Question

Is there a trick to making LinkedIn connections pay off? I’ve got over 1000 LinkedIn connections, but it almost seems the more I have the less chance anyone is going to respond to my messages. I use the paid version.

Nick’s Reply

1000 LinkedIn ConnectionsA while ago I commented on a LinkedIn thread about this very question. It was another round of posts from people touting their 1000+ connections. In my opinion, nobody has 1000 real connections on LinkedIn. They have a phone book.

I think LinkedIn is the world’s best phone book, with pictures and resumes. Period.

What is a LinkedIn connection?

If a “connection” wouldn’t drop what they’re doing for a moment to help you out (because they know and respect you), then they’re not a real connection. You’re kidding yourself.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s main business is selling our “connections” to recruiters who know nothing about us — and who don’t care. Then we complain those recruiters wasted our time because they don’t really know us!

Duh. That’s how LinkedIn actually works. Or doesn’t. A LinkedIn connection is a database record of a person and a link to your record. Nothing more.

Professional network, or phone book?

What’s a real contact (or connection)? I think it’s someone with whom you’ve shared enough experiences that they will refer you to someone who trusts them. It’s someone who trusts that  you won’t misuse their name and recommendation.

Nobody has 1000 real contacts that they really trust and that really trust them. That’s why when Reid Hoffman launched LinkedIn, he recommended connecting only to people you actually know, trust and have worked with.

What happened? Hoffman cashed out by selling “seats” to recruiters who bought access to millions of people they didn’t know anything about. Recruiters that used to rely on phone directories. That’s when LinkedIn became just another job board. That’s when it turned into the world’s biggest phone book (with pictures and resumes ). That’s when LinkedIn stopped cautioning users to connect only to people they know.


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You have to earn a person’s trust

LinkedIn is a pretty good database of people that you can benefit from using. I love it when I need a quick rundown on someone. Some of the articles users post are pretty good; some are even very good. But it’s not the professional network Hoffman originally envisioned.

While some people seem to be able to “work their connections,” it seems many more go through the motions because they’re told LinkedIn is where you’ll find “connections” who will introduce you to your next job. But real connections are all about substance, about shared experiences. To paraphrase a famous old TV commercial, “You have to EARN a connection!” Just like you must earn a person’s trust.

Real contacts are people you’ve gotten down in the dirt with and with whom you’ve done something meaningful. Tapping the ENTER key isn’t a shared experience. Logging connection #999 is not a shared experience.

I don’t believe 500, 1000, 1200 or even 5000 connections are meaningful. Check your experience and the outcomes of using LinkedIn to find a job. I think you already have.

So, what’s the point? Having lots of “contacts” on LinkedIn and messaging them for help is not nearly as good as going out into the world and mixing it up — doing stuff together that reveals who you are and that you’re worthy of someone’s time. I think that’s where most jobs come from. You can find almost anyone on LinkedIn, but you’ll have to do a whole lot more to create the kind of trust that leads to a job recommendation.

How many real, meaningful connections do you have on LinkedIn? Do you accept all requests? When a contact messages you, do you always take time to respond helpfully? Can anyone really have 1000 meaningful connections?

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26 Comments
  1. I learned a hard lesson in 2019, when I was approached to connect on LinkedIn by a very handsome man who stated that he was am architect/engineer. I lived in Bali at that time,studied online for a Blockchain certification and began an intellectual (read Satoshi,white papers, ico, et al), self study on cryptocurrency. When I returned home (SF), this man insisted that I identify the bitcoin ATM like machines in the city. This was red flag #1. There were more red flags before my personal banker informed me to file a Victim of Fraud with police, FBI and US Attorney. This experience shook me to the core.

    Lesson learned in the context of comnecting on LinkedIn: Do Not Ever Click Obediently. Stop and research the name with the city and state. Do not use Google search, use Brave, Tangle or Edge or Others.

    Be Protective and in control of who you choose to include.

    Do you have the time to be deceived and the grit to bounce back from the betrayal of the devious scam?

  2. Months ago, a fellow reader and commenter here wrote that in the last weeks of the year he reaches out to each one of his LinkedIn connections. So I wrote in my calendar to do just that. And I did. At the start of September I took about a week to send brief messages to each one of my then over 300 connections.

