Network to Get Work?

Network to Get Work?

Pre-professional Wildcats join LinkedIn’s elusive and not-so-exclusive 500 Connection Club.

Written by Kubair Chuchra

It’s corporate America’s most popular friend group. Joining has nothing to do with what you know and everything to do with who you know. Welcome to LinkedIn’s 500+ Connection Club.

As the business world's leading social media platform, LinkedIn allows its users to expand their professional networks by requesting to connect with any other user public user. The total number of LinkedIn connections any user has is visible on their profile page until they reach the magic number of 501. From that point on, their profile displays the esteemed phrase: “500+ connections.”

For Northwestern students, preparing to enter the workforce and creating a LinkedIn profile go hand-in-hand. To many of them, joining the 500+ club is a goal they’ve actively worked toward. To others, it’s unimportant and a sign of over-eagerness.

Creating a large LinkedIn network is no easy feat. Northwestern University sophomore Sierra Turner, who became a 500+ club member in early April, created a structured game-plan to do so.

“I made it a goal to reach a certain number by the end of every quarter,” Turner says. “300 by the end of Fall quarter, 400 by the end of winter and 500 by the end of the year. But then I just started surpassing my goals.”

Turner is proud of her large network. She’s convinced being in it has helped her network for internships and promote her Garage-based startup. “I actually selfishly like looking at my own profile,” she says. “It’s nice to see the 500+ connections.”

Northwestern Career Advisor Fiona Sykes says that LinkedIn can be a powerful networking tool for any college student. She doesn’t think, however, that students looking to get 500+ connections should add people they do not know. “Anyone within your LinkedIn network is also affiliated with you,” Sykes says. “So don’t just accept a connection or request in the same way that you wouldn’t necessarily just accept a random Instagram follow or request.”

Sykes also said that being a member of the 500+ club does not necessarily matter to potential recruiting or hiring managers. “It matters a lot more than your profile is completely filled out, that you have a summary, that you have a headline, that you have a cover photo,” she says. “Having a complete profile will help you be found by recruiters and help you come up in search results.”

Being well-connected doesn’t necessarily help users go viral on LinkedIn either. Juliette Faraut, a recent NU grad and associate editor at LinkedIn, works with the company’s editorial team to curate and share user content to the platform’s homepage. In other words, her team helps decide what posts and which people go viral.

Faraut says the number of connections a user has doesn’t influence whether her team decides to share their post. “We look at lots of members who don’t even have 500+ connections,” she says. “But once their posts are pulled into our storylines, I’ve seen them get over 50,000 views.”

Going viral on LinkedIn can help students find jobs and establish real, personal networks. For those less inclined to gain LinkedIn fame, however, reaching 500+ connections can still feel empowering.

“The day I got 500+ connections was the biggest deal to me because that is like winning on LinkedIn,” says Katie Hoffman, a Northwestern third-year who achieved the feat early last summer. Hoffman is the host of “Network, Naturally,” a podcast she is creating to provide young professionals tips and tricks for networking.

Hoffman’s takeaway from conversations she’s had on her podcast with employees at F500 companies like Facebook and IBM is that quality matters more than quantity when it comes to LinkedIn networks. “If you have a network of 5 people that are helpful to you, that can mentor and coach you, then that’s debatably more useful than having 500+ connections,” she says.

Although Hoffman remembers believing that having 500+ connections was the key to having a fully developed professional network, she now believes the status is “arbitrary” and “superficial” after achieving it herself.

James Arcieri, a Northwestern second-year with 453 LinkedIn connections, agrees with Hoffman’s current perspective. “To me, LinkedIn is like the same thing as Facebook,” says Arceri. “I have maybe 2,000 friends on Facebook, but I’m only good friends with 300-400 people.”

Arcieri has had a LinkedIn account since his sophomore year of high school. “I’m in no rush to get 500,” he says. “So I would never click on a random person and connect.”

Regardless of their LinkedIn clout, Northwestern students may feel compelled to make an account and expand their network while navigating through the school’s intense pre-professional environment. Sykes believes the platform is necessary for any student looking for a job or internship. “Before [someone] hires you, they are going to Google you,” she said. “Having LinkedIn be the thing that pops up your search results helps you control your own narrative.”