LinkedIn is a professional networking group whose purpose is to provide its members a way to search and connect with each other to find jobs, people, and business opportunities in the network. The basic premise behind the service is a sort of on-line Rolodex that updates itself automatically.
An individual’s LinkedIn network consists of one’s immediate connections in addition to people who are 2 levels of being connected to any of those connections. So, as long as someone is within 3 levels of connecting to you, you may contact that person through an intermediate connection. It’s not unusual to significantly expand your overall network by adding a single connection, especially if that connection is well-linked. By the time I got to 30 connections, my network had grown to hundreds of thousands of people. Today I have nearly 150 connections and my total network is nearly 3 million people. There are about 14 million members on LinkedIn with many more joining daily.
Members typically put information in their profiles that is similar to what you’d find on a resume, such as their skills, the companies they’ve worked for, and schools they’ve attended. If you have worked at the same company as another member you find on LinkedIn, or went to the same school, it’s very easy to ask for a direct connection without the need to have an email address for them. However, LinkedIn’s stated policy is that members should only connect to people they know well and trust. This policy is not enforced, and rarely is it strictly adhered to by members. Some of the most enthusiastic LinkedIn members will connect to anyone, and, depending on one’s goals in using LinkedIn, it may be better aligned with an individual’s needs to do that. For example, if your purpose is to recruit employees, the more connections you make, the more search results you’ll get when trying to fill a job opening. So a recruiter will often want to have as many connections as possible. Similarly, if you’re looking for a job, you would benefit by connecting to more members since that will make it more likely you’ll show up in a search. You don’t have to worry about spam-like contacts on LinkedIn because if a person tries to connect to everyone on the network, they only need 5 reports from other members that ‘I don’t know this person’ before his account will be frozen. So that works to prevent unlimited random connection requests from people who are trying to just get large numbers of connections.
I first heard about LinkedIn a few years ago from a friend who had joined it. He invited me to join which resulted in me filling out a very short profile and then I waited for people to connect to me. This didn’t work very well. I got only a few invitations to connect to others in the first few years. Most requests were from people who were recruiters or “top linkers.” “Top linkers” is a term for people who try to collect as many links as possible without regard for knowing and trusting the individuals to whom they connect. They are usually recruiters.
It wasn’t until a few months ago when I knew I’d be leaving HP that I started requesting links of others that my network began to grow. Once it hit a critical mass of about 30 connections, I started getting more frequent requests from others to link to them, but most of my links have come as a result of being proactive about sending invitations to connect. I should mention that even when I had very few connections, I got a call from a recruiter at Apple who was looking to hire me away from HP. I also know a colleague I worked with at HP who recently landed a great job as a result of being found on LinkedIn with a keyword search.
I think a lot of people who join LinkedIn fall into the trap of waiting for something to happen like I did at first. Until you fill in your profile and make your first few links, you will be very hard to find on LinkedIn. Also, even if people do find you, they may conclude that you’re a reluctant participant if you only have a few connections. I sometimes find when I try to link to someone with only a few connections, I may not get a response from them. In some cases I’ve found that they forgot their LinkedIn login credentials or are using an email they don’t bother to check very often. In any event, if you want something to happen, you’ll need to put forth some effort in building your LinkedIn network.
The principle behind LinkedIn is similar to any professional network’s mission, that is, ‘giving to get’. Whenever I hear anyone complain about LinkedIn, it’s usually a result of not yet having adopted this helpful mindset. If someone is trying to remain anonymous on the Internet, or if they don’t like getting requests to help people, some of whom might be strangers, then LinkedIn may not be a good match for them. On the other hand, if someone is eager to network with others and has a friendly attitude toward helping others, then LinkedIn can be quite beneficial.
I don’t mind linking to people I don’t know yet, especially when we have something in common. I invite people I meet through my technical help web sites to link to me and have gotten connections to some very skilled and helpful people as a result. If you are a member of LinkedIn and would like to link to me, you can just add me as a friend using this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can change the standard LinkedIn greeting to let me know you found me through this blog posting.
Next time I’ll cover some tips on how to build your LinkedIn network.