5 Guidelines for LinkedIn Invitations

We’ll connect with friends from elementary school in Facebook.  We’ll reciprocate a follow in Twitter.   But when it comes to LinkedIn, everybody has their own rules for connecting.

Admit it.  You’re received this generic LinkedIn invitation from somebody you don’t know:

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

- Bob

What do you do?

Perhaps the very funny Rob Cottingham has the right idea…

So I went searching for the answer…

I contacted a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker) in DC, a Career Coach in California, and a Product Manager at LinkedIn directly.

Let’s start with the official recommendation from LinkedIn:

Whom should I invite to connect? which highlights the following…

“We recommend that you only send invitations to people you know well.”

The Product Manager at LinkedIn also recommended:

A Guide to Building the Right Connections

3 Ways to Make Networking Work

At the other end of the decision tree from the official LinkedIn recommendation are LION’s.  Here is the official statement from LinkedIn…

“L.I.O.N is an organization that is not affiliated or endorsed by LinkedIn. There are several user created groups with this name that can be found, each with their own group’s summary and meaning.”

For example, LinkedIn limits a user’s displayed connection to “500+ Connections”, and it limits the number of invitations a user can send out to 3000 (which is why most LIONs need for you to send them an invitation to connect).

For more information on LIONs on LinkedIn, please reference Neal Schaffer’s blog post.

Meet Brett Brody.

Brett is a LION and is LinkedIn to over 15,000 professionals.  Brett is not a recruiter.  He owns his own company and is passionate about connecting people.  If you’d like to connect with Brett, simply send him an invitation.

Meet Tim Tyrell-Smith

Tim is a professional blogger, speaker, and marketing coach.  Tim is the Founder of Tim’s Strategy, an outstanding source for advice and resources on life transition.  Tim’s general rule for becoming LinkedIn to someone new is to connect first with that person over the phone or via social networking.

So whatever your rule for building connections in LinkedIn, I recommend some Tips for LinkedIn Professional Etiquette:

1. Never Go Generic

When sending invitations, always include a personal note in the invitation.  Answer the question: What is your connection to this person?  Go beyond something system-generated  like “Bob Smith has indicated you are a classmate at James Madison University” (when you know, if you did a little research, the person graduated 8 years before you).

For example, if you read an article the person posted on the alumni news section, be sure to mention that.  I also make a point to send a personal note back when I accept an invitation.  Never forget LinkedIn is about building professional relationships so start it off with professional courtesy.

2. Be Timely

When you meet other professionals in person (clearly the most valuable way to connect) and exchange business cards, get LinkedIn within 24 hours.  The other person will remember your conversation and appreciate your timeliness.

3. Have a Goal in Mind

When you send a LinkedIn invitation to someone, what is your goal?  I find it refreshing when someone clearly states why she reached out.   I always try to follow this rule when I send invitations.  Is this someone I feel I can help his business or career through some form of collaboration?  Is this someone I just met and would like to get to know better?

4. Stick to Your Guidelines

Be consistent with your personal guidelines for sending and accepting invitations.  Don’t forget the other person has his own rules too.  Unless you are connecting to a LION, never assume.  Nobody wants to have his invitation rejected or ignored (archived).

So what are my 5 guidelines for LinkedIn invitations?

1.  I accept/send LinkedIn invitations if I’ve had the opportunity to work with you

2.  I accept/send LinkedIn invitations if we have met in person

3.  I accept/send LinkedIn invitations if we have spoken on the phone (and an in person meeting is not feasible)

4.  I accept/send LinkedIn invitations to initiate a professional relationship where online, phone and/or in-person collaboration is expected

5.  My goal in every LinkedIn relationship is to be able to recommend your services to other professionals who trust my opinion

That’s it. Pretty simple.   I believe in quality of relationships, not quantity.

I believe in focusing on your needs, not mine.

I believe in communication the old fashioned way.

Am I LinkedIn to people I could not recommend at this time?

The answer is yes (see criteria 1 through 4), but my goal is still to be able to recommend your services to someone else.

I hope the people who are LinkedIn to me have the same goal for me.

Success in your career is about your reputation to help others.

Final tip:

Do not ever assume a person’s LinkedIn list is the body of his or her connections. It’s not even close.

