwardness of asking strangers to Connect? The answer: ask a current contact for an introduction.

Here’s an example of how that would work: I’m not currently Connected to genomics researcher Mike Eisen on LinkedIn, but let’s say I want to collaborate with him to do some research on a great idea I have.


The first thing I need to do to connect with him is find a contact that we have in common. So, I visit Mike’s profile. On the left-hand side is a “How You’re Connected” graphic. I can scroll through the list of contacts we have in common to find a suitable middleman–Mendeley’s William Gunn.

Next, I would click on the “Ask William about Mike” link. In the dialog box that appears, I’d write my request for an introduction and send it to William. The request should follow three key rules:

Be specific

William might take 10 minutes out of his day to write a recommendation for me, so I shouldn’t waste his time. That means telling him exactly why I want to meet Mike: what Mike does that interests me (he’s a genomics researcher), and what I’m looking to get out of an introduction (an opportunity to tell him about my great research idea: widgets for genomics researchers).

Include a “pitch” as to why an introduction would be valuable

Likewise, I should make it clear what Mike would get out of meeting me. What do I bring to the table? In this case, it’d be the chance to learn about a well-received new widget, and a future NSF grant opportunity.

Show appreciation, and also provide William with an “easy out”

William’s time is valuable, so I should make it clear that I’m thankful that he’s considering writing an Introduction. A good way to do that in addition to saying thanks is to give him a way to beg off without feeling too guilty.

Two additional rules for special scenarios are: 1) If we didn’t know each other well, I’d want to remind William how we met, and 2) If William does introduce Mike and I, I should follow up with an update and thanks.

Using these rules, here’s how my request for an Introduction reads:

Hi William,

I’m writing to ask if you’d be kind enough to introduce me to Mike (if, of course, you feel you know him well enough to do so). As you know, I’ve been toying with a new idea for widgets for genetics researchers. The prototype has been very well received by our initial user group; I think it has the potential to be a success, with the right stewardship.

It’s for that reason I want to connect with Mike. Being a well-known genomicist, Mike might be interested in the widget and, eventually, collaborating with me to go after a round of NSF funding. I hear there’s an upcoming “Dear Colleagues” letter that may be specifically related to genetics research widget design.

Thanks very much for taking the time to read this and considering my request. Feel free to decline if you don’t have the bandwidth to make the Introduction right now, I completely understand.


One final note: keep your requests for introductions to “2nd degree connections”–that is, friends of friends–because your chances of getting a meaningful introduction to a stranger through a friend of a friend of a friend depends on too many variables to be successful.

3. “Cold call” people you want to get to know

This strategy is one of the most risky, but can also be rewarding if it helps you move beyond your existing network and break into new areas–especially important for those seeking jobs.

You can use LinkedIn messaging to send a short note to introduce yourself to and ask advice of individuals who have a job similar to the one you’re aiming for, or to get in touch with recruiters (if you’re looking for a job in industry). You might also consider writing messages to people you don’t know that have viewed your profile, if you think it’d have a payoff (i.e. a connection or, better yet, a lead on a job).

4. Boost your discoverability with the help of your network


Let’s be clear: Endorsements can be totally useless when not done right. In the past, I’ve been endorsed for “Library”. And I’ve seen Endorsements on others’ profiles for even more mundane things.

But Endorsements can be useful for academics, if done with care. The more people Endorse you for a skill or knowledge area (like “Grant writing”), the more you are associated with that skill by LinkedIn and search engines–thereby upping your appearance in search results, surfacing you to potential collaborators or future employers.

Here’s how to keep from getting Endorsed for something too vague to be useful. You can control what others are able to Endorse you for by editing the Skills & Endorsements section of your profile. Delete any skills that don’t apply or aren’t relevant. You can also reorder how those skills appear on your profile–helpful for breaking out of a loop where you are most often endorsed for the skills you’re most endorsed for.

 If you choose to Endorse others, be sure to only do so for people you know, and for skills you actually think they possess. Otherwise, it comes off as spammy.

5. Land at least one Recommendation


Recommendations can help you network passively using your profile. Having at least one Recommendation on your profile makes it clear what type of an employee or collaborator you are, which builds trust in your personal brand.

Asking others to write Recommendations for you doesn’t have to be awkward. Offer to write a Recommendation for them, and let them know you’d welcome a Recommendation in return. Just be sure to make it clear that reciprocation is by no means required.

When writing a Recommendation, make it clear how you know him or her. Did you serve as co-chairs for a professional society? Did she supervise you at your last job? Give specifics about what makes him or her a solid co-worker, and let the reader know what types of jobs you think she or he could excel at.

6. Let others know you’re here and ready to dance

Now it’s time to connect your LinkedIn presence to the rest of your professional life.

Make new LinkedIn Connections in your offline life by advertising that you are on the network. One way to do that is to create a memorable LinkedIn URL and include that URL on your business card. You can also put your custom URL or a LinkedIn badge prominently on your professional website or blog.

LinkedIn should be just one piece of your online identity., Mendeley, and Impactstory all have functionalities that LinkedIn lacks; use those sites to host your publications, find new collaborators, and track impact metrics for your work.

7. Boost the signals and cut the noise from LinkedIn Notifications

LinkedIn’s Notification emails can be both a blessing and a curse.

Notifications about your Connections–which include information about their new jobs, promotions, and requests for Recommendations–can be a nice way to stay abreast of what your colleagues are up to, and a reminder to check-in with former coworkers to say hello.

However, all the Notifications can sometimes be too much. (Do you really need to know about your LinkedIn Connections’ work anniversaries?) You can reduce the “noise” if you are sure to only connect with people you know, and review your Communications settings to make sure you’re getting the types of email you’d prefer to see.

You’ll also want to pay close attention to what sort of Notifications you’re sending out. Job seekers especially should make sure their “Activity broadcasts” are set up correctly (go to Privacy & Settings > “Turn on/off your activity broadcasts”), so current employers don’t get emails letting them know you’re on the job hunt.

Are you ready to rumble?

By now, you’ve reconnected with coworkers and friends to build a meaningful network. And you’ve learned how to hack some of LinkedIn’s more annoying features–Endorsements and Notifications chief among them–to build your brand as a scientist, making new contacts and uncovering professional opportunities along the way.

Do you have other tips for networking using LinkedIn? Want to share a story about a time you triumphed–or failed–to make new Connections or get a Recommendation on the site? Leave them in the comments section below!

4 thoughts on “How to become an academic networking pro on LinkedIn

  1. Jonathan O'Donnell says:

    Thanks, Stacy. I’ve been on LinkedIn for a long time, and never really known what to do with it. While I’ve known (on and intellectual level, that I could use it to connect with people for work, I’ve never really thought about using it to connect with people for research. I’ve always thought about it as a way to find people who are looking for work. That is, to fill an existing vacancy, rather than as a networking tool per se.

    Mostly, I’ve used it as:
    + Another way to present a profile to people – in this case a CV.
    + A way to keep in touch with people when they move on from where I work, and a way of keeping track of what people are doing in their careers.
    + A way of getting a bit of background on someone that I don’t know well. It gives context to what they write.

    I also very occasionally write a recommendation for someone that I’ve worked with in the past, who I really admire. This never fails to make their day. 🙂

    The idea of using LinkedIn as a way to find potential co-researchers is a powerful one. I like it.

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