By Aja Frost
Back in the day, etiquette rules were fairly simple. Always send a thank-you card. Don’t put your elbows on the table. Hold the door open for other people.
However, social networks have made matters much more complicated, and Emily Post isn’t much help when it comes to online etiquette. That’s why we’ve compiled the ultimate list of LinkedIn dos and don’ts. (Thank-you card not required.)
Do: Connect With People Right Away
It might be considered desperate or creepy to friend someone on Facebook right after you’ve met that person, but LinkedIn has completely different rules. I’ll chat with someone for 10 minutes at a conference, leave to attend a session, and request to connect with him or her as I walk away. The longer you wait after the meeting, the less likely people are to remember you. So don’t feel weird—send that request.
Don’t: Try to Connect With Someone When You’re Not on His or Her Profile
Say you’re scrolling through LinkedIn’s list of “People You May Know.” Underneath each person’s headshot and title, you’ll see a blue box that says “Connect.” Don’t click it—you won’t get a chance to customize your invitation. Similarly, if you’re looking at search results, you’ll see a blue connect box to the right of each person’s info. Using that button won’t allow you to make your request unique. The only way you can change the connection request is if you click “Connect” when you’re on someone’s profile.
Do: Personalize Every Single Connection Request
If you take one thing away from this article, it should be customizing your requests.
Which would you rather get from a co-worker: “I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn,” or “Hi, Sam! Congrats on getting second in the hackathon. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next.”
Most of the time, the person you’re requesting will accept whether you use the default message or not. But tailored messages make people feel special. It’s worth the extra effort.
Don’t: Send Requests More Than Twice
After three weeks of my internship at a small media company, I’d finally gotten the chance to sit down with the CEO for an informational interview. We ended up talking for 90 minutes, not 20, and I walked away confident she’d remember me. Yet months and months went by—and she still hadn’t accepted my LinkedIn invitation.
While I was tempted to “remind” her by withdrawing my request and then sending a new one, I decided not to. Being pushy would only make her more likely to say no; besides, LinkedIn automatically reminds the person you’ve asked if he or she hasn’t yet answered your invitation.
Finally, last month, she became my connection. (I’m guessing she had a huge archive of unanswered requests she finally went through.) I’m relieved I didn’t badger her.
The takeaway: Be patient. Re-sending an invite will only lower your chances for success.
Do: Use LinkedIn as an Alternative to Informational Interviews
The informational interview is a wonderful resource—but as Muse writer Elliott Bell points out, it’s hard to convince strangers to set aside a portion of their lives to meet you at Starbucks.
If you’re approaching someone who you already know is really, really busy or unlikely to say yes, consider sending him or her a LinkedIn connection request instead.
Here’s what I’ve used:
Dear Influential Person,
Your work for X Company is unlike any content marketing I’ve seen before. If you had a spare moment, could you tell me what it’s like to build custom content for high-profile brands like Pepsi and CitiBank? Specifically, how do you maintain editorial integrity while accomplishing the client’s goals? I’m hoping to go into content marketing and would appreciate any takeaways you may have.
Thank you so much,
About half of the time, I’ll receive a response, and sometimes, our online conversation will actually evolve into a real informational interview.
In any case, it’s ideal for getting insight from people who otherwise might not have time for you.
Don’t: Neglect to Look at Someone’s Contact Policy
Maybe you’ve hunted down your role model or someone who works at your dream company. AsMuse writer Lily Herman explains, “Before you click the ‘Message’ button and declare your admiration, make sure you check that person’s profile to see if there are any specific requests about messages.”
Some people prefer email over LinkedIn for inquiries, some people don’t want to hear from strangers at all, and some people (like career expert Larry Kim) will talk to or connect with virtually anyone!
Do: Connect With Recruiters
If you’re looking for a job, one of the first steps you should take is finding recruiters in your industry and connecting with them.
In your request, explain you’re actively seeking new opportunities and would love if he or she could pass along any relevant ones. You can also explain you’d be happy to call upon your network if the recruiter needs any candidates for other positions.
Don’t: Ignore Recruiters When You’re Not Looking for a Job
You could be completely satisfied with your job and have no expectations of leaving for the next 20 years. You still shouldn’t ignore recruiters—it’s impossible to know what will happen to your workplace, so you should cover your bases.
If a recruiter messages you to share a job opportunity, be very honest and say you’re not looking for a job. However, you should leave the door open for future contact. For example:
Thank you for reaching out! I am not looking for a job at this time, but I’ll be sure to update you if that changes. In the meantime, would you like me to connect you with a contact of mine who is open to a new role? He has similar qualifications and could be perfect for the job you described. Please let me know, and thank you again for your inquiry.
Do: Connect With People Who Work at Your Dream Company
You’ve heard that the best way to get noticed by a company is to come in via a referral, so absolutely use LinkedIn to help you get in front of people who work at your dream employers.
