I have said from time to time that the best place to start networking via LinkedIn is with the alumni groups for the colleges you attended. Almost every university of any size has a LinkedIn group. If you attended more than one university (whether you received a degree or not) you should join the group. This will increase your ability to connect with people outside your immediate field of experience.
Keep something in mind. LinkedIn wants to prevent spammers. It would ruin LinkedIn if it became nothing more than a resource for every on-line pharmacy or insurance company or ponzi scheme to blast members with endless emails. LinkedIn safeguards this pretty well by making sure that only people who have a common interest can connect with you. Either they worked at the same company you did (as is determined by their LinkedIn profile), went to the same school, belong to the same group or they know your email address.
This is great at keeping you relatively free of spam but it is also a barrier if you are trying build a new network outside your realm of experience. If you are tired of writing test software for missiles and want to write test software for wind turbines, all your contacts at Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are not going to be very useful in getting you connected to people at Siemens and GE. That is where memberships in groups will be helpful and college alumni groups are among the most inclined to accept an invitation from a complete stranger.
To a certain extent, having gone to a large university has an advantage by having a larger LinkedIn group, but that is not always the case. Both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University have current student bodies of approximately 50,000 students. The Texas Exes LinkedIn group as 35,000 members but the Texas A&M Association of Former Students has 14,000 members. You will also need to join the Texas A&M University Alumni group with almost 10,000 members. Considering the rabid school spirit of the Aggies, you would just assume that their LinkedIn group would be one of the largest, but it is not.
My other Alma Mater is the University of North Texas in Denton with a current enrollment of 36,000 students. Once again, another big school, however, they have two LinkedIn groups with only 9,000 and 4,000 members. UNT is largely a commuter school with little school spirit. Despite the fact that they have a significant number of distinguished alumni including Don Henley (The Eagles) and Nora Jones (we can skip the fact that Dr. Phil also went there) plus Pat Boone and Roy Orbison (if you are a bit older), people just do not feel a kinship with other UNT grads. Therefore, you would not expect a large LinkedIn group.
On the other hand, tiny Trinity University in San Antonio has around 2,500 students but a LinkedIn group of 3,500.
You may have attended a community college and feel reluctant to highlight that on your LinkedIn profile. I received 6 hours of credit in Photography from Tarrant County College (back when it was called Tarrant County Jr College or TCJC…or Taco Jaco…) but I did not mention it on anything. In reality, TCC is a large school with 38,000 students in enrollment. However, their LinkedIn Group contains only 231 members.
In this instance, LinkedIn might not be much help. If you do a keyword search on “Tarrant County College,” you will get over 18,000 results. These are people who took some classes there, mentioned it on their LinkedIn profile, even if they did not care to join the group. My guess is, you are not going to get much of a response if you try to get someone to LinkIn with you based on the fact that you both attended Taco Jaco back in the 1970s.
There are plenty of judgment calls to be made here. You have to size up if there is any benefit to reaching out to someone based on having gone to the same school. In some cases, it will help you a lot. You will find that classmate who is involved in wind turbines at GE and will be able to connect with them. In other instance, you are going to just have to dig a little deeper.
We will get into “deeper digging” in my next post.
Good Luck and Godspeed!