    The aggregate result was awkwardly revealing. A precious few responded right away, and with a caring persistence, deeply curious about how I am, in terms of both work and the rest of life. Most others sent back a greeting of two or three words, just enough to confirm their message reception and convey their embarrassment and indifference and the feeling that they have forgotten who I am. A few replied several weeks later, with the telling excuse that they don’t much check their LinkedIn at all.

    Though it wasn’t my intention, this unwitting experiment—thanks, fellow reader!—gave me confirming, actionable information. Mostly it revealed how meaningless and useless are LinkedIn connections. Several people, I noticed, connected with me about 15 years ago, which was probably before Reid Hoffman cashed out, before the trust was broken.

    It occurred to me that there is no need for anyone to be “connected” on LinkedIn, at all. Think about it. What does that “connection” mean, exactly? That you’re each other’s fans? It’s not like they’re going to help you land a job at their workplace. Supporting Nick’s point, the numbers show that they won’t. While I was conducting this experiment, an old friend who shares our worklife frustrations told me he abruptly closed his LinkedIn account, completely. He did. I checked.

    And I think I will, too, eventually. First, though, after I pass my next job’s 90 day probation period, I plan to quietly strip my account profile to a simple landing page. I am already disconnecting almost every one of my LinkedIn connections, keeping only those I “actually know, trust and have worked with.” I started with over 300. I estimate by the time the cutting’s over there will be fewer than 100. I want as few as possible.

    We should each put an email address in our profile page’s contact link. It need not be an important work or home address. It can be impersonal, but it should be one we actually check.

    Have appreciated and followed your guidance for well over a decade, Nick, and last year purchased -Fearless Job Hunting-. Keep up the good work.

    • I started out by only “connecting” to people that I’ve actually worked with, either former coworkers at a current or previous employer or with technicians, salespeople, company owners, etc. employed by third-party vendors that I had a continuing relationship with—all people who knew me and my work. Any requests I receive nowadays languish in a queue until I know more about the requestor. (A lengthy phone conversation with a requestor goes along way to my accepting the connection. Simply requesting a connection because a recruiter sent me an email doesn’t get serious consideration.)

      Special interest groups used on LinkedIn used to be interesting places where bird of a feather could share ideas about their field, bat around ideas, etc. I’m not sure when it happened — maybe about the time Microsoft bought the company — all that changed. Someone posted a question on a techie group’s LI page and was admonished by the moderator that the page was only for posting job ads. (One I can safely drop from my LI profile.

      LI has turned into nothing much more than JASMS (Just Another Social Media Site) and it has attracted a membership who treat it that way—and anyone lamenting the change is subjected to something akin to an old fashioned flaming. On any given day, my feed is about 10% posts from recruiters trying to fill positions (the good stuff) and the rest are posts about someone’s child having graduated from college or posts by recruiter having just lost or gotten hired to another recruiting job.

      Larry, I have included in my profile my email address, my phone number, as well as a link to a personal web site with a high-level description of my skillset, the sort of roles I’d be interested in hearing about, as well as a link to a PDF of my current resume. I monitor the web site logs and, to date, not one hit on the personal page or resume. “Recruiters” call and tell me that they saw my LI profile but it’s rather obvious that they didn’t bother to look at the contact info. I’m of the same mind as you about even staying on LI—after my current job search is over, I’m outta there.

    • @Larry @ Rick: A decade ago I posted this about accepting connection requests on LinkedIn:
      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/6896/join-my-linkedin-gang-bang

      Aside from a few complaints about the words I chose for the title, most people got my point. LinkedIn is not a selective, “one to one” communication channel. It’s a “one to many” channel — a broadcast system.

      For example, I post on LinkedIn once a week, to promote my weekly Q&A column. I want as many people to know about it as possible. That’s why, in that article, I announce that I will accept any and all invitations (though not outright fraudulent ones). I want to get to “many” potential readers of my stuff.

