By Laura Smith-Proulx
Reluctant to accept LinkedIn invitations to connect from new contacts? Trying to limit your network to only people you already know?
If you are refusing connection invitations on LinkedIn because you don't know the person who sent you the invitation, you might want to rethink your strategy, particularly during a job search. Rebuffing offers or messages from others will prevent you from receiving most of the benefits of LinkedIn, including any leverage you're hoping to gain from the site.
Maybe you're worried that others are reaching out to you as a way to "game" the system or add you to a meaningless pool of Connections. While this can be true for some LinkedIn users, the majority of people are using the site to enhance their digital identity or create a wider professional network.
If you're still stuck on (or refusing to) accepting Connections that come your way via LinkedIn, here are some key points to consider:
Nothing looks worse on LinkedIn than joining just to say you did it… with a handful of Connections, a skeleton Profile, and no photo. You may as well announce to the world: "Don't contact me – I have better things to do."
Gathering Connections and educating others on your expertise are the most valuable reasons to be on LinkedIn. Don't pass up the opportunity to be an open, approachable professional who is prominent in your field.
Remember the world before LinkedIn… when strengthening your reputation and promoting yourself as a thought leader used to be much more time-consuming. Now, you have this opportunity despite a busy work or job-search schedule, so leverage it!
LinkedIn is designed as a social web, offering value to anyone who would otherwise not have an opportunity to widen his or her circle of professional contacts.
When you accept a Connection invitation, here's what happens: you're now just a 2nd-degree or 3rd-degree relationship away from someone (a recruiter, a hiring manager, a professional mentor) who could help you, both in your job search and throughout the future of your career.
With your new Connection, you not only receive better access to these contacts, but LinkedIn will also grant you access to read these users' Profiles – meaning you'll be able to see where they attended college, what employers they've worked for, and whether you share other professional relationships.
Sure, you might not know the person reaching out to you online – at least, this will be the case at first glance. But accepting someone else's invitation on LinkedIn now allows you to develop a relationship that could be fruitful in the future.
Consider this: if you were at a party, and someone walked up to you to introduce themselves, you'd probably stop to chat with them for a while.
Professionally, you won't want to ignore a new relationship on LinkedIn, either, because this same exchange of greetings (albeit online) allows you to form a new friendship or professional connection.
Whether you're in a job search or just want to increase your professional visibility, these new connections will often welcome a follow-up message, the occasional note, or an important question.
Consider what you might have missed by refusing LinkedIn Connections, and start letting more people into your online network.
You have very little to lose by doing so, and might even gain a better shot at being courted for a fabulous opportunity.
Job-Hunt's LinkedIn for Job Search Expert Laura Smith-Proulx, Executive Director of An Expert Resume, is an award-winning executive resume writer, national columnist, author, LinkedIn and SEO enthusiast, and past recruiter. Laura is author of How to Get Hired Faster: 60+ Proven Tips and Strategies to Access the Hidden Job Market. Connect with Laura on Twitter at @ResumeExpert, on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/laurasmithproulx, and on Google Plus.