THOUGHTS FROM A SELECTIVE CONNECTION ACCEPTER
LinkedIn has become one of the most prolific tools for professionals in advancing their career and in finding employment. Having an up to date and completed profile that represents your personal brand is key to the world we live in today. There are over three million active jobs on LinkedIn and over 94% of recruiters use LinkedIn to find and vet candidates*. With so much emphasis on this part of your career management, the question of who to allow into your network, your connections, becomes very important.
The amount of connections and whom you accept is a highly debated topic amongst all sorts of career analysts, coaches, and "experts." The various ideologies behind connections leave many people asking what connection should they make and whom should they allow to connect with them? I can offer my opinion and experience, but it is up to you what works best for your situation.
I debated my theory with many regarding accepting connections from every single person he or she meets or receives an invitation. This policy or school of thought led several to be what's known as a LinkedIn Lion. Once you have the distinction of over 500 connections, you earn this title, which is a term LinkedIn takes no claim to but acknowledges the existence. LION: LinkedIn Open Networker. It is a sign that you are receptive to connecting with any and all. Now, this may very well be true. You may be someone that connects with people naturally and builds up a large network over the course of your career. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this.
I happen to live in the other school of thought. I believe that your LinkedIn professional network should consist of people that you know, that you have respect for, or you are somehow engaged with on a more significant level than a greeting through a networking site.
LinkedIn is not Facebook. Amassing a large number of friends or connections just to say you are a LION expresses little value to me. I don't look at it as a popularity contest. I think my professional network is a reflection of me, and, therefore, I am more selective in this area for that reason.
LinkedIn itself endorses this idea and states it on the site: "only connect to people you know and trust and only join groups you want your name associated with." This logic is LinkedIn's intended use of the network.
There are many reasons why you may want to be cautious about your connection circle, but this is the example I provide to illustrate why I don't see value in accepting just anyone.
When I was exploring new job opportunities, I reached out to a former performance coach. He advised me to look thru his connections and if anyone seemed like someone I would like to speak with to let him know. He would do his best to make an introduction. I scanned as best I could through his Lion list of over 500 professional affiliations and came up with a couple of contacts of interest. When I asked my coach to make the introductions, his reply was that he didn't feel comfortable doing such since he did not know these people well and wasn't on the level with them where he felt comfortable making an intro. These were just connections he had amassed over the years. There was no real "connection" between them. Therefore, it was just a name on a list, and I would have just as much luck reaching out to the person on my own as I would asking for help.
I believe you should have connections that you can reach out to, that you would be comfortable recommending as a potential hire or as a professional. Every person within my network is someone I would feel at ease reaching out to, and I know in some capacity. If you went thru my list and asked to speak to somebody or for me to make an introduction, I could do so for you.
I don't amass connections like airline miles. I don't see the point. You don't get any reward for having more connections than someone else. Quality over quantity!
Do I find exceptions to this idea of thought? Of course! Recruiters often assemble large numbers of connections since they use this pool to source jobs or to find new candidates. It's a totally different approach and for them, a necessity. I'm sure there are various roles to which accumulating large amounts of connections are part of the job or are helpful to their work. I fully respect and understand that. For most people, though, it's just not the case.
Here's how I identify whom to connect to and a hard and fast rule I follow.
You certainly want to be connected to former supervisors, colleagues, or clients that you worked closely with if the relations were positive. This way you remain in touch, you keep abreast of what they're doing, they do the same for you, and it can be beneficial in a job search. These are also people that would be worth reaching out to for recommendations or endorsements, which are quite valuable to have on your profile. Be prepared to do the same for them. You give to get on LinkedIn. Keep in mind, these people may also be necessary as references during your career, and you can read more about how to best manage that aspect here.
It's also worthwhile to connect with those people you've become acquainted with at professional associations, volunteer activities, networking events you attended, or others you meet during your career that you felt a genuine connection with and would like to stay in touch.
In addition, it is valuable to connect with professors that have influenced you and alumni from your universities. Alumni directors and Career Services staff are wonderful people to link, as they are brilliant resources, especially when you could use some help job searching.
Don't forget to connect with your friends!
This advice should put you on a great path for building a strong network of people.
Don't take my advice to the extreme. If there are people you want to connect to in your job search or that you don't know personally but would like to such as a recruiter or an alumnus of your school that works in your field or a dream company you like to be part of don't hesitate! These people are great additions to your network. These are people you want to get to know in a professional capacity and have the potential to further your career. There's nothing wrong with reaching out for that reason. Make sure to acknowledge what you have in common and what you're seeking to gain from them. Being very upfront from the start is appreciated by most. LinkedIn is a great avenue to initiate these types of associations.
My hard and fast rule of thumb is this: Always personalize your invitation to connect. LinkedIn does not give you a lot of space to work, so it needs to be short, sweet and to the point. Acknowledging how you met the person or your association off the bat is the best way to go. It's lazy and less likely to get a response if you just send the generic LinkedIn "I'd like to connect" email. When you personalize the invitation in this way you're much more memorable, you're likely to get better responses, and it limits you from sending connection invites to just any Tom, Dick, or Harry you find (or that LinkedIn suggests you might know). It protects you from yourself and the collecting of connections.
Whatever avenue you choose, LinkedIn is profoundly important to your personal brand and needs to be maintained consistently. Make sure you are portrayed in the best professional light!