Say you wanted to work at the Muse. Type “The Muse” into LinkedIn, and then refine the search by choosing the option to only see people currently employed by the company.
If you’ve got a first degree connection, woo-hoo! Here’s how to ask for a referral.
Maybe you only have a second degree connection. Go ahead and contact your first degree contact (the mutual connection), and ask him or her for an introduction.
No shared connections? That’s OK. Here’s how to get around that problem using LinkedIn groups.
Don’t: Connect With the Hiring Manager
During your pre-interview research, you find the hiring manager’s profile and figure you’ll request her to show how interested you are. Or maybe she already interviewed you, and it went great—so you figure you’ll connect and send her a note thanking her for your meeting.
Don’t do it. As a hiring manager once told us:
“There is nothing inherently wrong with it. But it just feels like they are putting the cart before the horse. I feel uncomfortable because we don’t really have a reason to connect. If I loved a candidate, it wouldn’t stop me from hiring them, but if I was on the fence, it would sway me to go in another direction.”
Do: Turn Off Your Activity When You’re Updating Your Profile
When you’re giving your profile an overhaul, you don’t want to bombard your connections with dozens of updates. Go to your LinkedIn Privacy and Settings page (found by clicking on your photo in the top right-hand corner) and finding the option to “Turn on/off your activity broadcasts” underneath Privacy Controls.
After you make your changes, turn your activity broadcast back on so people can see when you get a new job, add new skills, or have a work anniversary.
Don’t: Post Too Much or Too Little
One of my connections is a “super user” when it comes to LinkedIn—and not in a good way. Every day, he posts two or three articles, advertises his personal site, and publishes on LinkedIn Pulse. If he did just one of those, it wouldn’t be a problem, but I got tired of having my newsfeed clogged up with his activity. I ended up blocking him. (To block people, go to their page, click the upside-down blue triangle to the right of their picture, and choose “Block or Report.”)
His case is rather unique; most people don’t post enough on LinkedIn. As a general rule, aim to post a couple of times per week, and no more than once per day. You’ll stay visible without annoying your network.
Do: Congratulate People (the Right Way) When They Update Their Positions
On the upper right side of your homepage, there’s a box where LinkedIn shows you all of your connections who have recently added new jobs, celebrated a work anniversary, or changed a photo.
It’s tempting to merely “like” the status or write a quick “Congrats!” but you won’t be doing yourself any favors in terms of networking.
To network meaningfully, you have to show some effort. Writing a thoughtful comment—rather than a bland, generic one—will not only strengthen the connection between you and the professional you’re addressing, but it will also make you look good to everyone who sees your comment in their newsfeed.
For example, when one of my contacts became a staff writer for a well-known magazine, I wrote, “I can’t wait to read your pieces! Your writing is always clear, concise, and engaging, and your choice of topics is always spot-on. The magazine’s editors are lucky to have you.”
The extra effort is minimal, while the effect on our professional relationships is big.
Don’t: Congratulate People When They’re Updating an Out-of-Date Profile
Now, you’re all excited to write great comments on all your connections’ statuses. However, be careful.
If someone is updating an out-of-date profile, you’ll look silly and inattentive for congratulating him or her for getting a job he or she has had for years.
Or say your contact got demoted or fired. He might change his title from “Corporate Analyst at X Company” to “Seeking new opportunities.” You probably don’t want to congratulate him on his misfortune.
Bottom line: Make sure you’re congratulating people on the right things.
Do: Give Endorsements When You Can
While I don’t believe endorsements are quid pro quo, I absolutely think you should endorse people with whom you’ve worked closely. I make a point of going to my co-workers’ and supervisors’ profiles periodically to check which skills they’ve added. For example, if I watched my boss give an amazing presentation, I’ll recommend her for “PowerPoint,” and “public speaking.” It’s a much more meaningful way to give endorsements than arbitrarily recommending a person for every skill he or she has listed. Think of how fun it would be to write a great report and then get an endorsement from your colleague for “trend analysis” and “research.”
Of course, you shouldn’t feel like you have to endorse anyone just because he or she endorsed you. In general, I only endorse people for skills I know they have—otherwise the entire system is pointless.
Don’t: Be Afraid to Ask for Endorsements
Maybe you’re trying to emphasize your social media skills on your LinkedIn profile, but only a couple people have endorsed you for “Twitter,” or “Facebook,” or “social networks.” Don’t be afraid to send your contacts a message asking them to endorse you for those key skills. When I did this, I picked around eight people I knew had seen me use my target skills, and messaged them:
Hope you’re doing well! I’m trying to flesh out my LinkedIn profile and would be so grateful if you could endorse me for storytelling and creative writing. Of course, if you’re too busy or feel uncomfortable with that, I completely understand.
