Choosing Connections on LinkedIn – a Q&A

Lady turning around giving thumbs down

This article, originally published on February 2013, has been largely rewritten and republished on March 16, 2017 with a new look. I hope you enjoy it. — Andy

Why should I be fussy about who I connect with on LinkedIn?

You should be at least as fussy with your LinkedIn connections as you are with your personal friends or evaluating people on a dating site. LinkedIn is for business connections, but there is no sense in spinning your wheels connecting with people who offer you nothing.

Who, then, is a GOOD connection on LinkedIn?

It depends on your goals on LinkedIn. If you just joined LinkedIn while in the middle of a job search, your needs are different than if you already have a job and are more interested in managing your career. If you have target companies you want to network into, for example, you may or may not want to connect with your current colleagues.

But, if you are an entrepreneur, your critical goal is attracting clients. You may want a broad network of potential clients rather than a focused list of connections in a target company.

If you are using LinkedIn as your central internet hub, you may want to connect with people you already are connected with in other social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and others). If, however, you have your own website (for career development, promotion, sales or a blog), it may make more sense to push your Twitter, Facebook, and other connections there, not to your LinkedIn profile. You may want to direct your LinkedIn connections to your personal site, as well.

Businessman giving thumbs up

Isn’t there a general list of people I should connect with, though?

Yes. As a general rule, here are some good people to connect with on LinkedIn:

  • Fellow classmates and alumni
  • People you do business with and like or admire
  • Members of the same business, social, religious, and fraternal groups
  • People you know in “real” life
  • Family
  • People whose careers, interests, and attitudes make them ideal connections.
  • Potential customers or employers
  • Subject matter experts in your field.
  • Active members in LinkedIn groups connected with your career or interests.

If you are job hunting and you are new to LinkedIn, you want to build your network fairly quickly. I personally don’t recommend that new members become open connectors. However, if you decide your goals are consistent with growing a large network of loose connections, many of whom you’ll have little contact with, go for it. (But, these days, connecting openly can cause security problems. See Is it time to shoot the LIONs?, before starting.)

That makes sense. With that in mind, who should I NOT connect with on LinkedIn?

Lady giving both thumbs down

Every situation is different. But, there are a several types people who you might not want to connect with:

Salespeople, Recruiters, HR people

These are people who want to collect large networks for legitimate reasons. But, if their goals don’t coincide with yours, you don’t have to connect with them. If you are an entrepreneur, for example, there might be little advantage in connecting with salespeople, recruiters or HR managers. But, if you are job hunting, or may be in the near future, it might be a good idea to connect with HR people, recruiters, résumé writers and career counselors.

Open Networkers

Open Networkers usually connect with anybody who sends them an invitation. They may be be generous and altruistic in their reasons for maintaining a huge network of loose connections. However, on today’s web, they may also be connecting with fake LinkedIn profiles, con men, identity thieves and even international spies (yes, it has happened). If you are not comfortable with that level of risk, you don’t need to connect with open networkers (many also go by the title of LIONs – LinkedIn Open Networkers).

On the other hand, if you have a very small network and need to use LinkedIn search to find clients, customers or connections inside a target company, having a few open connectors in your network may broaden your search results, especially if they are active in the same LinkedIn groups you are active in.

Those you share no common interests with

People who you share no common interests with (career, hobbies, age, friends, economic status, hobbies, political leanings, or philosophy) are not usually good connections. But, sometimes, opposites attract, too.

Bad Networkers

Some people are not good networkers and give you no value as a connection. If somebody does not use LinkedIn much, or has no network to speak of, why connect with them? This can include people with no photo or who haven’t finished filling out their profile or have few connections. If they don’t want to make that much effort in setting up their profile, would they likely make any more effort in sharing info or helping you?

An exception may be made for friends and family who could use your mentoring skills in getting started on LinkedIn.

People who hide their connections from others.

Some salespeople and HR pros argue that they spent a long time building their networks and they don’t want to just give them away to their competition. They’re using LinkedIn as a CRM or a contact manager, not as a networking base. That’s their choice, but you don’t need to connect with them if they’re just building an online Rolodex.

Unsupportive family and friends

If you have family and friends in business, and they are willing to help you network and promote you, by all means connect with them. But if, instead, they bring family disputes online or simply don’t understand and don’t support what you are doing, it probably is better to disconnect online before they sabotage your online reputation. (How you handle Uncle Vinnie after disconnecting on LinkedIn is your own problem, though.)

