For the past eight months or so I have been getting LinkedIn connection requests on almost a daily basis – some from people I know, but the majority from loosely connected or total strangers.
Recently, this one-a-day average shot up dramatically to around five or six requests a day (I still haven’t figured out why) and just as I did with all the others, I accepted, accepted, and accepted, and now my LinkedIn account has so many connections that even LinkedIn can’t be bothered to count them and just simply tells me there are “over 500”.
Networking is all about meeting new people…
Now in this day and age of connectivity you might think having such a large network is a great thing – I mean, networking is all about meeting new people, right, and who you know could be the thing that lands you your next job opportunity and so on and so forth…
Well, up until last week I would have agreed with you wholeheartedly. You see, big time networking was my goal and my reason for signing up to LinkedIn four years ago. I wanted to connect with people on a professional level, in a way I couldn’t do on Facebook with all that ‘poking’ and wall posting going on.
Initially I adhered to LinkedIn’s strict warnings to only connect with people I knew personally in some shape or form and rejected all invitations that didn’t fall into the colleague, classmate, friend or “we’ve done business together” categories. This method served me well for the first few years and allowed me to build up a healthy network of over 300 quality connections.
And then my boundaries started to slip. I let in one or two oddballs here and there (after all, if I was going to extend my chances of networking effectively, wouldn’t it make more sense to network with people I didn’t already know?). The one or two later turned to four or five and then gradually I found myself blindly accepting every request that came through – desperate job seeker hoping for a lucky employment break through my connections…yes; random technical engineer from some remote part of the world I’ve never even heard of…yes; African Masters PhD university student looking for a British wife…huh, what? Yes, go on then.
This vicious circle would probably have carried on had the wise words of David McQueen not re-entered my living room and slapped me on both cheeks while I sat facing yet another LinkedIn request on my computer screen last week.
“Networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships”
At the beginning of the year I received a message in my LinkedIn inbox from David McQueen, a former TV presenter turned business speaker/coach, who also happens to be a real life connection (well, we’ve met in passing and spoken briefly a few times). In this message, David explained how he was spring-cleaning his networks in order to get the most out of them, and the second stop after purging his Twitter account was to prune his LinkedIn contacts. He said:
“I took a big look at my contacts and got rid of half of my contacts on here I hadn’t communicated with for ages. I believe networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships and so it is important to review that often.”
At the time I thought, that’s very brave and focused of you David, but I totally dig having an overly large network – I mean, you never know when you’re going to need to call on the services of that hairdresser in Texas you’ve just connected with, or that acupuncturist looking to expand his practice in your local area.
But I was wrong. I now understand what David meant by “mutually beneficial relationships” and of late, my LinkedIn account hasn’t been contributing to any kind of quality relationships, let alone mutually beneficial ones!
Everything has advantages and disadvantages…
Like everything, having a large network on LinkedIn has its advantages and disadvantages. Previously I only saw the advantages (from a job search perspective):
- You’re more visible to potential employers and recruiters because of your wider reach;
- There’s greater potential to find people in your network who currently work or have previously worked for a company you are interested in;
- Each connection you make has the potential to be a future stepping stone to your choice career; the more connections you have, the greater the probability of this coming to pass.
But now my eyes have been opened to the disadvantages too, mostly from firsthand experience:
- It’s more difficult to keep track of the activities of your connections and build quality relationships from there;
- It takes ages to find a relevant contact in a specific field in the time of need (it’s enough to make a person want to give up the will to live);
- You open yourself up to spammers who flood your inbox with generic marketing messages and invites to events you have not the slightest bit of interest in attending (“annoying” does not even begin to describe this).
Ultimately I’ve found that LinkedIn is at its most powerful for job search purposes when your connections reflect your real life relationships – the more meaningful your connections, the better the chance that those people will vouch for you when you’re looking to connect with potential employers in their network. They are also far more likely to pass on job leads to you than people you don’t know at all but have connected with on LinkedIn anyway.
So with all that said, as of this day I’m making a commitment to no longer accept random LinkedIn requests from strangers and if you’re job-hunting at the moment, I would recommend that you too make the same commitment because then, and only then, will you be able to truly experience the great benefits of online networking via LinkedIn.
About the Author
Mildred Talabi is the founder of CV Makeover Expert.com and the author of 7 Keys to a Winning CV: How to create a CV that gets results. Mildred trained as a journalist and worked for various publications, including The Guardian newspaper, before “accidentally” embarking on a career in CV and career advice. Today she spends most of her time delivering career talks, seminars and workshops to students and graduates, and writing a weekly blog on career issues and job hunting tips and techniques which you can find on her website www.mildredtalabi.com.