This resource provides a guide for independent consultants on how to find experts through LinkedIn.
Two main methods for finding the right expert professional are:
Go through an expert network
If you are searching for someone in a senior position, who has niche expertise, or if your need is time sensitive, this is likely the best option. Platforms such as AlphaSights or GLG allow you to find experts quickly, even hard-to-reach or those with hard-to-find skills.
You can expect to pay $1,200 or more per one-hour interview, and are expected to use the same platform for any subsequent interviews with the same individual.
If you wish to go that route, we have a comprehensive Expert Network Directory that lists details on more than 170 expert network platforms.
Source experts yourself
The second option is to do it yourself using LinkedIn to connect with experts. This method is far more budget-friendly, though time-consuming.
This resource guides you through a 12-step process of how to find experts through LinkedIn.
You can click any section to go directly there:
- Step 1: Identify the questions you need to answer
- Step 2: Clearly define your target profile(s)
- Step 3: Map the profile against LinkedIn search fields
- Step 4: Build a list of companies
- Step 5: Create a list of individual names
- Step 6: Reach out to candidates
- Step 7: Screen the candidates
- Step 8: Schedule the interviews
- Step 9: Provide guidance on non-disclosure
- Step 10: Conduct the interviews
- Step 11: Any follow-up
- Step 12: Pay the interviewees
Step 1: Identify the questions you need to answer
Some consultants will assume they already know the profile of the experts they need to speak with and will jump straight into sourcing candidates.
That’s a mistake.
Don’t skip this first step of developing a list of all the questions you want to answer on the project. Think about what information you’re trying to learn.
You may want to review the list of questions with your client to get their alignment — make sure you are not missing any questions, and all the questions included are important.
You might also think about rating the questions. For example:
- Need to answer
- Good to answer
- Nice/bonus to answer
This consolidated list of questions is not yet an Interview Guide — which is a structured, ordered subset of questions that you’d ask of one target profile.
Once have the list of questions, consider each one — what’s the best way to answer it?
There may be different ways of finding your answers, including:
- Secondary research
- Published data sources
- Data you could scrape from websites
- Financial filings (e.g. 10K)
- Client’s own internal experts
- Expert interviews
Once you have narrowed the list of questions to those that can be best answered by speaking to an expert, you have your Interview Guide.
Now, it’s time to proceed to the search.
Step 2: Clearly define your target profile(s)
Next, for each question in your Interview Guide, consider what sort of person would be well-positioned to answer that question.
Here are some examples of potential target expert profiles:
- Person with a certain title who works at one of a defined set of companies (VP of Loyalty Marketing at one of a defined list of 10 airlines)
- Person with a certain title who works in a given industry (any Director of Maintenance at any company in the mining industry)
- Physician in a defined specialty at a class of hospitals (reconstructive plastic surgeon at an academic medical center)
- Decision-maker who has purchased a particular software or other product
On many projects, you may determine that you need to source more than one target profile.
These profiles might be split by geography; for example:
- 5 interventional cardiologists in the United States
- 5 interventional cardiologists in the United Kingdom
- 5 interventional cardiologists in Germany
- 5 interventional cardiologists in France
Or the profiles might be split by role; for example:
- 5 CFOs of suppliers to Industry X
- 5 CFOs or VPs of Finance in Industry X
- 5 VPs of Marketing in Industry X
- 5 VPs of Operations at customers of Industry X
Let’s assume you are conducting due diligence on Company XYZ. Your next step is to develop hypotheses on your target profile, and the types of people who would know the answers to your interview questions.
You can identify possible expert interviewees by considering:
- Who are the competitors of Company XYZ?
- Who are the customers of Company XYZ?
- Who are the suppliers to Company XYZ?
Employees of your target’s competition are often good sources into the industry and your target company.
Customers or likely buyers of the target — and sometimes their employees — will often have insights into the different players.
They can often supply valuable information about your target company.
If your project needs information about an industry, there are other populations of potential sources you can consider depending on the expertise needed:
- Investment bankers/analysts
Targeting senior experts
More senior experts are not necessarily more informed or more helpful. Senior experts may also be less willing to participate in a paid interview, and may ask for a higher honorarium.
For example, suppose you are trying to understand the detailed cost structure of a company that provides cleaning services to offices.
The initial instinct of some consultants would be to interview a former CFO of the company.
That could be a useful interview, but the former CFO may be hard to get. Think about who else could provide useful insights on elements of the cost structure. Some options might include:
- Former Controller
- Former Director of FP&A
- Former Manager of Business Intelligence, who generated the management reports
- Former Pricing Manager
- Former Account Exec
- Former Service Area Manager
- Former front-line cleaning service worker, who could provide insight into how many hours were required to clean an office, what supplies were provided, and how much cleaners get paid.
