Social Enterprise

LinkedIn: Dealing with the unwanted invitation

Have you ever gotten a LinkedIn invitation from someone you barely know or would prefer not to know? How do you handle it? Here are some tips from an expert.

Yesterday I got a LinkedIn invitation from someone I worked with about 15 years ago. I have not kept in touch with this person nor can I readily even picture her. If you asked me what role she had in the company back then, I would draw a complete blank.

So how do I handle this? Do I just accept out of politeness? Or do I accept because by the year 2010 I want to be linked to virtually every person in the tri-planet area? Or do I cave to my baser instincts and reply, "I'm sorry, and you are...?"

I honestly don't know. LinkedIn is a great tool. But, as is usually the case, you have to follow the introduction of every great product with some kind of instruction guide for its use because someone will invariably misuse it. It's the same reason they had to add, "Do not attempt to stick head inside deck, which may result in injury" in the GameCube instruction manual.

So I googled "LinkedIn Etiquette" and found a piece by Liz Ryan (founder of WorldWIT) called "Top Ten Linked-In Do's and Don'ts." Thank God for Liz Ryan, and particularly for this bullet point:

2) DON'T become an Invitation Spammer.

It's tempting to start sending a "connect to me" invitation to every Tom, Dick, and Sally you find on LinkedIn, but it's bad manners. If you want to reach out to someone you've spotted who has an enticing profile, send the person a Contact request rather than an invitation to join your network. A Contact request, to use an offline networking analogy, is like an invitation for a coffee date. An invitation to Connect is like asking someone to go steady. Unless you know a person already, don't spam him or her with a "want to start recommending me to people, and vice versa?" invitation -- it's creepy.

Beyond Liz's recommendations for the contact request, what do you do with the people who ask for recommendations? It seems to me that people will ask for endorsements on LinkedIn using a much different (lower) standard than the one they'd use if they were asking for formal job references. And that's fine, but you'd better be awfully sure that what I would have to say about you is positive. I've been asked for recommendations from people with whom I've had what I would qualify as rocky work relationships (like contractors who were difficult to work with). It's amazing how one person's interpretation of a relationship is way different from another person's.

I contacted Liz to ask her how she handles the recommendation requests from people she doesn't really want to recommend. She said,

"If I don't feel comfortable endorsing a person on LinkedIn, I usually respond with 'We haven't worked together closely enough/for a long enough time for me to recommend you' or 'I haven't had the opportunity yet to work with you in a significant enough way for me to be able to endorse you,' which might be a slightly nicer way of saying 'I wasn't all that impressed by what I saw of your work.' If you don't know the person well and he or she asks for your endorsement anyway, you can ignore the request -- some people blast out 'please recommend me' messages to every single one of their LinkedIn connections!"

So how do you guys handle this relatively new social phenomenon of being "linked" to people whom you barely know?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

41 comments
firstGoodKarma
firstGoodKarma

I'm endlessly baffled at the way corporate types act like it's so much bother to extend a hand to help a former collegue get a job. Times are hard and we're all humans. It's no skin off me to be a decent human being and help someone out I used to work with. I've spent the last 20 years accepting the fact that part of my high-dollar salary is for pretending to like people who were empty shells and dead inside like some of you who act like this is just too much effort. Can someone here enlighten me as to why people in the US are too empty and shallow to see how detached you sound here?

BEaR3
BEaR3

Professional networking, not always a social event: I started using LinkedIn back in 2005 to aid in my job search. It didn't, but I attribute that to various reasons: - I didn't know how to work my network (primary) - Most others I linked with likewise barely understood the reason they were joining and didn't actively use the tool - Linkedn itself still needed some additional features and "robustness" that are only recently coming online (like their browser plug-in for job sites) I am doing much better this time around and would agree with this article on one point: It does not necessarily benefit you to connect to everyone you see or who desires to link with you, so choose wisely. Evaluate each request with a consistent agenda and idea of how you might use that link or that link might want to use you. Take into account normal [IRL] business relationship maintentnance issues, as there is also time invested in expanding and maintaining a larger network. Everyone is connnecting with different agendas. In opposition to the strong convictions about various agendas listed in prior comments, no agenda is perfect. Decide what's best for you and be aware of other agendas. About 80% of LinkedIn requests I've recieved have been accepted, but I don't tend to have complete strangers contacting me. But having been part of very large companies, people I've never heard of have requested. I could never speak for them, if a professional reference is requested (Liz Ryan's shared consideration), nor they for me. The only time I have linked with someone I don't know is if there is a group membership requirement. Th links have yet to become a source of Link-spam, but I believe I am joining people who likewise choose their affiliations with due consideration. The 113 links I have garnered over the past 3 years, have become an extended network of over 1.1 million connections, I consider this a great source of potential information and contacts for my latest search for a new position and it has already proven fruitful.

