A Little Help from Your Friend (Requests)

Steps to begin using social networks in your job search.

Once you decide to take the plunge and create a great profile that reflects your personal brand, the real value is in the connections that you make. So, how do you determine with whom to connect, and what’s the etiquette for doing so?

Here are some tips on a conservative approach to getting started. To get you more comfortable with personal branding, follow these tips for connecting with others on LinkedIn and Facebook:

1. Avoid importing your address book.

When you’re getting started, avoid options to import your entire e-mail address book and invite every one of your contacts.

On LinkedIn: Send invitations to colleagues that you know, trust and would be comfortable referring to other members of your network (especially considering referrals are the main value of LinkedIn).
On Facebook: Begin by connecting with your real friends and family. Since Facebook is more personal and your friends affect your Facebook profile (they can write on your “wall,” tag you in photos, send you virtual commodities and so on, try it out before connecting with professional colleagues.

2. Customize your requests.

When you send an invitation to connect, customize the form e-mail unless the recipient will immediately know why you want to connect with her.

3. Be selective.

Decide from whom you’ll accept invitations and create standard responses for declining an invitation. If you get a request from someone you don’t know at all and they do not even bother to customize the message, then it’s perfectly acceptable to use the Ignore button. Here are a few examples of templates to consider:

Example A: Someone you’ve met once (or never) sends you a request on LinkedIn.
“Thanks for sending me an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. I’m sure that you can appreciate that my policy is to connect with people that I’ve met face-to-face and have known for a while. I’m looking forward to working with you and getting to know you better, and I’m confident that we’ll connect in the future.”

Example B: You’ve decided Facebook is for personal use only, and a colleague sends you a request.
“I got your invitation on Facebook and wanted to let you know how I’m handling my Facebook account and why I won’t be accepting your request, even though I do consider you a ‘friend’ and valued colleague. So that I may communicate without concern and share photos of my family, I’ve decided to keep my Facebook network private, small and purely social for the time being. I’d be delighted to connect with you on LinkedIn.”

4. Remove a connection if you have lingering doubts.

If you accept an invitation and later regret it, you can always remove the connection without the other party being alerted. (Take care when using the LinkedIn “I don’t know” or “Flag as spam” buttons because this could get the sender in trouble with LinkedIn.)

5. Should you connect with your kids?

If your high-school or college-aged children are on a social network such as Facebook, realize that many parents elect not to “friend” their children. Some take an “ignorance is bliss” view, some are concerned about the impact that their kids have on their profile, and others are respecting the wishes of their kids.

After spending some time experimenting, your comfort level may increase, and then you can re-evaluate your connection criteria against your goals for each social networking tool that you use. Dive in! When you adjust your privacy settings, you really have nothing to lose, and you might just find yourself surprised at what you gain.