There are a few ways of connecting with the right contacts on LinkedIn.
The first obvious route is that you have a specific person in mind, you search for their name, sort them out from others with similar names, and invite that person to connect. The best way, if you have their email address, is to choose the ‘Other’ option when connecting. This proves to LinkedIn that you have been in contact with them already, and helps LinkedIn to see that you are running a healthy profile and not connecting indiscriminately.
If you are looking for a ‘type’ of person, then you can have more fun, but you will need to do a little more homework.
Start with using the Advanced Search option at the top middle of the screen. This will open up a screen called Advanced People Search. (You can use that normal search field to search for companies, groups and jobs as well.)
Lets say that you are looking for a financial planner, at a particular bank. Enter the Keywords ‘financial planner’ and the name of the bank in the Company field. LinkedIn will then provide a set of results for you.
LinkedIn will always provide the most relevant results for you. If you and I each search for the same key words, we are going to see different results based on our own networks, how big our network is and what groups we participate in.
Your results will typically be 1st or 2nd level contacts first, people in Groups with you but who most likely fit your key words. You could for example, find a 1st level contact on page 2, who used to work at the bank you have selected, but who is not a financial planner even if you had 2nd degree contacts appear before them.
You can also set the Location at the bottom of the options. This allows you to find people roughly within a geographic radius of a postal code you enter. So you could find people in Johannesburg or Cape Town, or perhaps in Namibia if you choose a different country.
Remember that you do not need to connect only to people you specifically know, but you can build up a professional network in an industry that is important to you.
The best way to connect, is to send a personalised message to the contact. As you connect, change the boilerplate message to something personal. The best example is someone who connected with me, choosing the option “We have done business together” but her message was “Charlotte, we have not done business together before, but I am hoping that we will some day.” and then she introduced what her company did.
Play around with the various options. You can look for people who used to work at a company, and see who they are connected to. For example, you may need to connect with a Financial Manager at XYZ Company, and you discover that you are connected to someone who used to be in the Finance Department but is now working somewhere else. He might be open to making the introduction you need to his former colleague.
Invest regular time in building and connecting with your unique network on LinkedIn. I can guarantee that used properly, your LinkedIn database will yield valuable results.