mmadura
mmadura

I tend to be more of an open networker and would tend to accept invites from those I don't know. In general it should come down to what value proposition exists if you let the Inviter into your network. It is up to the Inviter to provide this to you as part of their Invite. If someone you don't know sends an Invite with the standard LinkedIn Invite language you don't know the value prop and should probably move on. If you do have curiosity, you could next check their Profile (by clicking their Name or View Profile). Again you may see some reason to connect, especially if you see endorsements regarding how the Inviter has provided value to others. Again, this is my opinion.

JandNL
JandNL

I would say just ignore it, unless the person identifies herself when you ask and you consider her worth adding. I have another question: We got the Outlook LinkedIn toolbar but have never used it because nobody answered our query, "How does LinkedIn work?" At a career fair, I ran into someone from LinkedIn Chicago (LIC) who said he would send me information on LIC, but I never got anything. To me, that means it's an organization I'm not interested in. What is everyone else's take on LinkedIn?

Old Man on the Mountain
Old Man on the Mountain

for one simple reason: perception. And that comes in two parts. First, LinkedIn users post questions often on the site wondering why LinkedIn created a networking site if they don't want folks to network. The "whole idea", they say, is to reach out into the unknown in order to expand one's access to resources. Duh! It's like creating a union and then saying you can't talk to anyone in the meeting unless you know them. This is the "perception" that many have of networking and it is a valid one. The second issue is more subtle. I hear often that LinkedIn users are "ignored" if they have only a few connections. Not a problem UNLESS you are using LinkedIn for employment contacts. There are many self-employed who use LinkedIn effectively (without spamming anyone) to generate business. That principle is directly linked (no pun intended) to the number of connections they have, and thus the perception (by those searching for "Experts") that the more connections someone has the more desirable they are. The opposite position can be successfully argued as well. But the principle of perception cannot be ignored. I learned long ago it's foolish to do so. That's why "to connect or not to connect" will always be THE question (on LinkedIn).

jlh
jlh

LinkedIn is a good business tool to establish connections with people you do not know and would probably never have an opportunity to meet if you did not take the initiative and invite them to link to your profile. If there were an easy way to invite others for a "coffee" it would make things a bit easier, perhaps. Some people view LinkedIn as more of an address book than a social networking tool. If you only invite people you already know to link to you, what benefit are you receiving from being a member? It would be much easier for you to simply IM your buddies and stay clear of the bother pesky LinkedIn members might cause you. For the rest of the world, LinkedIn offers a way to display your professional information online and establish a rapport with industry peers, ex-colleagues or even potential new employers. The great part is that links are just as easily removed as they are added so you really do not have to worry too much about accepting an invitation from someone questionable. In summary, you would not publicly list your home telephone number if you did not want to be called, would you?

kathleenkeepsitsimple
kathleenkeepsitsimple

Hi Toni, Nice to stumble across this post. I have been in the internet industry for more then 20 years now, and I have had my fair share of spams flooding into my inbox. It can be very annoying having to clear so many uninvited emails. There are two things I do. One, immediately delete those I am sure are spam. Secondly, I have a few email accounts so that when I sign up for ezines and other downloable items where I know I will be getting lots of follow up mail, I have more control over how and when I view the messages. In success, Kathleen Gage

wecandobiz
wecandobiz

I agree with the posts that advise connecting to ex-colleagues you worked with but may not have known well, as they COULD know people that you DID know well and would like to reconnect with. I have found this many times. LinkedIn itself advises you do not connect with people you really don't know. I find it best to ignore such invitations, but if you actually reject someone who is persistent, it counts towards a total and when they reach, I think, 5 rejections they are then barred from sending out further invitations without an additional level of qualification that they know that person (entering your "friend's" e-mail address I recall). This is a good way of dealing with persistent chancers and spammers, but you could easily upset people if you choose to reject someone you have decided you don't want to reconnect with although you know them - just ignore these ones. All this said, however, I am ensure what the benefit is with LinkedIn beyond reconnecting with people you once worked with you and you found interesting. Once connected, then what? It's an OK site if you are looking for a job apparently - although I am not sure how, do I e-mail all my contacts and beg? - but it isn't necessarily a place to do deals. I'd feel quite cheesed off if my meagre use of it started to become tainted with unsolicited sales messages, even though I'm a salesperson myself at heart. Ian Hendry http://www.wecando.biz

info
info

I have received many invites to LinkedIn. I have also coonected with actual friends that I haven't heard from since College, so it has been a good experience for me. I can however see that it could become a problem if you are being invited by people that you have no recollection of who they are!!