Until you build an actual trusted relationship with someone will you ever be introduced to the politician the person knows at church, the executive who lives down his street, or the person he plays golf with.

To borrow a quote from Bob Burg:

It isn’t just what you know, and it isn’t just who you know. It’s actually who you know, who knows you, and what you do for a living.

Stated another way…when looking at your LinkedIn connections, ask “Who do you know that knows what you know?”

Those are your most valuable relationships.

I’m not a LION, but I believe in relationships to help make people successful (see criteria above).

My LinkedIn address is

Please help me understand how I can help you. I welcome the invitation.

Please share your guidelines for getting LinkedIn as well as other tips you may have for others.


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About the Author

Brent Peterson, PMP, MS, MBA, is the founder of Interview Angel Inc, a company that offers a comprehensive guide and toolkit for job seekers to use in interviews.

Brent’s first customer was a father who purchased Interview Angel as a graduation gift for his daughter.  Since then, clients have included government workforce centers, university programs, and Goodwill Industries.  The product has also been used as an affordable outplacement solution for businesses going through layoffs.

The full Interview Angel toolkit is available for $59.95 and shipped nationwide. A digital version is also available for immediate download for $19.95.

Stay connected with Brent via LinkedIn, subscription to this Interview Angel professional blog, and through his personal blog on faith and living.


Categories: Uncategorized
  • Sharon McLaughlin

    Brett, great piece! You really summed it up quite well. I try to follow a similiar policy as you have outlined.

  • ed han

    Brent, excellent coverage of the size/shape of LinkedIn network issue. My own LinkedIn network philosophy is simple: if I can identify a clear way in which someone adds value to those in my own network–or I feel that I can for them–I’ll invite/accept.

  • Kathy Wilkes

    Brent, great advice. I agree it’s quality contacts, not quantity that matters. I also love the additional “categories”.

  • Brent Peterson

    Thank you Sharon, Kathy, and Ed for the feedback. LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool if used in the manner in which it was designed.

  • Shahrzad Arasteh

    Hi Brent, I can attest to the fact that you truly do reach out to others to ask how you can be helpful, and how you might know if you’re talking to someone who’d be an ideal client for them. It’s one of the many things that I appreciate about you, and am impressed by. In terms of LinkedIn, I could not agree more with your advice to avoid the default (generic!) invitation line. Not only is it impersonal and uninspiring (and uninspired), it is also stated in a very self-focused way, as opposed to being other-focused, or at least self-and-other-focused. This is always among the points I stress when teaching social media for career search and management. It cannot be mentioned often enough. (Of course, I know sometimes the “send” button is pressed by accident before the person has a chance to customize the invite, too.)

  • Brent Peterson

    Thank you Shahrzad for your kind feedback. I’ll confess I’ve hit the “Send” button by accident too. In that case, I’m quick to send a follow up message :).

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  • Dorlee M

    Thanks, Brett, for this very helpful post.

    On occasion, I receive invites from people I’ve never met but have worked in the same organization or attended the same school (different years/locations etc.). I turn these down unless someone I know well has made an introduction.

    This is for my own protection as well as for the protection of the people within my network. I feel that you are in essence vouching for someone once you accept someone’s invitation and thereby allowing them access to your network of contacts. So you cannot just blindly accept anyone’s invitation.

  • Samson Wong

    What a wonderful piece, Brett.  Like Sharon, I too follow the same similar procedure as you have clearly outlined in the article.  If I receive a invitation from someone that I don’t know, I must find out how they found me and who is their 1st degree connection.  I will then contact my 1st degree contact and ask how well they know the individual.  And the other thing is that the person who is asking to connect with me must personalize their message.  If not, I will not accept at all.  It tells me that they did not take the extra few moments.  And that they are most likely very desperate.  That the main reason why they want to connect with me is to use my connections.  In my own opinion, that’s not the goal of LinkedIn.

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  • PMP Training

    Thanks Brent, Such a great post. Your is very useful for me. I am happy to read this because it is very informative post for me.

    Project Management Certification

  • Anonymous

    Thoroughly researched with an objective focus. When you see this kind of initiative, makes you want them on your team and as a friend. Thanks, Brent!

    • Brent Peterson

       Thank you Cathy for your kind comment!

  • Anders Sundstedt

    Thank you very much for a helpful post on the subject.