LinkedIn Advice: How Do I Reach a Third-Degree Connection (and What Do I Say?)

There’s a certain thrill that comes over an avid online networker when he realizes that a very important person in his professional world — the perfect target hiring manager, or the world’s greatest sales prospect – is fortuitously connected to the avid online networker on LinkedIn. That’s the good news….the bad news is that the hoped-for connection is two hops away in the LinkedIn universe. The person you’re dying to make contact with is a third-degree connection, someone at the outer edge of your reachable LinkedIn network.

How do you reach a third-degree connection on LinkedIn, and what do you say? Here are some ideas.

When you conduct a search on LinkedIn that leads you to a person who’s two hops away from you in the LinkedIn user network, you’ll see the numeral three in a circle next to that LinkedIn user’s profile. The numeral three tells you that there are two other people between you and the person you’d like to contact. (Think of stepping stones that allow you to cross a river by hopping from stone to stone. If you are Stone Number One, your target person is Stone Number Four. There are two stones to cross through before you can talk with Mr. or Ms. Stone Four directly.) If you click on the “Get Introduced Through a Connection” link to the right of your target person’s LinkedIn profile, LinkedIn will prompt you to choose a mutual connection to make the introduction for you.

Let’s say you’re using LinkedIn, and you conduct a search on the database looking for a distance-learning program designer for a new online course you’re developing. One of your search results is Jack Sprat, who looks like a perfect fit for your requirements. When you click on the Get Introduced Through a Connection link next to Jack’s LinkedIn profile, you be shown a list of the first-degree connections who have mutual connections with Jack. You’ll be asked to choose which of your first-degree LinkedIn connections to use as a conduit to Jack Sprat.

Which of your possible ‘networking channel partners’ will you choose to start the introduction process?

I recommend that you choose the mutual connection you know best. This person isn’t going to introduce you to Jack Sprat directly, because if s/he were connected to Jack, you and Jack would be second-degree connections, rather than third. So you need your first-degree connection to be willing to tell another person — another first-degree contact of his or hers, someone who’s also connected to Jack Sprat – that you are a person whose association with Mr. Sprat can only lead to good things for both of you.

After you’ve chosen the first-degree connection who will begin the introduction process (me, for instance) LinkedIn will prompt you to write that person (your first-degree connection) a quick message. LinkedIn will also prompt you to write your message to Jack Sprat, the one that you’re hoping gets delivered within a day or two thanks to the networking assistance of your first-degree connection and the person between him or her and Jack.

In your message to Jack Sprat, the distance-learning-program fellow, you’ll lay out your reason for making contact. “Dear Jack,” you might say, “I’m a third-degree connection of yours on LinkedIn, and I came across your profile today. Your background is incredible, and I wondered whether you might be interested in a distance-learning project I’m putting together. If so, could you please contact me? Enjoy your day — Charlie.” You’ll include your contact info with the note. Your message to Jack Sprat is like a message in a bottle, and your first- and second-degree connections are the waves passing your message closer and closer to Jack.

Your first-degree connection (me, for instance) will get your message and be prompted to pass it on to the person who sits between me and Jack Sprat. Since I know that person, I’ll replace what you’ve written to me (“Hi Liz, can you please pass this message to your mutual connection with Jack Sprat?”) with my own message. I’ll write something like “Dear Sally, my good friend Martin is looking to chat with your friend Jack Sprat. Thanks so much in advance for passing the message on, and let me know what I can do for you!”

Good friends are good gatekeepers too, and responsible gatekeepers won’t pass on messages that are spammy or unprofessional. I’ve turned away plenty of LinkedIn overtures intended for friends of mine who would quickly have dropped me from their friend lists if I’d sent them the messages on (one of them was literally a solicitation to buy beachfront property in Florida). If your need is urgent, you could email or call your first-degree buddy to let him or her know that an introduction on LinkedIn is pending and waiting for action (lots of people don’t check their LinkedIn inboxes very often). Keep in mind that the best networking focuses on the other person’s needs rather than your own, and you’ll find the power of LinkedIn to be truly astonishing (and the site a handy part of your networking toolkit).

Don’t be shy about reaching out to people on LinkedIn. Just remember the good manners your kindergarten teacher taught you, and you’ll be in great shape.

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