People Who Don’t Respond on LinkedIn

This is closely related to not connecting with bad networkers, above. If you send a “happy to connect” or other networking message to a new connection, and they don’t bother to respond, go ahead and disconnect. Give them some time to get back to you, though, because not everybody is on LinkedIn as often as you are. However, if they’re not active on LinkedIn, that does limit their ability to help you, too. You could give them a second chance to get back to you. Even I’ve been known to miss a message.

Your Current Workplace Colleagues

If you are job hunting – ESPECIALLY if you are in a Silent or Stealth Job Search – or you may be looking for work in the near future, there are good arguments for not connecting with your current boss, hiring manager, HR manager, and other colleagues. There are also some good reasons to connect.

Brunette giving 2 thumbs up

For more on this, see our Frugal Guidance 2 series on managing a stealth job search, starting with Confidential Job Search 101.

TL;DR – Can you just give me the highlights on a secret job hunt?

OK, here are some basics on keeping your job hunt stealthy:

  • Your boss or colleagues can see if you’re sprucing up your profile, the first clue that you are looking for a new job.
  • Even in the 21st century, some bosses will be willing to encourage your job search by firing you if they know you are looking. Yes, really! And it sucks!
  • No matter how much your boss supports your job search, if he is directed from above to reduce staff, guess who will be the first to go? Usually, the one who is already looking for a new job.
  • If you were quietly being considered for a promotion or a new project, you can probably forget about it if your supervisor knows you’re looking elsewhere. There may also be fears of you taking proprietary info out of the company.
  • Office gossips are often not supportive of their colleague’s job search. They may invent creative reasons why you want to leave.
  • After you look around at other companies and take an interview or two, you may learn you prefer your current job. If your boss knows you’ve been looking, though, they might question your loyalty to the firm. A silent search preserves all your options.

What about getting LinkedIn endorsements and recommendations from my supervisor?

In some corporations supervisors are discouraged from giving recommendations to current employees. (Why? If your boss gives you a good recommendation on LinkedIn or elsewhere and you are later fired for insubordination or not meeting work standards, that recommendation might give you ammunition for legal action.) After you leave in good standing, some businesses will only give a neutral recommendation. (“Yes, she worked here from this date to that date and left in good standing.”).

See what your corporate policy is on supervisors connecting with staff on LinkedIn and learn what their policy is on recommendations. If they have restrictive policies on these things, it may make more sense NOT to connect with your boss, even if job hunting is not on the horizon.

Are you saying nobody should ever connect with workmates on LinkedIn?

Not necessarily. If your office situation is not toxic, if your manager is supportive of building your career, or if you are new in your career, there are some good reasons to connect with your work colleagues:

  • They can give you LinkedIn Endorsements,
  • A few may write recommendations for you on LinkedIn, which can stay with your throughout your career (or the end of LinkedIn, whichever comes first).
  • Your colleagues may share job leads in your company and your competitor’s.
  • They may have good advice on who to connect with in your field.

So, the choice is yours (where is should be).

What are fake accounts?

Another special category of people you don’t want to connect with are fake people. No, not people who act fake, but accounts on LinkedIn who are not connected to the people they purport to be. LinkedIn security is better than on some other social media, but LinkedIn still has a problem with fake accounts.

Why would anybody create a fake account on LinkedIn?

That is a good question! First of all, it’s not just LinkedIn. All the major social media sites have fake accounts.

Whatever the reason, it probably isn’t to help you. On LinkedIn, they may simply want to grab user information – email addresses and other contact info. Then they sell or rent your info.

Many fake accounts connect with other fake accounts, and real users might be approached to buy connections, or endorsements, or members for their groups. All they are really buying are fake connections, fake endorsements, and fake members.

More seriously, though, with the info on your LinkedIn profile, it could be easier to steal your identity, or send messages to all your connections under your name. With Russian hackers in the news these days, it makes sense to be a bit fussy with your connections.

And, while we’re talking security, for safety’s sake use a real, hard-to-guess password on LinkedIn and sign up for two-factor authentication. See our article, Protect Your LinkedIn Passwords – Q&A.

How can I tell if I’m sent an invitation from a fake account?

There is no one method, but many fake accounts can be found by just being a little bit suspicious (but not paranoid).