Do: Be Generous With Giving Recommendations
By generous, we definitely don’t mean with the truth—we mean in how many you give. You may feel way too busy to respond to every single recommendation request you get. However, if you don’t have time to write someone a great one, there’s no shame in asking him or her to write it for you.
Dear Former Intern,
Thank you for the recommendation request—I’d be happy to write you a review! Would you mind sending over a “brag” list of your qualifications and achievements for my reference?
Thanks so much,
Don’t: Feel Obligated to Recommend Sub-Par Employees
However, you have no obligation to recommend people who don’t deserve it. Suppose you get a request from a woman who used to work with you who failed to pull her weight in group projects, showed up late, and left early. Everyone in the office was happy when she left for another job. Now she’s asking for a recommendation. Since she’s in your industry, you don’t want to burn any bridges, but you also don’t want to give her a review she hasn’t earned—which could harm your credibility.
You might be tempted to just ignore her request, but that’s a little passive-aggressive and unprofessional. (Don’t forget she’ll be able to see her pending request!) Instead, send a polite but honest message.
“Say something like, ‘Listen, I’m not the right person,’ or ‘I’m not the right fit for this, but good luck,’” recommends Jodyne Speyer, empowerment guru and author of Dump ’Em: How To Break Up With Anyone From Your Best Friend to Your Hairdresser in a great article about turning down a reference request. “Don’t give a laundry list of reasons why you can’t do it. Just get in and get out. Be prepared for the ‘why?’ but don’t allow for any room for them to fight you on it.”
Do: Send an Awesome Recommendation Request
I conducted a mini-experiment.
First, I asked five colleagues for recommendations using LinkedIn’s default: “I’m writing to ask if you would write a brief recommendation of my work…”
Then, I asked five similar colleagues for recommendations using customized messages, like Muse columnist Jenny Foss recommends:
Hi Jill, I hope everything’s going well in Texas! I’m writing to ask if you’d be willing to write a LinkedIn recommendation for me that highlights my crisis communications skills. Ideally, I’d love for you to outline the experience you had with me through the Def Con 5 initiative last year in Tulsa. I’m working hard to transition into a senior communications role, and most of the employers I’m considering put a strong focus on crisis communications.
After one week, only one person in the first group had recommended me—versus four people in the second.
When you’re requesting recommendations, be as specific as possible. The more details you share, the easier your connection’s job will be.
Don’t: Forget the “Remind” and “Withdraw” Buttons
Under your recommendations page, you can see your pending recommendation requests. There are two options: You can remind your connection you’ve asked for a request, or you can withdraw it.
I use the remind option if it’s been a couple weeks and the person I’ve asked is someone I’m fairly confident won’t resent a friendly nudge. LinkedIn lets you edit the original message; I’ll usually preserve the body but add to the top:
“Dear So-and-So, I know you’re busy, so let me know if I can help by writing a potential draft for you! Thank you again, Aja.”
There are some people it would be inappropriate to remind—usually because they have way more rank then me, or I only know them in a very professional sense. In those cases, I’ll withdraw my request after it goes unanswered for a couple months.
Do: Remove or Update Recommendations You Don’t Like
Maybe your boss does answers your request, but you can tell she wrote it in the five minutes between her conference call and another meeting. It’s lukewarm, completely generic, or even incorrect. A bad review isn’t better than no review at all, so take it off. To do this, un-check the small box next to the recommendation. LinkedIn will remove it from your profile until you choose to show it again.
Suppose your job responsibilities have significantly changed in the two years since your manager recommended you. Find his or her recommendation and hover your mouse over it. An option to “Ask for changes” will appear underneath. Send a message saying you’d love if he or she could update your recommendation to reflect your [insert achievements here] as well as your [insert new duties here].
Don’t: Forget to Thank People Who Have Recommended You
If someone has taken the time out of his or her day to recommend you (even if it’s copying and pasting your “sample” recommendation), he or she probably expects some recognition. You can send a LinkedIn message expressing gratitude for the kind words, give your own recommendation, or (my favorite option) hand-write a thank-you note.
Do: Respond to Recommendation Requests From People You Don’t Know Well
It’s always bizarre when near-strangers ask you to commend to their work. Again, you could ignore them, but why accrue the bad career karma? Instead, say:
Dear Person I Don’t Know,
I appreciate that you value my opinion enough to ask me for a recommendation request! Unfortunately, I have a policy of writing recommendations only for people with whom I’ve worked closely. If we ever get the chance to do so, I’d be more than happy to recommend you.
Please let me know if there’s anything else I can help with.
Don’t: Ask a Ton of People for Recommendations at Once
Foss, who’s a recruiter, says she looks at the dates of each recommendation on a candidate’s profile. If they’ve all come in at the same time, she assumes they’ve sent messages to half their LinkedIn network in a last-minute attempt to build credibility.
Instead of going from zero to 60, Foss recommends spacing out your requests so they look like they’re coming in organically. I usually stick to one request a month.