At a recent workshop, I was asked for strategies to decide what LinkedIn invitations to accept. This notion of networking attention as a limited resource inspired my latest post for Forbes on guidelines for deciding how to spend your networking time. I wanted the workshop participant (and would want this for my readers too!) to think more broadly about networking, not just LinkedIn.
That said, LinkedIn is a popular and powerful too for networking, and you will receive invitations to connect. So how do you decide what LinkedIn invitations to accept? Here are four considerations:
There is no one-size-fits-all
Some people are very specific about who they connect with. For example, I know recruiters who only connect with candidates after they have interviewed them. I know professionals who only connect with people they have directly worked with or know well in some other way. On the opposite extreme, there are the LION’s – LinkedIn Open Networkers who accept any and all invitations. I use a criteria in-between that was recommended by Sree Sreenivasan in a lecture he gave on digital media: connect with people you know, should know, or want to know. Pick a philosophy about how tightly or liberally you will define your circle of connections, recognizing that there is a range.
Size of your circle impacts your reach
I do recommend a more liberal over tight philosophy because the number of first connections you have impacts the second and third-degree connections available for you to see. If you have few first-degree connections, then searches you do will draw from a more limited pool (unless you pony up for the multiple thousands of dollars, all-access LinkedIn Recruiter plan). Introductions you can ask for will similarly be limited. If you are looking to move into a specific industry or functional area or are relocating to a new geography, you may want to relax your criteria with unknown contacts in your new targets.
Tailor your acceptance criteria to your situation
Moving into a new area and therefore more liberally accepting connections related to that new area is one example of tailoring your acceptance criteria. As I am now more active in real estate, recently expanding into Costa Rica, I more liberally accept invitations related to real estate and Costa Rica. I have also altered my criteria to maintain a balance of types of connections. Since my work encompasses various fields, I get invites from people in different industries and types of jobs. I get a lot of invites from coaches, and if I accepted every invite, it would quickly overwhelm my other connections, so I’m more judicious about which coaching invites I accept. I do work in lots of geographies, and the last time I traveled to Southeast Asia, I got inundated with invites from that area, many of which I declined except for people I know. You too should have a balanced network that reflects the type of work that you do, in terms of industry, function and geography.
Define your deal-breakers
In addition to the above three guidelines, I also look at the invitation itself. If there is no note, I am unlikely to accept it unless I instantly recognize the name (e.g., I just met that person in a recent workshop). If it isn’t obvious why the person would invite me (e.g., geography outside my work/ life area), I don’t accept. If the invite is someone who likely wants to sell me something (e.g., vendor to the HR industry), I don’t accept. You need to think of any deal-breakers that would make it easy for you to quickly say No.
However you ultimately decide to manage your LinkedIn invitations, make sure it’s a quick and efficient process. You want to spend your networking time developing deeper connections, not flitting around superficially among lots of new connections.