The Kinder, Gentler Side of Snooping on LinkedIn
“If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”— Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Meeting a potential new client, presenting before a finance committee, or interviewing for a job should not be considered an adversarial role, yet the principle still applies.
Everyone Does It
You’ve seen it in the movies. People study up. In the 1977 movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, Russian Major Anya Amasova greets James Bond at a bar: “Commander James Bond, recruited to the British Secret Service from the Royal Navy. License to kill and has done so on numerous occasions. Many lady friends but married only one. Wife killed …”
Too far in the past? No problem. In March 2017, the Independent reported German Chancellor Angela Merkel studies interviews and speeches before meeting a new leader. She even read a Playboy interview with Donald Trump before meeting the president.
Besides, the person across from you has likely done the same thing, especially if it’s a job interview. Forbes ran an article describing how job interviewers review a candidate’s Facebook posts, looking for red flags.
How to Snoop
Are you really snooping? Of course not! This is information people voluntarily post, expecting it to be shared. There are ways LinkedIn members can browse anonymously or shield certain information if they choose. This is public information.
What can you learn? How is it useful?
1. Photo. What do they look like? Have they even posted one? This implies how serious they are about LinkedIn. Note: According to DMR, adding a photo to your profile makes you 36 times more likely to receive a message on LinkedIn. Profiles with professional headshots are 14 times more likely to be viewed.
Why is this useful? You can recognize and greet people in the meeting before being formally introduced.
2. Mutual connections. How many of the same people do you know?
Why is this useful? “I think we have some friends in common.” You are establishing common ground.
3. Education. Where did they attend college? What did they study? Do they hold advanced degrees? Extra credit: Do a search for both the firm and college name. If many people turn up in the result set, the firm may have a history of hiring (or doing business with) alums.
Why is this useful? You might get lucky. They might be a fellow alumni.
4. LinkedIn activity. Do they post on a regular basis? Comment on other people’s articles or posts? Write articles?
Why is this useful? It lets you know what causes or issues are important to them. You learn about their professional expertise.
5. Accomplishments. Have they won awards?
Why is this useful? This is data they would enter personally; therefore, it gives them great pride.
6. Experience. Their job history. Some people spend their careers at one company, climbing the corporate ladder. Others advance their careers by changing firms. Some stay in the same field, while others start a completely different second career.
Why is this useful? Accountants can see if they are owners or employees. Theoretically, experience = expertise. You can start a conversation about the changes they have seen in their industry through the years.
7. Geography. You have lots of data: where they live now, where they lived for previous jobs, where their college was located.
Why is this useful? “It seems both of our careers took us to the Bay Area. That was a great place to live.”
8. Interests. What groups have they joined? Membership in their college alumni group indicates connection after graduating. Professional associations and hobbies tell a lot. You can also learn about social causes important to them. LinkedIn breaks these down into influencers, companies, groups, and schools.
Why is this useful? “Personally, I’m a wine fan. We like to travel to wine country on vacation. How about you?”
I’ve Got the Information. Now What?
You aren’t going to lay your cards on the table like Major Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me. That puts people on their guard. You will be able to probe for interests in common. You will learn how much information they want to share.
If you are competing for business, you can use the commonalities to show how well you understand their industry or situation. If you are competing for a job, you can show why you are a good fit for the organization. What’s the Boy Scout motto? Be prepared.
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Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, Captivating the Wealthy Investor, can be found on Amazon.com.