I get a lot of invitations to connect on LinkedIn. This is no surprise because it’s a great tool for professionals to connect. What might surprise you is that I say no to a lot of invitations. Sometimes I feel bad saying no, so I send back a little description of the lessons I’ve learned from LinkedIn executives about how to use the service.

Because LinkedIn sponsors Brazen Careerist, I have had the opportunity to pepper LinkedIn mavens with random etiquette questions. So at this point, I have a few opinions of my own. Here’s my advice:

1. Don’t say yes to an invitation from a person you don’t really know.
LinkedIn works best as a way to leverage your professional circle of people you know well or know their work well. I love looking through my friends’ professional networks to get an idea of what introductions I could possibly get from a friend. My friend can say to her friend, “This is Penelope, you should get to know her because of x.” But this only works if my friend actually knows me and the other person well. Otherwise, I may as well make the introduction myself.

In that respect, your network on LinkedIn is really only as strong as your ties to the people in it. You will get more benefits from LinkedIn if you have a network of 30 people you know well than 300 people you don’t really know.

2. Don’t send invitations to people who don’t know you.
I feel like I kinda know Mike Arrington. I know I’d like to have dinner with him (does he ever stop blogging to have dinner?) I read his blog every day, and I know the type of connections he could offer me. But he doesn’t know me. Even if I have emailed him three times and posted ten comments on his blog, he doesn’t know who I am. He probably reads 400 emails and comments a day.

3. Don’t put your email address under your name on your profile.
When you appear in other peoples’ lists, if someone wants to connect with you, they have to go through your mutual connection, or they can email you directly. There is a reason LinkedIn works this way – the point is not to connect with everyone, it’s to connect with people you know. Someone who puts their email address right under their name is announcing that they will connect with anyone, and for the purposes of LinkedIn, this will weaken their network.

4. When you send an invitation, don’t apologize.
I get a lot of invitations that say, “Sorry for the form letter” but you’ll have to trust me that the most well connected, high-level, experienced people I know send the form letter. It’s fine. Also, people send invitations to me that say something like, “Okay, I’m doing the LinkedIn thing.” But it makes you look bad to invite someone to something you feel uncomfortable with, so if you can’t think of something good to write, just send one of the form letters.

5. Remind me how I know you.
Sometimes, I do actually know someone, but I communicate with so many different people every day, that I don’t remember. Yesterday I got an invitation that said, “It was great to do the podcast interview with you today” right before the standard LinkedIn invitation text. That was great. I knew exactly who the woman was and I connected. This also brings up another point, which is act immediately. The best invitations come right after you’ve made one, solid connection with a given person. For example, if you go back and forth in email six times, send an invitation that day.

6. Think about LinkedIn from the other person’s perspective.
Journalists, for example, will be harder to connect with. They are notoriously adept at telling people they have no time to talk. Also, journalists already have good access to a wide range of people. However a journalist will be happy to connect to, say, the managing editor of the New York Times. Know who you’re dealing with and where you fit in and then you’ll understand how well you need to know the person in order to connect. (Note: Here are good ways for Journalists to use LinkedIn.)

7. Keep things a little informal.
LinkedIn is a group of people coming together to help each other. More cocktail party than job interview. So, for example, make your resume a little chatty. The best LinkedIn profiles are a little more casual than a formal resume. I think I could actually fix mine up a bit in this regard. When I read a resume on LinkedIn, I am not scanning to see if I want to hire the person (which is the purpose of the formal resume format). Instead, I would like a sort of cocktail-party introduction about the person and what they are doing with their life. Don’t write paragraphs in your resume, but a short paragraph on LinkedIn is sort of nice.

Of course, this just scratches the surface of the nuances of LinkedIn. For example, if you work remotely, you can use LinkedIn to compensate for less face time. And if you are feeling like a power user, check out Linked Intelligence, the blog about how to use LinkedIn.

47 replies
  1. Joe
    Joe says:

    linkedin seems like a fraternity for professionals. Any time someone has to honor you with an invitation to join it make me suspicious.

  2. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    This is a great post. I’ve seen so much about LinkedIn lately, but not much practical advice on how to really use it as a professional. I think so many people see LinkedIn as a glorified job-seeker site, but there really are a lot of other great ways to use it.

    Here’s a question: to your point about not accepting from people you don’t really know, what’s the best way to define “know” in the virtual realm? How can you determine whether someone you’ve never met in person thinks they “know” you well enough to accept an invitation? In this case, is it best to just send them an invitation anyway and see how they respond?

    * * * * * *

    If you’re not sure, send an invitation. If I have to think twice about if I feel like I know someone or not, then I accept. So I figure other people must be like this as well.

