I've recently been involved in many conversations both with mentors as well as mentees around the usefulness and etiquette of LinkedIn. I believe LinkedIn to be a fantastic networking tool for professionals. If you've been reading this blog you know the value I place on networking as a necessary skill to find jobs, increase influence, get a promotion, etc. For the shier, more introverted among us LinkedIn takes some of the face to face "hardship" out of the networking process. It doesn't replace in-person interpersonal skills but it makes introductions and maintaining contacts over the long term much easier. Go-go-go social media!
One major topic of these recent conversations has been around from whom to accept invitation requests? Clearly when we know and respect the person reaching out to us it's easy to accept the link up request. But we all get invitations from people we either don't know at all or have long since forgotten and are surprised about the contact. My policy is the following:
- I do not accept invitations from people I have never met in person or at least by phone. I need to know who you are before adding you to my network of folks who may inquire about you and the nature of our relationship.
- "Long lost folks/Do you remember me?" requests: Keeping in mind that a) networking is unbelievably beneficial in business life; b) you never know who can help you achieve your business goals - I apply a different measure. If the person reaching out is someone I'd be willing to help out or have help me out one day then I accept. This means I almost always accept.
- I know many salespeople use LinkedIn to find prospects and I wonder whether that really works? It doesn't with me or anyone I know. If you want to contact me about a product or service send me an email first rather than a LinkedIn invite (see #1).
On asking for recommendations: I think it's good to ask for a recommendation from anyone you'd ask a regular written or phone recommendation from assuming they are an an avid Linkedin user. What do I mean by an 'avid LinkedIn user'? There are many LinkedIn 'dabblers' who use it more as a modern day necessary evil and don't want to feel pressured to write something up. But these folks would happily give a phone reference. How can you tell? Take a look at their LinkedIn profile. If a) their profile is pretty threadbare; b) they have relatively few connections; or c) they've never recommended anyone then you're probably looking at someone who won't be too enthusiastic about authoring a recommendation. There are exceptions of course. In the end you can always ask. Be sure to make your request in a manner that allows them to easily decline.
Over time as these recommendations age you may not actively expect a phone recommendation from all these people. That's ok as long as at the time you asked you would have expected one. Make sense?
On giving recommendations: Because a LinkedIn recommendation is written thing and on the Internet and in a sense "permanent" thanks to archiving I would only recommend people who you could also call on you to be a phone reference. (Same general approach as above but in reverse!) Imagine the request to you was for a phone reference instead. If you aren't excited about that imagined conversation then politely decline the write up request. Otherwise go for it. TWO important clarifications/exceptions:
- Try to avoid at all costs cross-recommendations! Cross-recommendations are when two people recommend each other. I strongly believe this devalues all LinkedIn recommendations because there is conflict of interest. Employers will see through this and no one wins. When I ask for a recommendation I let that person know this policy and I explain why. I also say that I completely understand if they don't want to write up a recommendation for me if they absolutely expect one immediately in return. People have different approaches and expect reciprocation so I like to get that out of the way. One way to get around the cross-recommendation issue is to have one person recommend the other for a time and then switch. How do you decide who goes first? If one of you is looking for a job I think they should get the recommendation first. Then once they've landed it's time to return the favor and hide the original recommendation.
- I said earlier to only write up LinkedIn recommendations for folks who could count on you to be a phone or written reference but the converse is not true for me. I would be a phone reference for far more people than a LinkedIn reference. Why? For several reasons including: a) avoiding cross-recommendations; b) if I have not worked with the person in a very long time; c) if I have not worked very closely with the person. In these 2 latter situations it's easier to explain the context over the phone than in a short write up.
There are always exceptions as I stated. And these are my thoughts as of today only! As the world of social media evolves my opinions will likely evolve as well. I'd love to hear about your thoughts and approaches too in the comments below or in an email to me.