If you have been on LinkedIn for any time at all, you have noticed that you have the option of connecting to other people. At first, you will want to connect to people you know well such as co-workers, former co-workers, and friends. How many people should you connect to and are there advantages and disadvantages to connecting to 100s of people?
There are at least two schools of thought when it comes to how many people you should connect to. Some people only want to connect to people they know very well. They have some privacy concerns and/or they are concerned that they will be indebted in some way to anyone they are connected to. For example, maybe they will be asked to give a recommendation.
The other school of thought is that you should connect to as many people as you can. The more people you connect to, the more widely you are known. If there is some advantage in your job to knowing 1000s of people, then there is probably some merit to this. If you are a sales person with a national account, you would like to have have 1000s of connections.
I guess the third school of thought would be a combination of the two. Connect to a lot of people, but do not try to connect to just anyone you can find. I subscribe to this third school of thought.
As I have mentioned, I am in career transition (looking for a job). I meet people every week at job networking groups and about half of them want to connect with me. Also, I have known a lot of people in the industry after 15 years of marketing, so my personal network is pretty big. If I have met you, I will connect with you. However, I am reluctant to connect to people I have never even exchanged an email with. Something about a request to connect from a total stranger seems a bit unwise to me. I can only assume they want to sell me something and spam me with MLM schemes. The benefit will be decidedly one sided.
So why would I connect with someone I have only met once for a few minutes at a job networking meeting? There are at least three reasons for this:
First of all, I do not know if that person might become important to me in the future. I end up making friends with a lot of job seekers and we do a lot to help each other.
Second, when you are connected to a person, you are able to fairly easily connect to everyone they are connected to. If, for example, they worked 10 years for Texas Instruments and you want to apply for a job at TI, chances are very good that they will have a fair number of connections to people who work at TI. You can start networking with people inside TI fairly easily. If, on the other hand, you are not connected to anyone who worked for TI, it is much more difficult to connect to someone who works for TI. LinkedIn makes it hard to connect to total strangers. You at least have to be connected to someone who is connected to someone, who is…(three degrees of separation) before you can connect to a person. The more people you are connected to, the better your chances are that you will be able to connect to someone in a company you are targeting.
And finally, it is not all about me. Maybe I can help them. Maybe I can help them connect to someone in my network, answer a question, or forward them a job lead.
What are the down sides to being connected to 200+ people? You get a lot of Network Updates on people you barely know. It is harder to find the people you want to get in contact with through LinkedIn because your “Connections” list is long. Headhunters tend to disdain people with massive numbers of connections. They would much rather see a list of 200 connections that you obviously have some frequent interactions with. A massive list of connections makes a person look like they are simply collecting a bunch of useless contacts with people they do not know.
I will say that LinkedIn can be an excellent way to find people you lost contact with in the early days of your career. There may be 10,000 “Bill Andersons” but if you had a mutual friend with an odd name like “Torbin Marbuquerque” you can see if Torbin in linkedin (assuming you can remember how to spell his or her name) then see if Torbin has connected with anyone from the early days…eventually finding your way to Bill Anderson. It is like a game of Clue in some respects.
So, figure out who you want to connect do. Don’t go nuts and connect to your barber but don’t be too restrictive either. Having 200 – 300 connections will make it easier for you to find that person on LinkedIn you want to connect to.
And what about that bosses’ boss from 15 years ago who would never remember you…but who is now an EVP at the company you want to work at more than anything? You have the option, when asking someone to Link-in with you, to add a little note. “Hi Bill, I worked for Torbin Marbuquerque in the DSP group at Forest Lane 15 years ago and would like to stay in contact with you. I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network.” 9 times out of 10, that is enough to make them interested in linking up with you.
As a matter of fact, I recommend that you always add some sort of note instead of the standard LinkedIn message. Keep it simple, “It was a pleasure to meet you at the UNT Alumni mixer yesterday. I’d like to keep in contact with you by adding you to my LinkedIn network.” If that does not do it, then they just do not want to connect to you.