Q: I just signed up for LinkedIn. People tell me I should connect with pretty much everyone I know. Does that include professors?
A: Congratulations for getting on LinkedIn! You’re right to want a large professional network and you’re right that LinkedIn can help you build one.
Although attorneys were late adopters to LinkedIn and other social media, LinkedIn has become increasingly important for lawyers’ career transition and career development. It’s a terrific platform to build a professional presence. You can use LinkedIn both to find people and to be found. As you gain seniority, you’ll be able to use LinkedIn to network with attorneys, business people, and other professionals who might be sources of referrals for you, as well as directly with potential clients.
There are many reasons why you might want to connect with professors, especially law professors. They tend to be well connected, especially within their technical fields. They could introduce you to lawyers who could give you informational interviews, writing opportunities, internships, permanent employment, and other career development opportunities. They could also provide you with LinkedIn recommendations or skills endorsements.
It’s clear connecting with professors benefits you, but should you ask to connect? Some professors may welcome your invitation. After all, they want their students to succeed. However, other professors have stricter boundaries and will view your invitation as a breech of protocol.
How do you know whether a professor will welcome your invitation or not? Some factors to consider are:
- Is the course over? Many professors will not want to connect with students they are currently teaching because of the potential conflict of interest. Wait until the course is over and you’ve received your final grade. Also double-check your graduation requirements so that you can confirm you’re not likely to have that professor again. Better yet, save invitation to connect until after graduation.
- Were you a good student? If you didn’t bother to attend the class or were the class clown, then don’t bother to ask to connect on LinkedIn. Professors are more likely to welcome invitations from students who took their classes seriously, who participated in class, who turned in assignments on time, and who performed well in exams.
- Did you know the professor well? Not surprisingly, people are more likely to accept connections from people they know. If you were a research assistant or built a mentoring relationship with the professor, then she’s far more likely to accept your invitation.
- Have you established your professionalism? Complete your profile (although don’t upload your résumé to LinkedIn or other social media). Your profile should demonstrate you’re an aspiring attorney with promise. You’ll have a far greater success rate building your LinkedIn connections if your profile shows you’re a worthwhile connection.
- Does the professor regularly connect with students? Check her profile. See if she has a history of connecting with or providing recommendations to former students. A professor with a track record of interacting with former students on LinkedIn is more likely to accept your invitation to connect.
Still not sure? Ask before you invite. Send the professor an email stating your interest in staying connected professionally and ask permission to send an invitation to connect. If you’re not 100% sure the professor will remember you, then you can remind her which course you took and when, as well as the grade you received or your research topic.
Keep in mind that the school may have policies regarding social media connections between professors and students, and that the professor may have her own policy.
A version of this article was originally published by Bloomberg Finance L.P. Reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author.