I am certain that I am not the only person on LinkedIn who has received a random connection request from a complete stranger. Over the past few years, I have received several hundreds of such requests and, yet, at each request, I can’t help but wonder why anybody should send me a blank connection request.
In the initial days that I noticed a sizeable number of random requests in my mailbox, I would ignore them. If I came across a profile that resonated with my own interests, then I would write them a note not unlike the one here. Most times, I would never hear back from the sender of the request. But every once in a while I would receive an answer.
The senders could be classified in three major categories:
- People who ran networks of experts on specific business areas and wanted to expand them
- People who wanted some help, usually some consulting advice, career advice, connection with somebody I knew, a new job in an industry that I was familiar with and such
- People who were ‘impressed’ by my profile OR thought this was an alternative to Facebook and Twitter where random people called each other ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ OR ‘just wanted to add connections to their network’ OR believed that LinkedIn is meant for ‘getting to know people’
Let me first talk about ‘MY side’ of this story – how it began and how it evolved.
As one can imagine, the last category was reminiscent of the times in lower secondary school when schoolmates would run up to one and say, “I want to make friendship with you!” I usually politely diverted requests from this category or simply ignored them.
With the first two categories, however, there seemed to be merit is considering the requests with more than nonchalance. The first one was easy to deal with – I’d check out the authenticity of the sender with a visit to their website, understand more from them about their model, and, after a couple of exchanges, ‘Add’ the connection…or not.
With the second, however, I often had a mixed bag to handle. The requests seemed carefully thought out at best (“I run a VC fund and often require the help of consultants with the companies in my portfolio.”) And immature and naïve at worst (“I am a graduate of instrumentation engineering – could you help me find a suitable job?”) Err…What?!
The interesting statistic here is the split of requests across the three categories: 15% | 60% | 25%. While my eventual interactions with these ‘random connections’ drove to their respective logical conclusions, I learnt something very important from the analysis – There are a LOT of genuine people out there that I CAN help.
From then on, I made a simple but significant tweak in my first-response strategy. Instead of asking these random connectors, “How do I/you know you/me?” I began to ask, “How can I help you?” And that tiny change in perspective and tone has made a HUGE difference to the quality of my network.
At the most trivial of times, it has led me to a lost connection from my past life or exposed me to a whole new cohort of potential clients. At the most significant of times, it has set off a series of conversations that converted into a business relationship or helped me hone my skills in an area from the level of a practitioner to an expert. Talk about seeing the world differently…
Despite the richness in the quality of network that I’ve been able to derive from random connections, I do have a tip or two that I think the other side – ‘THEIR side’ – should use. When you do feel the need to connect with a complete stranger via LinkedIn, PLEASE follow these steps, and follow ALL of them:
- Add a brief note to your request (yes, LinkedIn does allow you to do that even in its Basic version)
- Say something meaningful in that note (‘hi, can we connect on LinkedIn?’ does not cut it!). Explain who you are and what (help) you are looking for. Even if you went to the same University as that person, don’t assume that (s)he would want to add you to their network for that reason alone.
- Mention briefly why you would like to connect with this person in particular.
If your need is genuine and the person you write to is even remotely concerned with the area in which you need help, you are far more likely to get a cogent response to such a request than to a blank one.