Should I accept?
That’s the question many people ask every day when using LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional social network. I used LinkedIn extensively when starting my business, and it led to numerous highly beneficial relationships and opportunities. (Having been recently acquired by Microsoft only gives the company further reach and resources.)
Still, it’s not necessarily helpful to accept all the connection invites you receive. Your connections will immediately have access to certain information about you, including your email (or other contact information listed on your profile). Accept too many of the wrong invites, and your inbox will quickly fill up with spam, or even worse, scams.
So how do you decide which invites to accept and which to ignore?
Your personal strategy and purpose for using LinkedIn will influence the answer to that question (a recruiter will use LinkedIn differently than a salesperson or a business owner), but the following questions can get you pointed in the right direction.
Before accepting a LinkedIn invitation to connect, ask yourself:
1. Do I know this person?
This question’s easy to answer if you know the person well, but maybe you met him or her briefly at a recent conference. Or maybe it’s an acquaintance that you barely remember–but you can see potential advantages in connecting.
2. Did they send a personal message?
It takes much more effort to type out an individual message than to simply hit a button that says “Connect.” (Just hitting the button sends the default invitation message, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn,” followed by your name.)
Unfortunately, relatively few people take advantage of the option to personalize their invite. (You really should if you’re the one sending the invitation.) But when they do, their message can help you determine if it’s worth connecting.
3. Who else are they connected to?
When someone invites you to connect, you have the option to see their network. (Depending on their settings, you may be able to see only connections you share in common, but even this information can tell you a lot.)
For example, are they connected to:
- others in your line of business with good reputations? Perhaps even industry leaders?
- people you respect or with whom you have strong relationships?
- others you want to connect with?
A yes to any of the above might convince you to accept the invite.
4. Does their profile have a photo? If so, what does it convey?
As a general practice, I don’t connect with people who have no picture attached to their profile. (Makes me wonder, “What are they hiding?”)
But you can also tell a lot about people from the photo they choose. Is it professional? Did they at least put some effort into it?
If the person took the pic in the mirror with a cell phone, he or she probably isn’t going to add much value to your LinkedIn network.
5. What is their industry and job description?
Of course, connections related to your industry are great.
But think a little outside the box, too. Maybe you’re a small-business owner looking for marketing help…or you happen to need a new accountant. It’s not that you’re going to hire this person–but including them in your network can broaden your reach and help you find the right fit.
6. Where are they from?
If the person comes from another country, where you have no desire to do business, the cons of connecting will often outweigh the pros.
In contrast, if you’re looking to make connections in a certain part of the world, you might give those invitations a closer look. (For example, I welcome invitations from China because there’s a lot of interest in many of the themes I write about–and it’s a huge market I haven’t tapped into yet.)
7. Do they have any endorsements or recommendations?
When one of your connections endorses you for a particular skill, you’ll get a message asking if you want that endorsement to appear under the “top skills” section of your profile. (However, many LinkedIn members rack up numerous endorsements from people who barely know them.)
Recommendations, on the other hand, are personally written notes by a connection who was a colleague or did business with you. Recommendations are more valuable than endorsements because the person recommending has to invest time and go out of his or her way to submit it.
So when trying to decide whether or not to accept an invite, pay special attention to the person’s recommendations, as this can give you some insight into that person’s abilities and character.
8. Have they published anything on LinkedIn?
Under a person’s profile, you’ll be able to see if they’ve published any blog posts on LinkedIn’s platform. These articles will tell you a lot–from their style of work to their interests and viewpoints.
You may even learn something from what they’ve written.
9. Do they have any recent activity?
When you view a potential connection’s profile, you can select the arrow next to the “Send InMail” box, which will reveal the option to “View recent activity.” Click that, and you’ll see everything the person has liked, commented on, and posted in recent weeks.
This information can be very helpful in painting the picture of what type of connection this person will be, and what will start to appear in your feed once you connect.
10. What does the profile tell me about the person?
As you scroll through a profile, you’ll see a person’s current work description, past positions, where they went to school, specific interests, and more. All of that information can aid your decision.
11. How many connections do they have?
This last question isn’t always so important to me. But it can be a helpful metric if you have a bunch of invitations and you’re trying to blast through them.
For example, if I’m on the fence and not especially motivated to connect with a person, the fact that they have a small number of connections won’t make a huge difference in expanding my overall network. So that might be the deal breaker, so to speak. (But I connect with plenty of people with small networks when there’s a good reason for it.)
Putting It Into Practice
There you have it, the 11 questions I typically ask before connecting on LinkedIn. If it seems like a lot, you can always adjust to your personal needs and strategy.
Just remember: LinkedIn is an extremely powerful platform for furthering your career and building your business, so handle those invitations wisely.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.