swafi
swafi

Here is my 2 cents for what it's worth... I experience a lot of request from my colleagues & co-workers I truly do not remember them, but I must have left a great impression behind for them to reach out 3, 6, 10 years...In my eyes that's a good thing! I see nothing wrong with sourcing your connection invites...If I am unsure of the invite, I always ask more questions - politely of course, about the person prior to acceptance... In my opinion, that's why the LinkedIn community was established to allow professionals & colleagues around the world to "Network". Who knows maybe you could be a great inspiration to that colleague or someone reaching out to you. After all we are in this world to helped and love others...besides you never know who may need one day - it could be that colleague.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Some of these religions have their liberal moments.If you're shooting for the headlines this is the one.

Jaqui
Jaqui

since the whole "social networking" thing online is completely beyond my interests, I almost never participate on the sites, even if I bothered to sign up for a membership. I took a look at one called ITToolbox, it has very limited content outside of the social networking, so I lost interest in it after only a week of browsing. I haven't been there in 8 months, yet got an "invitation" to join someone's network just last week. I did connect with a couple of people on there, whom I do communicate with via email, on the Linux From Scratch lists, and it was a comment on the same subject on both ITToolbox and the list the made that connection for me. I looked at the "Stumbleupon" toolbar, and found TR Member Choppit in their "network" :D What I see the social networking sites as trying to do is to create a sense of community, like we have here on TR. They aren't really doing very well at it either, TR's community is what keeps us coming back here and contributing / commenting. We may have come for the Articles etc originally, but the community is what keeps us here.

LarryBoy2
LarryBoy2

If I get an invitation from someone whose name I don't recognize, but they identify themselves as a former colleague or client, I usually politely ask for a reminder of which project we worked together on, if I think I might have worked with them. If they don't reply, or I think it's completely out of the blue, I simply ignore the invite. If they do reply, it will depend on whether I remember the association. Otherwise, even if it's from someone I knew but didn't know well or didn't work with that closely, I'll still accept, because they might lead me to someone else with whom I really want to connect, or to someone who might be able to help me as a contact rather than a connection. Like dkawalec noted in his post. Recommendations are different. I only ask for one from someone I worked with very closely and feel confident I had or have a good relationship with. And I only provide recommendations under the same conditions, and only on request. If there's any doubt, I won't ask for one, nor will I give one. In the latter case, I ignore the request. Either way, it's a very small fraction of my total connections. But hey, this is how I handle them. There aren't any rules that I've seen unless you belong to one of those massively linked groups like TopLinked.

techtalk
techtalk

Unless they are relentless in their pursuit of you. In that case, I usually respond with an "i'm sorry, I didn't see your message for so long because I really don't do much on LinkedIn." and then follow that up with your well worded "i hardly know you" comments! :) But I would have to say that 90% of these spam requests never come up again after the first (or second) request is ignored.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

To be clear, LinkedIn Chicago is just a group of LinkedIn users. They don't represent the company. I looked them up online and they have over 1300 members... Their online discussion group looks to be pretty active. Sounds as if you just hooked up with someone who isn't good at keeping his commitments. Regarding the site, I have found it to be tremendously useful. I have met new clients and some really high caliber candidates through it. Additionally, you can connect with people for a variety of other reasons. For instance, i volunteer regularly with a prison ministry in the Louisville area, and have been able to connect with a bunch of other people who have similar interests. I haven't used the Outlook Toolbar, so I can't help with that. I'd recommend you stick with it, though, if networking is something that's important to you.

