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How to Avoid Inappropriate Communications When Growing Your Network

Posted by Ashley Preuss
Inappropriate Networking Communications

One of the most important factors of a successful job search lies in networking. But how do you expand and sustain a professional network? Social media platforms like LinkedIn allow you to not only stay in contact with those you already know and easily maintain connections, but they also help you create new relationships. Networking is crucial to job search and you can reach many more people online than you can offline, especially during a pandemic.

While social media has become a necessary component of networking for professionals in many industries, it’s understandable why some cleared job seekers choose to opt out. At the end of the day you need to make the decision you’re most comfortable with, while keeping operational security in mind. If you do choose to network online, we’ve put together a number of tips to help you initiate communications in a professional and effective manner, whether through a networking site like LinkedIn, or email.

Before you start sending out a slew of connection requests, keep in mind that who you connect with depends on your career path. If you’re in the cleared community, you will only want to connect with:

  • People you know
  • People you’ve met
  • People who have been recommended to you
  • People who work at companies you want to work for whom you can verify

If you’re relocating to a new city or transitioning out of the military to a new location, you’ll probably need to also proactively contact individuals who may be able to help your cleared job search. To get introduced to some of those folks, on LinkedIn, real gold can be found in your 2nd and 3rd degree connections.

Once you’ve identified an individual you wish to connect with, take the time to write a personalized message. Unfortunately, professionals don’t always receive connection request messages that make a great impression. Don’t be guilty of sending an inappropriate communication to someone you don’t know. Consider these cautionary tales and learn the do’s and don’ts of communicating appropriately when expanding your professional network.

Connection Request Cautionary Tales

Many professionals can improve their connection request communications with a couple of minor tweaks, but some messages are outright inappropriate and should be avoided at all costs. When asking colleagues about the kinds of connection request messages they’ve received, they shared instances of strangers asking if they were in a relationship or asking them on a date, as well as multiple individuals immediately asking if they could connect them to a particular company. It goes without saying but for one, you’re not on a dating site and two, don’t ask strangers for favors without first developing a mutual relationship.

It should also be noted that alleged humor doesn’t always work with someone you don’t know. For instance, a colleague told a new LinkedIn connection to let them know if they could be of assistance, and the person responded, “I’ll take an executive level promotion, company car, and a petty cash account.” This message was sent from a stranger—someone that the recipient doesn’t know and therefore doesn’t know their sense of humor. This was a missed opportunity. Someone offered help and opened the opportunity to ask for something to further the budding relationship, but they blew it. In an offline situation this would have gone down very differently with the benefit of body language and facial expressions. It’s best to avoid instances where someone is required to read between the lines, unless you want to risk offending someone.

In another initial LinkedIn conversation, it started out rather professionally but then moved to the person sharing inappropriate and unsolicited personal information including, “Spouse doing odd stuff. Stuff from my old deployment days. I am sure you don’t want to know.” If you feel the need to follow up with you don’t want to know, don’t share it with a stranger on a professional networking site.

And finally, for a less sensational but more commonplace example of inappropriate communication, another user reached out and shared a little about their professional background. The problem here is when they said, “I will appreciate you considering my profile and resume if there is a job opportunity in your network, where I could be a good fit.” Again, don’t ask for favors from strangers. Work to build the relationship before asking for anything.

Having covered some specific examples of poor communication in action, let’s examine what exactly to avoid and include in your connection request messages to ensure you make a good first impression and successfully expand your network.

What Not To Do

A poorly written connection request (or a lack of a message at all), leads to a lower acceptance rate. Not only does this hinder you from expanding your network, but it can also lead to your intended connection clicking the “I don’t know this person” button on LinkedIn or not responding to your email. If that happens enough times on LinkedIn, your account can be restricted, requiring you to first add the email address of anyone you want to connect with in the future. So be sure to avoid these pitfalls when sending connection requests.

  • Don’t send a default connection request message like, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” It looks lazy and doesn’t capitalize on your opportunity to introduce yourself in a way that builds a foundation for a relationship. Likewise when connecting via email or on another social media platform, provide context as to why you are connecting.
  • Don’t write an overly personal message. While you want to personalize, you don’t want to cross the line from being professional to overly personal. LinkedIn is a professional networking site, so don’t ask someone out to dinner or share details about your personal life that should be kept to conversations with friends.
  • Don’t make your message all about you. People reading it will be asking themselves what’s in it for me to connect. So avoid bragging about your abilities, and instead tailor the message to something they would find valuable—how can you help them?
  • Don’t communicate in a way that feels salesy. Does it look like you could have copied and pasted your message to dozens of people? Anything that looks like a sales pitch or a mass mailing can come across as spam.
  • Don’t say you’re connecting because you saw they viewed your profile. That is not reason enough to connect—if it was, they would have sent you a connection request. Review their profile to find the value in connecting and focus your message on that instead.
  • Don’t ask for favors in your initial communications if you don’t already know the person. This includes asking them to review your profile, give you a LinkedIn recommendation or skill endorsement, find you a job, or ask them to immediately put you in touch with someone in their network.
  • Don’t ask for too much too soon from your new connections. It’s only okay to ask about some of the favors mentioned above once you’ve established a mutually beneficial relationship or rapport. Even asking for a phone call or meet up is asking too much of another person’s time if you haven’t provided them with any value first or explained the benefits to them in doing so.

What to Do

First and foremost, you must write a tailored message. Personalizing your messages makes you stand out and increases the odds they will respond. Keep these tips in mind to improve your communications.

  • Customize your message. Be original by going beyond a blank connection request message on social media sites. Every invite you send should be tailored to the person you’re asking to connect with.
  • Do your homework so you can make your message about them. Review their LinkedIn profile to determine if you should connect. Then show them you’ve done your research by highlighting something you have in common. You can also mention something specific about their experience or the content they share.
  • Give them a reason to connect. If you met them briefly before, remind them. Or if you saw them speak at a conference or read an interesting post they shared, tell them. It’s all about connecting the dots for that person and giving them context so that they can see the value or reason for connecting. Say more than “we should connect” or “I’d like to add you to my network”—give them a relevant reason.
  • Be courteous and friendly. A little flattery can serve you well, so don’t be afraid to share a genuine compliment. And always keep professional etiquette in mind.
  • Keep your message short and remember to proofread. Ditch the Twitter-speak and use proper grammar—you only get one first impression. Keep your message clear and to the point, avoiding long paragraphs.
  • Be responsive as your communications progress. If they send you a message back, respond in a timely manner to build on your newfound relationship.
  • Offer help where you can by trying to give more than you take. And remember to say thank you when they help you too.

As you take steps to expand your professional network, always ask yourself how you can be of value to the other person. Professional relationships work two ways. When you approach a new industry contact, you need to give them a reason to accept your invitation to connect. If you make your message more about them than yourself, you’ll be in a better position to gain a new connection and grow your network. It takes more time to do it right, but the quality of your network will benefit if you do the legwork upfront to set the scene for a mutually beneficial relationship.

This entry was posted on Friday, December 04, 2020 2:12 pm

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