      So unless you face unusually troublesome LinkedIn spam, I suggest you maintain a basic profile. You have to be in the dominant “phone book” so people, managers, potential customers and vendors can find you. I like the suggestion to include your e-mail so people can contact you outside the little text box called “messaging” that requires you to keep the app running on your phone. (I don’t use any social media apps on my phone — they’re 99% bother.)

      I also agree a profile should be brief. It’s purpose is to generate interest and/or to provide one source of validation of who you are. I appreciate being able to look someone up on Linked, though I’ll use other sources as well. That’s why I also like seeing a link to a person’s own website. In fact, I think a basic personal website is more important than a Linked profile.

      Larry, your “poll” of 300 connections is interesting. Thanks for sharing it. I suspect Reid Hoffman knows the results only too well as he counts his lucre. (And thanks for your kind words! To everyone else, “Fearless Job Hunting” is on sale this month – check this column for a 50% discount code.)

  3. I keep my own online database. Over the years, I would pull copies of firms, recruiters, headhunters and co-workers profiles, emails, job descriptions and articles. you would be surprised how much revisionist history happens especially in the recruitment field. It is simple. If you have Hotmail, create folders by whatever the critical datapoint such as year, profession etc. and it is also searchable. I can almost instantly check the credibility of an email as I get them saving much time Don’t overlook the value of LinkedIn being useful for insights but I am in agreement that it is of very limited value as a job search tool

    • @Eddie: There’s nothing like years and years worth of an e-mail archive. Makes it easy to check up on claims of people “getting back in touch.”

  4. I could easily have had 1,000 unsolicited connections years ago, but I stopped accepting them a decade ago. An unlimited number of consultants, students, and wannabes want to connect to me. Why bother?

    It’s a useful telephone book, especially for people I’ve met IRL. Nothing more.

    • I seem to recall that, at one time, LI used to come down on users who were simply connecting to anyone and everyone. Another change after the new ownership, I guess.

  5. I agree that LinkedIn, whatever it’s creator’s original intent, has devolved into a phone book – – but phone books can be helpful databases. I’ve found LinkedIn a very useful business development tool (as opposed to one used to find personal employment.) As you’ve said when advising people on how to find a job: it’s important to target the firm you wish to work for. I target firms (and people who work at those firms) that I wish to work with and/or that I believe would have a use for my services. Over time I’ve found those contacts who are genuinely interested in working together and have developed useful ongoing relationships with them. Others are clearly not interested – – for whatever reasons – – and I don’t bother them.

    • @Michael: Bingo. Use the tool to do what it does best. Forget about the marketing about what you should believe it does.

  6. “If a “connection” wouldn’t drop what they’re doing for a moment to help you out (because they know and respect you), then they’re not a real connection. You’re kidding yourself.”

    I lecture in career development and the second most important slide, after ‘ Read the Ask the Headhunter blog every Friday after comments”, is the biggest danger to your career isn’t identifying your enemies, it’s separating the indifferent from the Angels who

    “ drop everything when YOU need a hand”

  7. @VPSales: My version of that — You can’t search for a job properly until you are disabused about everything that doesn’t work. Virtually everything most people know about job hunting and hiring is wrong. That’s actually good news, because it’s not too hard to get smart and stand out from the herd.

    Good for you for teaching effective career development. And thanks for recommending ATH to your charges.

  8. There is “networking.” Then there is our Network.
    (it would be nice if there were words to show more differentiation)

    “networking” are the people we know casually. We cross paths and chat at networking or professional events. Talk shop. We might let them know when there is a job opening somewhere, or someone is looking for their skillset. And we might do favors for them.

    Network are the people we have history with. Worked with for years. Know their strengths and weaknesses. These are the people we put ourselves out for. Give references. Advocate on their behalf. Use our political capital to get them hired on at our company.

    I have found LinkedIn great for “networking.” Talking shop. Giving/getting advice. Exchanging knowledge. Occasional job interviews.

    It is social media where I can separate my personal life and my professional life.

    I rarely connect with people I have not worked with, without some amount of interaction. Much as I would find it odd if I was at an in-person networking event and someone wanted my business card without wanting to talk.

    I have found that, just like developing and maintaining our “network” and Network takes effort and attention, the same applies to LI.

    • An aside: I got my current role through LinkedIn jobs. Specifically, the “quick apply.”