  • First, the invitation will probably just contain LinkedIn’s canned text or some other generic, unpersonalized message. This is a numbers game and nobody will personalize hundreds or thousands of invitations for a fake account.
  • The person sending the invitation is from somewhere in the world you have no reason to connect with. I’m all for international connections, but why connect with a programmer from central Asia if you work in the fine arts in Cleveland?
  • The invitation writer may only use an incomplete name. This is not only suspicious, but also bad networking.
  • The profile might not have a photo or the photo may be stolen from somebody else (even a famous actor or actress). Read my earlier Frugal Guidance post on LinkedIn Basics: Using Google Image Search to learn how to find fake photos with a single click (sometimes).
  • The profile may be incomplete, it may have misspellings (even in job titles), the name might not be capitalized properly, it may look like it was created by someone who is either careless or not a native English speaker. (Of course, there are millions of legitimate users of LinkedIn who are not native English speakers, too.) Some fakers actually hire people to create new profiles, usually paying pennies for each account created. There is no incentive for careful proofreading.
  • There may be simply illogical conditions. Why would someone with a degree from a top business school or university, with an executive title and years of experience, have only a few connections on LinkedIn and now be asking you, a stranger, to connect?

Hmm. Maybe I should just never accept an invitation?

That would be a drastic solution to the problem, and could negatively affect your networking goals.

Better is to simply click on the name of the person sending you an invitation to view their profile. There might be compelling reasons to connect, or at least send a message back. There may also be good reasons there to NOT connect, too.

If something on their profile just doesn’t feel right, don’t accept. Or, send them a message back asking why they want to connect. If they don’t answer, click the Ignore button. If they answer and it doesn’t feel right, click the Ignore button. If they look real, but it doesn’t make sense to connect with them, click the Ignore button. (It might be a good idea to send a polite note back, saying no thanks.)

So, are you telling me I should never connect with somebody who doesn’t speak English well, doesn’t have a photo, sends a canned invitation, or has an incomplete profile?

Absolutely not! Any one of those conditions might be from somebody who is a legitimate LinkedIn user and a potential, useful contact. But if more than one of those conditions exist, be mildly suspicious, check their profile, and see if they will engage in a conversation before you connect.

Use logic. If you see a profile from a woman from, say, the United Arab Emirates with an Arabic sounding name, and her photo shows her to be a gorgeous, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman with Nordic features, does that make sense? (Yes, I’ve seen things like that.) This is not to say there are no beautiful blondes in the UAE, but what are the chances of one sending a LinkedIn invitation to you out of the blue? (Or to me?)

Nor should you be afraid to connect with people for whom English is obviously not their first language. (Heck, a lot of them live and work near me in New Jersey and New York City.) In fact, in the name of world harmony, I encourage it. It’s important.

Also, it is important for any networker to pay it forward and help others who might legitimately not know how to fill out a profile, or speak English properly, or just need some help with networking. The point I’m making is that you don’t have to be a patsy, too.

And don’t lose sleep if you connect with somebody who is wrong for you. You can always disconnect.

Trust your instincts. I have heard from several veteran LinkedIn users that they are now much fussier about which invitations they accept than they used to be. I’ve heard of several people who have tried open networking and have stopped. (Others remain quite active.)

Even better, be pro-active. Instead of waiting for people to send you invitations, send some out to people you’d like to connect with. That’s why real people join LinkedIn, to connect; but each person has their own goals (yes, I do keep harping on those goals). If they decline, fine. Move on.

Then, get beyond invitations and start connecting, writing, helping, building karma, and letting others know what your unique, fascinating story is.

Blonde giving 2 thumbs up

Do you agree or disagree with these suggestions? Do you have other Do Not Connect rules? Please share in the comments.

How can I learn more about LinkedIn?

That’s Easy Peasy: just click on the LinkedIn tab on top of any Frugal Guidance 2 page.

Image Credits

Title photo, “Woman Showing Thumb Down” courtesy of “imagerymajestic” and Photo altered in Photoshop and Topaz Labs Glow by the author.

Businessman with thumbs up, courtesy of “stockimages” and Photo altered in Photoshop and Topaz Labs Glow by the author.

Businesswoman with both thumbs down, courtesy of “Ambro” and Photo altered in Photoshop and Topaz Labs Adjust by the author.

Brunette with both thumbs up, courtesy of “imagerymajestic” and Photo altered in Photoshop and Topaz Labs Glow by the author.

Blonde teenager with both thumbs up, courtesy of “stockimages” and Photo altered in Photoshop and Topaz Labs Glow by the author.

This article was originally written and posted in 2013. It was updated in March, 16, 2017.

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