Step 3: Map the profile against LinkedIn search fields
Next, your profile should be designed around the fields that can be searched using LinkedIn.
While LinkedIn allows you to find almost any kind of expert, the size of its user base can make the site overwhelming. Gaining clarity on exactly who you want to target is essential — to the extent of specifying what fields you will use to define your search.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator or Recruiter Lite will be helpful if you plan to source experts on a regular basis, as they provide more search filters than a basic Premium subscription.
The search filters available in Sales Navigator include:
- Current employer
- Past employer
- Company type
- Company headcount
- Current job title
- Past job title
- Seniority level (Entry, Senior, Manager, Director, VP, CXO, Partner)
- Years in current company
- Years in current position
- Years of experience
- Connections of a particular individual you are connected to
- Groups the person is a member of
- First name
- Last name
- Profile language
- School/college attended
- Degree of connection with you (e.g., search only for 2nd degree connections)
- Recent activity on LinkedIn (e.g., posted on LinkedIn within the past 30 days)
- Keywords (words that appear anywhere in the person’s profile)
Mapping your target profile to LinkedIn search fields is a balancing act — you want to narrow the pool to candidates who are most likely to know the information you need, while avoiding making the search so narrow that you may not have enough candidates.
Some of the most useful fields include:
What companies should your experts have worked at? Or perhaps you want experts who previously worked at a specific target company you are investigating.
While current staff members of a target company are probably not going to speak with you, former employees are more likely to agree to an interview.
Consider the parameters for time frame of the former employment. You might talk to people who left more than six months ago, but not more than three years ago. This would likely avoid NDA issues, while ensuring the target’s experience is not too long ago to be irrelevant.
Perhaps you want to narrow your search to sales managers, CFOs, etc.
This allows you to narrow your search to C-suite executives, for example.
Perhaps you only want experts who live in Europe or in Peru. Segmenting a search by location will provide narrow geographic parameters.
Example: Your target is a VP, SVP, or head of sustainability (title) at any electric utility company (industry) with more than 10,000 employees (company size) in the United States (geography).
Here’s a good rule of thumb: Depending on the industry and the incentive you offer, on average roughly 2-10% of the candidates you reach out to will be willing to do a paid expert interview. That means for every interview, you need typically will need to reach out to a population of 10-50 candidates.
Step 4: Build a list of companies
If you are sourcing based on a specific role at a target company, then you need a list of target companies.
You may have access to a paid data source such as:
- Capital IQ
There are a number of ways you can compile a list of target companies that meet your criteria:
- Internet search. Often a simple Google search will get results you need, such as “top 100 companies in ___ industry.”
- Client-supplied lists. Ask your client to provide lists of suppliers, competitors, and customers of their industry.
- Industry conferences. Use the exhibitor lists from a conference. If you can’t obtain such a list, try looking at the industry association website for a member or vendor list.
- Industry reports. Search for paid reports on a given industry. Often the Table of Contents in those reports will be free, and sometimes lists the companies that are covered.
- Company website. If searching for customers of a target, check their website for a page listing their clients.
- Online reviews. Customer names and companies might be published in reviews of the company or product you’re researching.
- Ask the experts. Ask the first experts you speak with to list companies in the industry to expand your list.
Step 5: Create a list of individual names
The next step is to create a list of candidate names at those companies you’ve just identified.
Search in LinkedIn using the parameters decided, for each of the companies. Instead of blindly adding every search result to your list, evaluate each one to see if the person is likely to have the information you are looking for.
Pay attention to:
- Is the person still actually employed?
- Is the person retired?
- Is there some richness to their profile (complete “About” section, experience, etc.)?
- Does their profile write-up suggest they have the experience you need?
- Is their number of LinkedIn connections around 500 or more?
If a person’s LinkedIn profile only shows 50 or 100 connections, it’s likely that that person has abandoned the platform, or they rarely check it. Note that you can’t filter on this criteria — you’ll need to check each profile individually.
If you have sufficient candidates in the search results, screen out those with fewer than 500 connections, or perhaps 300. When you start going lower than that, the chance of that person reading your message, much less responding to it, is low.
Pay attention to key employment dates to flag people who potentially no longer work there (especially if their LinkedIn profile doesn’t seem very active). If a person started in the role in 2012, and it is a role where someone would typically get promoted in two to three years, maybe the person has retired, stopped using LinkedIn, or no longer at that company and never bothered to update their profile.