    –Penelope

  3. Rebecca Thorman
    Rebecca Thorman says:

    I’ll be honest. I’ve never really understood LinkedIn. I keep a profile because I feel it’s the right thing to do, just like I keep a profile on MySpace. I think it’s because I’m a Facebook person and I think, why don’t all these people just join Facebook? What’s wrong with them?

    But this helps explain things a bit more, I suppose. Some of the top business professionals I know don’t have profiles though. And some of the best networkers I know barely have an online presence. It takes time to learn these web tools and networks, and I wonder if it’s actually the best use of my time or if I should cultivate relationships the old-fashioned way (gasp!). And this coming from a web-junkie!

  4. Richard
    Richard says:

    Overall having a linkedin profile is a nice thing to have. It seems to be the most established of the professional social networking sites. I expect to hear more about it once the job market gets tight again.

  5. MS
    MS says:

    Your post is right on the money, especially point #1. If I see someone with hundreds of contacts, I wonder if any of them are worthwhile.

  6. Mike Berry
    Mike Berry says:

    LinkedIn can become queasily addictive, like collecting baseball cards or comic books. But I’ve found it useful in finding people I haven’t heard from in a long while, especially by keeping track of whom my connections are contacting.

    Do I have cash-on-the-barrelhead proof of its efficacy yet? No, but I’d rather be represented there than on MySpace or Facebook. I wrote about LinkedIn on my blog earlier this week, including links to stories by Penelope and other career and marketing experts.

  7. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    The LinkedIn invitations now only give the recipient the choice of saying “yes” or “no, I don’t know this person”. If five of your sent out invitations recieve the “no, I don’t know this person” response your account will be suspended. This is to prevent people from being spammed. I feel apprehensive now about saying no, as I don’t want to assist in someone’s account being unnecessarily suspended. I guess I’ll have to leave their invites in limbo if I don’t wish to connect?

    * * * * * * *

    I leave them in limbo if I don’t want to connect. I think that’s fine. When I send an email explaining why I don’t link to people I don’t know, I send it to their email address. I don’t go through LinkedIn.

    -Penelope

  8. Andrey
    Andrey says:

    Hi, Penelope

    I especially like the fifth rule ‘Remind me how I know you.’ If someone properly complies with it, he might never fall under majority of others :)

  9. Becky
    Becky says:

    Oh please give me a break. It’s an online service. My advice is get as many people in your network as possible – you never know when someone you DON’T know will be able to help you out. Sorry – but your first point and your last do not mesh.

  10. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I use both LinkedIn and Facebook and to me, they are completely different.

    I have been a member of LinkedIn for years but didn’t do much with it for a long while. Recently I’ve taken on board some of the advice offered on sites like this one to try to use it properly. I’ve fixed up my profile so my CV page comes up on a Google search of my name, I’ve tried to link to more of my genuine, professional contacts, and I’ve written and received recommendations.

    However, I still don’t find it terribly useful and I haven’t noticed any great difference from doing all of this. To me, the most useful things about it are a) I get updates when people change jobs so I can send a ‘congratulations’ email and b) the LinkedIn Answers section is a good way to get advice on things like office software. I like having the LinkedIn profile come up on a Google search of my name but it’s a little pointless since my own site ranks higher!

    I have always been very careful with LinkedIn only to link to people I know. I disagree with Becky that it helps to have as wide a network as possible because I think it will just turn people off if they are getting requests from people they don’t really know. And the Answers function is useful in that respect because you can either ask the question of your network alone, or you can ask it publicly.

    However, I am curious to hear people’s / Penelope’s thoughts on what constitutes ‘knowing’ someone. Quite often I get invitations from friends who I know extremely well in a social context but I have never worked with them in a professional context so I can’t possibly recommend their work. Should I still be linking to these people? They are people I would happily do a favour for and (I hope) vice versa, but they are not technically a professional contact.

    Facebook, on the other hand, is simply for fun. I have only linked to people I have actually met (or in one or two cases whom I know quite well from online interaction) but I have nearly 100 friends. Facebook is a lively, exciting place to be but it’s not a professional tool and is really the antithesis of a productivity tool!

  11. Daniel Dessinger
    Daniel Dessinger says:

    Translation: You should have sent me a LinkedIn invite over the weekend!

    My bad. I think I have finally met my match when it comes to time spent online. I think it’s safe to assume that you’re logging more hours right now than I am (and I’m putting in 60 hrs this week).

    Here’s where I think we disagree: I’m all about accepting invitations from headhunters, people in my industry, and people who went to the same university. I don’t personally send out many invitations except to classmates from college. I might not even know them, but I feel that our small university gives me segue. My college invitation always includes a statement of what I do, that we attended the same university, and an offer to help them find a job or provide them with my services should they ever need them.