      Just as I do not recommend using hookups and one-night-stands to find a spouse, occasionally, it works out.

  9. Nick, yes, Linked In is not a networking tool, despite its claims. I have over 7,000 connections — perhaps 500 are people I actually know and have worked with. So what do I use Linked In for? Primarily as a platform to post my content marketing materials several times a day — in short, it’s a decent advertising channel for my consulting practice, as my posts average 25 views each (some get as many as 50, as I make liberal use of hashtags).

    That said, I have NEVER gotten a client from Linked In, as most of the people who reach out to me from my posts are Looky Loo’s. In addition, as you mentioned, it’s a good phone book and research tool for checking people out — assuming their profiles are true! A friend of mine said that Linked In is only good for selling commodities B2B, such as books and webinar series. Another friend said it’s just a bunch of consultants congratulating each other ;-)

  10. So 7,000 connections posted several times a day, but never gotten a client? Perhaps you should stop spamming people; it is neither professional nor effective.

  11. I’m not spamming! I’m posting, which people get in their feeds and can open or ignore. But between 25 and 50 people a day look at my posts. Spamming is when you send them messages directly to their mailboxes.

  12. Nick,

    I strongly disagree that any content posted on LinkedIn is “good” or “very good.” The main purpose of posting content there is for users to get someone’s attention, or to feed their ego. Most of the authors of LinkedIn content can’t be trusted for any reason, so the best we can get is a view of author’s state-of-mind or how they view themselves. No one gives anything away for free on that platform, so value is basically the same as what we paid for it.

    I, however, get very specific value from the “content” posted. I use it to discredit posers masquerading as SME’s or sometimes to get some quick background info on job candidates at work, when I am on the team interviewing them. On that last potentially show stopping piece (I’ll leave that for another topic discussion), I’m not looking for their qualifications there, just looking to see if what they’ve put out for all to see is similar or radically different from what I’m hearing.

    In my case (and maybe a good portion of this audience), none of my LinkedIn contacts are useful for finding a new job, unless if I already knew them long before starting with that platform. It’s pointless to contact any of them via LinkedIn mail, since almost no one checks their messages within LinkedIn because any “message” alerts are buried in endless phony profile read alerts.

    I have quite a few powerful industry people in my contact list, but the only “group” is the one where I can see all their names on one screen. Few if any communicate with each other, and I have no confidence that I could get many (or any) of them to introduce me to any of their own contacts. And that’s by directly contacting them by phone or email. Contacting any of them via LI’s messaging would be a pointless exercise. So, I also disagree that it’s even a “phone book,” since my records are more up-to-date than LinkedIn’s.

    Attempting to expand my “network” for the purpose of accessing anyone else’s direct or indirect contacts would also be a pointless exercise. Refugees from Facebook and AOL (that’s not a joke, and they’re in my “network”), as well as the geniuses like Lee Hecht Harrison’s consultants who instructed clients to expand our LI networks and do favors for these people to get the same back (and we never do), destroyed any value LI’s contact “linking” feature had.

    But for finding a new job, LinkedIn has always been a spectacular failure. Since some/many/all of us might not have any way of following your suggestions about obtaining advance intel on a potential employer and positions available, we (via LinkedIn) are at the mercy of the bottom-feeding employment brokers and HR drones. Applying for any position via LI is pointless, but sometimes (more often than not) that’s the only way to reach anyone involved with the potential opportunity.

  13. Nick and I have always agreed on LI. I was an early user as a recruiter. Back then it had some tremendous value

    It has become diluted and very poor with the people trying to collect names.

    I have retired. 90% of my name are business contacts that were valuable to me. The bulk were people I knew very well whos I could give a strong recommendation for and Visa versa. I would never recommend someone who I didn’t know well. I would get requests from second or third level I would send as nice no back.

    The other people were people I knew I could use as strong connections into a company

    The remaining 10% are friends who I linked with but who I knew were never going to ask for connections

    Nick a long time ago through the baby out with the bathwater and opened it up to everyone. He was know by many well recognized sources. Like my brother, the retired physics professor, I refer to Nick as emeritus:>)

    I will end with this. I was at a large business conference one time. I collected a dozen to 15 cards of people I talked with that I could connect with again and use at resources or sales potentials I was in a van to the airport with two guys who had collected at least 50 cards each and were bragging on it

    A mile wide and an inch deep.