Consider outsourcing the search
While you can conduct this LinkedIn search yourself, it may be more cost-effective to outsource it. As a consultant, your time might be better spent on other, more business-critical tasks.
If you’ve already worked with someone before on tasks like this, you can go back to that person.
If you need to find someone, here are some tips on finding the right person to outsource your expert search:
- Jiring a contractor through Upwork or a similar job board can be a good option.
- LinkedIn itself is also an option to find someone for around $10/hour.
- Break the job into parts and hire, for example, five people to each work on it for two hours.
- Evaluate the results of those five people, and perhaps hire just one of them who did the best job. If your search is a larger job, you might hire more than one.
This requires a bit of work upfront to find the right person, but when you do it allows you to concentrate on your own work.
You also have a valuable resource in the contractor that you can perhaps use in the future for other projects.
Create a Google Sheet
It makes sense to keep your search data well-organized, especially if you’re working with a team. Having a shared document such as a Google Sheet is helpful. We have a Template Sheet that you can use (simply select File > Copy to use and edit as your own).
The sheet could include the following fields — at a minimum, the first two items:
- LinkedIn profile URL
- Current and/or former company
- Current and/or former position
- Email address
If you are sourcing for multiple profiles, you might add a column for which population the contact is associated with.
If you decide to outsource your search, complete the first few fields yourself, so the contractor knows what you expect the finished document to look like. Then share editing rights.
This process takes a little more time but can be valuable in keeping your search and data organized.
Be aware that the more fields include, the longer it will take your contractor to find sources, so only include information you really need.
Step 6: Reach out to candidates
There are three main methods for making contact with the potential expert.
You can often find this at company websites or through a Google search. There are also tools (such as hunter.io) that will extract email addresses from LinkedIn profiles.
Directly emailing people can bring a few potential problems, however:
- The email address obtained from a tool or service might be bad and bounce.
- If you send too many cold emails, you may get blacklisted as a spammer.
- Many people are approached too often via email and resent the intrusion.
If you do choose to email your identified contacts, you might consider setting up a separate email account that you use with a separate domain, especially if you plan to conduct large-scale business development and a lot of cold emailing.
This can be a more effective method of reaching out.
Professionals who are approached via LinkedIn often have a more positive reaction, like they’re being contacted by a colleague, than when they receive cold emails from a stranger.
One method is to use LinkedIn’s premium feature to send an InMail to each prospective expert. This requires a paid Premium subscription. There are four subscription levels, each offering a one-month free trial.
Each plan includes a certain number of InMails per month. For example, the Career plan at $39.99/month allows for just five InMail messages per month, while the Business plan at $44.99/month includes 15.
You can purchase additional InMails at $10 each, but it can quickly become an expensive way of reaching out to more than a handful of people.
LinkedIn connection requests and messaging
The second way is to make a connection request to each of your potential expert sources, and include a message with your request.
The message you can include with a connection request is limited to just 300 characters, so keep your message tight. Also, LinkedIn caps your weekly connection requests to 100 for most people, so you will be limited in the number you can send each day.
You should always personalize your message and be upfront about the fact that the interview is paid. You can also include a link to your calendar so they can book some time with you.
“[First Name], I would love to get your insights in a paid interview. We’re doing a research project on the XYZ industry. From your background it looks like you’d have some very helpful thoughts. Would you be open to speaking with us? You can book time with me at calendly.com/myname.”
Once your connection request is accepted and you are connected with the prospective expert, you can send longer messages and are not constrained by the 300 characters.
You should also have an email prepared, so that if someone accepts your connection request but doesn’t respond to your LinkedIn message, you can follow up with them via email.
Thank them for accepting your connection request, and then make the expert interview request with the details on payment and your calendar link.
Expert interview payments
In some cases, where you have a very uniform audience and there’s a relatively standardized rate that you think is reasonable to pay, then it makes sense to specify the payment amount because that shows you’re credible and serious.
For example: “We would pay you $300 for a 45-minute interview.”
This eliminates the assumption that a “paid interview” means $15 or some paltry amount.
Of course, depending on the person’s career level the payment might need to be higher to get a response. Physicians or CEOs and other high-level executives might not find it worth their time. So adjust the payment amount accordingly.
You might also be open-ended about the fee. For example: “We are happy to pay an honorarium, please just tell us what you would charge for a 45-minute phone call.”
It’s helpful to specify options with which you can pay — PayPal and Venmo, for example — and which method the expert prefers. This eliminates a step, as you can get their user name or email address they use for the preferred payment right then.