Old Man on the Mountain
Old Man on the Mountain

LinkedIn is a good site, but has it's limitations and glitches. I've seen it work quite well. If you'll post a question on LI about using the Outlook Toolbar, you'll get good responses. I installed it, played with it a bit, and then removed it. The LI contacts feature is not robust enough for me to justify the Outlook Toolbar. I can send a PDF with 'Getting Started" instructions if you're interested (email request to "itstimetospeak@gmail.com).

drfez
drfez

LinkedIn isn't a social networking site, it's a business networking site. If you want social networking go get a facebook account, in business the more widely your profile is viewed and the better known you become as an expert the more effective the tool. If you don't want connections to other professionals don't sign up.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

I have had the same experience. I reconnected with a guy I knew in high school. It turned out that he was actually flying into town shortly after that, and we were able to catch up. It was great ... I had often wondered what had become of him. Another old college friend is also a recruiter and we have been able to work together on a few things, as well as to have several "meaning of life" conversations, despite being separated by 2 time zones. I agree with whoever made the distinction that LinkedIn is for business networking, but it doesn't have to be only for that.

buddyfarr
buddyfarr

this is definately not what a wookie would have said...given the circumstances anyway.

meryllogue
meryllogue

You rock. I would love to spend face time with you and try to plumb the depths of your wacky mind. You make me laugh nearly every time. And if you don't, the replies to your posts do. Oh... I'm still awaiting a reply on your fractal site. (tap tap tap goes my foot)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Perhaps he posts his comments for one discussion under a different topic, and we have to match them up to make sense of them.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't think of TR as a social site, despite the strong community. I've always regarded it as a IT site with a strong social side effect. Members can get a lot from this site if they just read the content generated by the paid staff and never venture into either of the main forums. The 'Contacts' function doesn't equate to most social sites' "Friends" lists, since you don't need an invite and there are no benefits or disadvantages to having a few or a lot of Contacts. Contacts are more like underpowered RSS subscriptions, letting you know when someone who interests you has opened their mouth. Since invitations aren't required, the number of contacts a member has isn't regarded as an indicator of their community standing. Maybe the reason the community is so strong is the complete lack of typical social network trappings. If you want to be regarded as a member of the community you actually have to participate, not just ask people to be your new friend. Regardless, I don't see myself participating in any of the more conventional social sites. I admit this is an opinion formed without having actively attempted to participate in one. I'm open to suggestions about how such participation would benefit me.

pam.rickey
pam.rickey

I don't see being in someone's contact network as any different than exchanging a business card at a networking event. Of course, recommendations are a different matter. If I receive an invitation and really don't want to be linked into their contact list, I simply ignore the invitation.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Went through all this lark with FR years ago. Unless I wanted contact (or could remember &)with the person the answer was always a No.

Quackula
Quackula

I noticed a lot of people from Indian want to connect with me. If they have similar interest I usually will but most of them I ignore especially when I see they are over the 500 mark I think they are just going for bragging rights besides unless I am going to India what can they do for me?

rd6219
rd6219

I agree with jlh that Linked in is not a social izing site and in professional networking site it is meaningless to expect or get connected with only some one you know. Moreover, if you click on "I don't know" taking them as spammers you really are harming the new and ambitious linkedin networkers ........I am one of them.....I was really interested in few people's profile and sent them the invitations.....indicating why I was interested to get connected........ why........but surprisingly they clicked "I don't know" and now I am restricted.........I feel people should be more courteous than just clicking "I don't know". As some one mentioned in these posts do spend little more time to ask them why want to get connected. If not at least just ignore the message.......one must have at least this much courtesy!

The Ref
The Ref

LinkedIn is a great tool, and I only use it for people I know IRL. I have only one connection of someone I met once, and thought they would be a good business contact, all others I either know well, or well enough. I don?t see the point of blindly connecting to everyone. If I need to find someone who worked for ABC I just search, then follow my network to ask a question. I think asking a question of someone I don't know will be less likely to be answered honestly than if asked by someone they actually know. Regarding recommendations, the problem is that to get your profile 100% complete you need to receive three recommendations. I see this as a problem, and would rather see the 100% complete from making five (unrequested) recommendations. Recommendations may help if employers / recruiters are using web searches for checking out employees ? something that is happening more and more often. As a note, many employees are searching linkedin, facebook, myspace, and other sites when researching a possible candidate (I have done this myself to limited success, mainly because the people I have hired have not been in the system) LinkedIn is a good way to keep track of your network as the Home page provides a nifty little latest updates section that monitors changes made to your contacts' profile. When a colleague changes jobs, creates a new connection or starts a new project I can see an overview of the changes on my home page. This is a very different function from the forum / whitepaper / blog approach of TR. Both have different aims and I think both meet them well.