    I got the idea from the first guy who invited me. I had just joined LinkedIn, and this headhunter sends me an invite. I accept, and within a couple months, he hooks me up with a potential job. I wasn’t interested at the time, but I was grateful for the tip.

    I’m more than willing to help others finds jobs. My reasoning is this: once you’ve blessed someone by helping them find gainful employment, you have favor with them. You never know who will be able to return the favor one way or another.

    Think of it as sowing seed. It’s an investment in people, that may or may not yield a reward. In the meantime, it’s really fun!

  12. Darren
    Darren says:

    I think your points do all work together. I’ve got a LinkedIn profile that I haven’t fully developed yet, and I appreciate your thoughts on it.

  13. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    The comments here amaze me.

    1. Every working person should have a web presence and right now, LinkedIn is the best place to have it. Because that’s the first database a lot of recruiters go to when they get a search.

    2. Searches on LinkedIn only turn up people who are three degrees away from you, so you have to bring as many people as possible within three degrees in order to be in their active database

    Therefore, you should also put your email address after your name in the surname field so that people who want to extend their networks will send you an invitation.

  14. Resume Writer
    Resume Writer says:

    While I have a LinkedIn account, I really have not worked it the way I should have. I have some alumni from alma mater that I have networked with, but not much more than that.

    It’s good to know the guidelines for when I finaly get to this. Thanks.

    William Mitchell

  15. Insurance
    Insurance says:

    I can see the benefit Linkedin can bring however, I must admit that my list of connections is very low at present. I agree with the comment that there are people out there that treat Linkedin like a game to see who can get the most friends. It becomes annoying and as the writer suggests a total waste of time.

  16. Scarlet Pimpernel
    Scarlet Pimpernel says:

    Penelope – although I appreciate your efforts to discuss the topic of LinkedIn and its etiquette – your responses are completely out of whack with the real world. Moreover, they are in keeping with someone who has had an insider’s circle of contacts and which has allowed her to avoid the dirty business of creating LinkedIn contacts from scratch. I respect your view of the world but it is not the real world. You – as do so many others who review the different aspects of LinkedIn – forget that the whole reason of LinkedIn is to CREATE RELATIONS !!! What the @*&#^$%@*&#^$ is the goal of offering people to invite and connect electronically on this web platform, if they are denied a response. Believe it or not, before Steve Jobs met Steve Wozniak they both were allowed to say <> but that did not stop them from sharing their names, their love for technology, and their ideas. LinkedIn is a serious step back from business etiquette because it pretends to be something that it is not: namely a channel for open introductions to facilitate business relationships.

  17. San Diego Sex Crimes
    San Diego Sex Crimes says:

    I think LinkedIn is the future to finding a job (if it is not already). There are no more sending resumes out – the future will be online resumes with photos and recommendations from other professionals.

  18. Irfan
    Irfan says:

    the goal of offering people to invite and connect electronically on this web platform, if they are denied a response. Believe it or not, before Steve Jobs met Steve Wozniak they both were allowed to say

  19. Ancilla Tilia
    Ancilla Tilia says:

    I’ll be honest. I’ve never really understood LinkedIn. I keep a profile because I feel it’s the right thing to do, just like I keep a profile on MySpace. I think it’s because I’m a Facebook person and I think, why don’t all these people just join Facebook? What’s wrong with them?

    But this helps explain things a bit more, I suppose. Some of the top business professionals I know don’t have profiles though. And some of the best networkers I know barely have an online presence. It takes time to learn these web tools and networks, and I wonder if it’s actually the best use of my time or if I should cultivate relationships the old-fashioned way (gasp!). And this coming from a web-junkie!

  20. Brad
    Brad says:

    I get invitations to linkedin all the time. In most cases it is people i dont know. I guess these people think they will get a job or move ahead in the world if they spam people. Go figure.

  21. jewelora
    jewelora says:

    Your profiles on Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn should be spruced up and optimized as much as possible to make you as attractive as you can be to a potential employer.

  22. Natalie Loopbaanadvies
    Natalie Loopbaanadvies says:

    I have been looking for a job for months now. A friend of mine suggested that I create an account in LinkedIn. Thank you for this very informative post. Now I know what and what not to do. If you want to separate your personal and professional contacts, I think Linkedin would be a nice site for your professional contacts.

  23. System Mechanic Review
    System Mechanic Review says:

    Twitter lacks profile depth, Facebook is all over the place demographically and is also hard to find people. LinkedIn standardizes information entered by users into predefined "Profile Headline", "Summary", "Education", "Company", etc. categories. LinkedIn provides an awesome search tool to allow you to pinpoint the person you are looking for depending on a number of very specific factors.

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