    You have just got a twofer!!

    Bill

  14. LinkedIn positives:

    I have been able to stay in touch with a number of people across my career whose contact information I’d probably have otherwise lost. It’s led to some great reconnections over the years and I really value that.

    I’ve also been able to post information about my current line of business that’s completely useless to many and valued by a few. I work to increase my connections with those who have the right profile to value it and I can tell it’s helpful for that specific community.I’m sure others are simply scrolling past if it appear on their feed.

    I’m amazed at the number of people who try to connect with me and if I do (in a moment of weakness) immediately send me a LONG message telling me why I should give them money for their service or product that I don’t need. I assume that must work on some because it hasn’t slowed down as a tactic!

    • Direct mail (remember that) had a success rate of only about 1 or 2 percent even in the best of times. Yet that 1 or 2 percent might be enough money to continue the process.

      Spamming people on LinkedIn is the modern day version of direct mail. I get a lot of them as well – ‘coaches,’ people who offer to improve my SEO ranking, ‘business development’ pros – and generally delete them (and occasionally complain about them, which, ironically gets the most reactions). Don’t expect it to dwindle until the next thing comes along, which is not likely anytime soon.

  15. If over 1,000 LI connections is a phone book, then I have a pretty good phone book – over 1,600 connections, last time I checked.

    Granted, that’s people I’ve connected with since 2009, the year I joined LI (and ironically, responded to a post on ATH about it). That averages to about 10 connections a month, or 2 a week. It adds up.

    But you’re right. Every now and then I try to go through the list, and I never get very far. Even when I do, I don’t get many responses. A lot of times I’ll see “X hasn’t posted lately” which means that X either doesn’t use LI very often, or only uses LI for certain purposes (like reading posts). I feel like those people are the ones who I should disconnect from because they’re really not a true ‘connection,’ they’re just a bragging point (I know them!). Maybe.

    I plan on spending the next few months culling my LI connections down to people who actually interact with me. The part I’m stumbling on is what to do with the people with whom I don’t regularly interact, but have some skill that I occasionally need (i.e., a specialized attorney). Once I figure that out, I’ll be very happy.

  16. @GregZ: LinkedIn is a sales platform. A Rolodex.

    • In more ways than one, if you were to look at my LI inbox!

      But I totally agree. It used to be better, but isn’t any longer.

  17. If you’ve done contracting or consulting you can easily have a lot of legitimate former coworkers you’d like to keep some level of contact with and would be happy to speak to or reconnect with more directly should the opportunity arise. Hell, even with full time jobs there can be a lot of folks by the latter stages of a career. A specific contact’s direct use in terms of networking tends to deteriorate over time but if you’d still welcome contact with them or even if you just don’t want them to wonder about reasons if you disconnected then severing the connection doesn’t seem warranted.

    Further, while not everyone does keep their account up-to-date, it’s a low key way to see what people are up to or to get their most current contact info or, if they don’t post contact info, msg them if you feel the urge or have a specific reason to ping.

    Phone book isn’t really a good analogy as they still hide the info for folks who aren’t close contacts so without maintaining the connections you likely wouldn’t find them in the database. Maybe rolodex is closer, but when I used to have a rolodex it had a lower bar for entry. That said, I have loosened my standards a bit lately and will connect with folks who I chat with at conferences or industry events but haven’t actually worked with or similar as my current job is more outward facing and we do sometimes organize projects where knowing someone interested in X or Y is helpful. I generally need at least some level of personal contact or rationale, though I can’t swear I haven’t made the infrequent exception.

  18. I have three connections on LinkedIn … a beaver, a giraffe, and a pet rock.

    I don’t trust that dam buck-toothed varmint, and the tall galoot won’t stick his neck out for me.

    The pet rock is checking with his Manger (hey, it’s XMAS) to see if there is a job for me.

    The pet rock’s heavy into something solid (if you’re 70s, you dig the lingo).

    “I like to rock. I like to rock.” — April Wine

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