RationalGuy
RationalGuy

... between connections and endorsements is that nobody using LinkedIn really considers the fact that you are simply connected to someone to imply any deep connection with them. Certainly only endorse people whose work you can stand behind. After all, your endorsement of someone also affects your own reputation. However, expanding your network by connecting with people you know, however tenuously, has advantages for you. Expanding your network opens up your ability to connect with even more (possibly more significant) connections. Connecting with that co-worker who you barely knew 10 years ago might lead you to being able to reconnect with someone you really WANT to get back in touch with from that time. Often people only go back one or two jobs in their profile, and if there are mergers/acquisitions involved in their resume, they only list the position under one company. Consequently, the tools to help you find someone you used to work with can sometimes be a bit lacking. If you connect with "Sally" you might see that she's connected with "Kelly" who is connected with "Rita" -- the person you really want to reconnect with. Don't connect with people you don't know (unless you want to get to know them of course), but definitely do accept connections with people you know, regardless of how weak the connection is. It's NOT like going steady like the post says. It's like a polite "good morning" to someone you pass in the hallway. Remember, if someone you connect with turns out to be a hassle or a pain in the neck, you can easily remove the connection.

mary.mcfarlin
mary.mcfarlin

I am the owner of Linked in Chicago. Our focus is on creating more structure and leverage the power of the membership approaching 24K (adding 30-70 new members per day w'out alot of direct activity - goal to get to 30K by end of February and 50K by June - thru end of summer time-frame) to enhance the network-membership focusing on personal, professional goals, objectives and aspirations creating "Chicago Stories" via a series of concierge programs, services, joint ventures, affiliations, sponsors.

JandNL
JandNL

I would appreciate that! Thanks a lot!

Geekenstein
Geekenstein

I would appreciate those. I am exploring LinkedIn and will try the toolbar to see if it is something I could use. Thanks in advance.

kirk.bare
kirk.bare

It really annoys me when a recruiter (I do not know) looking for a position for which I am not at all qualified want's to join my network just to get access to my contacts. To me that is completely one sided, I don't know if it is unethicial, but it doesn't sit well with me.

GSG
GSG

My general reaction to anything he posts is "huh?" or "WTF?" The only other explanation is that it's in code. He's sending messages to the spies and he's using some sort of code to transmit the coordinates where they are to meet him to transfer the super-secret film. Or, he's just nuts and needs to increase his meds.

tuomo
tuomo

I'm connected to some recruiters, no problems. I have a "flaw" in character, I want to help my friends (and of course myself) and knowing a couple good recruiters often help. LinkedIn for me is four things, order of importance (after moving to Seattle), people who think like me and want to get together, keeping in touch with old friends, finding interesting projects and helping friends to connect. I haven't been solicited even once. Old friends may be a problem, you remember them but they don't remember you, not all people see the world same way?

kirk.bare
kirk.bare

I'm not trying to create a 'recruiter' stereotype. But, empty requests to join a circle are a bad sign that the person who is seeking membership is as you say a 'miner' instead of a farmer. Relationships are to be planted, cultivated, nurtured, and continually renewed. If someone wants to approach me outside my circle I'm more than happy to find out how that relationship can be beneficial to both parties. But it isn't done by requests to join circles without any kind of handshake and mutual acceptance.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

As a recruiter, I'll chime in... You're absolutely right about some recruiters. (As well as other open networkers.) Some basiclaly "mine" your contact list for potential candidates or clients. I actually have posted on my own profile that I'm very hesitant to connect with other recruiters unless I have worked with them personally. Even then, for recruiters to connect with one another is a strange arrangement, especially if they're competing on the same turf. As a rule of thumb, only connect with recruiters you feel you can trust. Also, there's no obligation to connect with us, unless you feel it's of some benefit to you, or perhaps your contacts. Please don't lump us all into the same category, though. There are a lot of good (and ethical) recruiters out there, and often we can be of significant value to both employers and job seekers.

kirk.bare
kirk.bare

Many times the recruiter just says 'I want to join', and that is all. Sorry, I'm not going to allow someone to join my network and use me as a link to get a bigger list of clients, or possibly abuse, harm, or stalk my circle.

Old Man on the Mountain
Old Man on the Mountain

I see your concern. In my case, if by accepting a recruiter's invitation I aid a contact in obtaining a new position, I'd be happy - as long as the recruiter doesn't harass them, in which case I'd "disconnect" them.