Watch the video from the online event, Custom LinkedIn Sourcing:
Step 7: Screen the candidates
In some cases you may need to screen your list of candidates to make sure they have the experience you’re looking for.
You can do this by clarifying your needs in the form of a question. For example, “We’re looking for people who have XYZ — does that apply to you?”
This might be a specific role or experience, or specific software or products they’ve used, or insight into a specific topic.
You can ask this screening question in a LinkedIn message, email, or quick phone call. Likewise, the expert may have some questions for you that you can address during this step, such as confidentiality or payment.
Step 8: Schedule the interviews
Providing a link to your Calendly (or similar booking tool) is extremely effective, because it allows the person to quickly, easily, and immediately book a time that works for them.
You can create a separate, specific Calendly link for this expert interview project.
There are also options in Calendly that can help you with this process. For example, it gives you the option to add custom questions. Two particularly useful questions to include here are:
- Phone number
- Preferred method of payment (This might be PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, etc.)
- Payment email, ID, or QR code
It’s helpful to create a sheet to keep track of the status of both scheduling interviews and payments. This could be added as a tab in your previous sourcing sheet, or a separate, new one.
Columns for this sheet could include:
- Expert name
- Category/profile population of expert
- Contact info
- LinkedIn URL
- Company (current or past)
- Status of interview
- Date of interview
- Payment amount
- Payment method [e.g., Zelle, Venmo, PayPal, Amazon gift card]
- Payment info [e.g., Venmo ID, PayPal email address, etc]
- Payment completion date
Step 9: Provide guidance on non-disclosure
This can be done either before the interview, or in the first few minutes of the interview.
Explicitly state that the interviewee should not disclose any material nonpublic information or any other information under which they are bound by a Non-disclosure Agreement.
Step 10: Conduct the interviews
In Episode 75 of Unleashed, Will Bachman provides 11 tips for interviewing experts:
1. Manage the flow. Establish rapport and ask an easy background question. Provide a one-line description of the project. Ask for a story, then ask the rest of your interview questions. One technique that often results in more revealing information is to ask one last question after you’ve started wrapping up the interview — when the expert is relaxed and perhaps less guarded.
2. Be brief. If you speak for more than 15 seconds at a time, your interviewee may be checking her email or other items.
3. One question at a time. Consciously limit yourself to asking just one question and waiting for an answer, rather than bunching together compound questions.
4. Ask open-ended questions. Avoid “yes” or “no” questions.
5. Avoid leading the witness. Be careful of providing too many specifics that might assume something. A good technique for doing this is using the “tell me a story” question format.
6. Invite stories. Building on the last tip, use questions that invite the interviewee to tell you about a time they did XYZ. This helps bring up deeper insights.
7. Follow side roads. Be prepared to deviate from your Interview Guide; if a comment sounds interesting, follow that instead by asking, “Can you elaborate on that?”
8. Use the power of silence. Sometimes silence is your friend for keeping the interviewee talking. Other helpful phrases include, “Tell me more about that” and “What happened then?”
9. Be wrong to get it right. This technique must be used judiciously and ethically, when you aren’t certain how knowledgeable the person is. Use comparative information to wheedle out data you wish to learn or corroborate. Some people prefer to correct you if they think you’re wrong than reveal information they think is a great secret.
10. Check for supporting evidence. Dig in a little bit with questions such as, “How did you get that number?” or “What makes you believe that’s the case?”
11. Open up the thinking. Get a more creative discussion going by asking open-ended, thought-provoking questions versus hard-data questions.
Step 11: Any follow-up
In some cases, the interviewee may promise to send you a file, a link, or answer a question by email after the call ends.
Be sure to make notes and/or create a reminder for yourself to follow-up to any outstanding items after the interview.
Lastly, the interviewee may be able and willing to introduce you to other experts with the knowledge useful for your project.
Step 12: Pay the interviewees
Ask your tax accountant about any reporting requirement on payments.
Generally, for consultants based in the U.S.:
- If you and the expert are both U.S.-based, you do not need to file a 1099 on any payments less than $600.
- If you pay someone $600 or more in one calendar year (whether in one interview, or multiple payments throughout the year), you’ll need to collect their W9 form and send them a 1099 form after the end of the year.
Always send payment promptly after the interview. This will be easiest if you collect the payment info from the expert up-front when scheduling — then you don’t need to capture it during or after the interview.
It’s also a nice practice to send a thank you after the interview. Remember that there’s a good chance you may want to do a follow-up interview with at least of few of the experts you speak with, or you may want to speak with them in the future on a different project.
End the expert interview process in a way that builds relationships for the future.