One of the best ways to grow your career is to build a solid professional network, and what better place to do that than on LinkedIn? With the click of a button, you can send an invitation to connect with someone, regardless if you know them or not — and this is where things can get hairy. Sometimes, sending that LinkedIn invitation is the worst possible choice for your career.
More on that in a minute. Let’s start with when it’s a good idea.
When It’s Right to Make the Connection
You know or have met this individual before.
It’s usually a safe bet to reach out and connect with people whom you know or have met before, granted things were cordial. There’s no guarantee that these individuals will be receptive to your invitation to connect on LinkedIn, so don’t get too upset if you get a few rejections along the way. However, your chances of growing your network will be greater if you start with the people you already know, versus trying to connect with a complete stranger. Make note that, if this person is from your past, then you may want to send a brief note reminding him/her of how you two know each other.
You’re being connecting via a mutual contact.
There’s nothing better than having your connections open up their networks and put you in touch with someone they know, like, and trust — because that usually means that they know, like, and trust you, too. Growing your network organically is one of the best ways to form real, genuine professional relationships that will help your career. When someone in your network comes through for you like this, know that she is taking a great risk by vouching for you. Therefore, handle these types of situations with great care and consideration, because it only takes one ungrateful or unprofessional first impression to ruin a chance/connection of a lifetime.
You’re hoping to learn from this individual.
Part of growing as a professional is learning from people who have been there, done that, and made a name for themselves in a given industry — they’re also known as leaders, innovators, and influencers. These types of individuals don’t necessarily have to be the Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg of your industry, they can also be small business owners or up-and-comers who are doing something disruptive and innovative in your industry. The point is to connect with the people who are making things happen in their careers/industries, and from whom you can gain inspiration and knowledge.
You’re trying to connect to a former employer/boss/co-worker/ex, but things didn’t end well.
Sometimes (read: most of the time) it’s better to just let sleeping dogs lie when it comes to re-connecting with people with whom things didn’t end so well. For instance, if you were fired or let go for unfavorable reasons, then it’s probably not the best idea to try to connect in hopes of rekindling the relationship or getting a referral out of them. (Ha!) The same goes for exes of any kind. If the other person wants to connect some time down the road, then let it happen naturally — don’t force it. What’s meant to be will be.
You find this person attractive and want to ask him/her out on a date.
Remember, folks, this isn’t Tinder. LinkedIn is intended to be a safe place for individuals to grow their professional networks and enhance their careers and/or businesses — not seek out a date for Saturday night. Stick to the plan and keep your romantic interests out of your networking strategy, because it’ll only make you look unprofessional and desperate.
You’re hoping it’ll help you land the job, before or after the interview.
While you may think it’s assertive to send a LinkedIn invite to a hiring manager before or after an interview, it’s often perceived as off-putting and a bit presumptuous on the receiving end. The Muse puts it best, it’s “like nailing the dismount and landing in gymnastics, and then running up to give the judges a hug before they even gave you a score.”
The bottom line is that you should only connect with people you know and who know you (or, at least, know of you). It doesn’t hurt to reach out to people from your past who are relevant to your career on some level (e.g. you both work in the same industry or complimentary industries). Additionally, if there are people in your industry whom you admire and wish to learn from, then definitely reach out and indicate your reason for wanting to connect — chances are, they’ll be flattered and gladly accept the invitation.
If you don’t know the person with whom you’re trying to connect but wish to see their updates, then you can always follow them on LinkedIn instead. This way, you can still see their work, without actually being connected to them.
The aim is to grow your LinkedIn network with purposeful intent, so that the connections benefit both parties. This way, when it comes time for you to ask for a job referral, a LinkedIn recommendation, or to request an introduction to a mutual contact, the other person won’t be reluctant to come through for you.
Tell Us What You Think
How do you gauge whether it’s right or wrong to make a new connection on LinkedIn, as a sender or as a recipient? Share your thoughts with our community on Twitter, or leave a comment below.
Leah Arnold-Smeets, owner of Emiko Consulting, is passionate about helping entrepreneurs capitalize on their strengths, improve on their weaknesses, and reach their full potential. Leah obtained her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration & Entrepreneurial Studies from the University of Southern California (USC).