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?
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.