Direct messaging (DMing) is the modern equivalent of “cold calling.” The person you’re messaging likely doesn’t know you, so your message is all they have to judge who you are.
Your first message is extremely important, as it acts as your first step to sell yourself in a job search, introduce your company’s services, or create another professional opportunity.
Stop and Think
Before you reach out, stop and think about why you’re reaching out.
You’ll need to optimize your message to show your recipient that you have a goal, keeping in mind how they might help you achieve that goal. To keep your message clear and concise, you shouldn’t make multiple requests in your first message. This is your time to grab their attention and get permission for continued communication.
Make Sure Your LinkedIn Profile Is Up to Date
If you’re messaging someone on LinkedIn, chances are they’ll look at your profile before responding.
Make sure all of your experiences are current and accurate — they should reflect your progress and tell a story describing your effort toward your goals. LinkedIn gives professionals a glimpse into how you earned promotions or made progress at a company. This can be useful in showing your hard work when someone skims through your profile.
Don’t Ask for Handouts
Don’t ask for large favors if you don’t know a person. If you message a stranger and ask them for a job right off the bat, they probably won’t be able to help you. They don’t know you, and they don’t have an obligation to help you.
Asking for a brief conversation or a small favor is a better way to begin a professional relationship. Remember that even asking for something small is still asking for a favor, so be polite.
Use language and etiquette to improve your professional appearance. If you wouldn’t say something in a professional setting, avoid saying it in a direct message.
Find a Personal Detail
If you can make a personal connection with a prospect — no matter how small — they’ll be more likely to respond and connect with you. You’ll probably be reaching out to more than one person, and you shouldn’t be copying and pasting the exact same message every time. People who receive dozens of messages a day can easily tell the difference between a customized message and a copy-and-paste effort.
Conduct some background research on the person you’re reaching out to — it shows that you care. Then, choose a way to customize your direct message. For example:
- Mention a connection, a school, or a company you have in common.
- If they posted an article on LinkedIn or their blog, comment briefly on one of the article’s talking points.
- If you share an acquaintance, consider asking your mutual connection for an introduction.
When sending your first DM, try to keep your message under 100 words. It should be easy to read at first glance. Avoid sending multiple long paragraphs, because it increases the likelihood of your recipient getting bored and deleting your message.
Emails can be a little longer than DMs, but you should still make an effort to be brief. Stick to 4-6 small paragraphs at most, with two or three sentences per paragraph.
You might be surprised by the number of professionals who are open to doing small favors. Be ready to receive a response and carry on the conversation.
If your recipient responds quickly, you should do the same. If they don’t, still be sure to respond within 24 hours. Remember, they’re doing you a favor by responding, so you want to be on your best behavior!
Messaging people who can benefit your career can at times feel stressful. Don’t be intimidated. If put effort into writing thoughtful messages, you’ll reach the people who want to hear from you.
For more helpful tips (as well as some handy DM templates), check out the infographic below, courtesy of Tommy John. You can combine his template snippets to write your own messages.