Being an ‘open networker’ has its advantages but, if your strategy is to accept any request to connect, proceed with caution
By Harpaul Sambhi
The rules of being an open networker — specifically on LinkedIn as a LinkedIn Open Networker (LION) — are simple: You accept any invitation that comes your way, whether or not you know the person.
You also keep your profile, and your network, public. The idea behind this strategy is the more direct contacts you have, the more second connections you have access to, increasing your search pool and, potentially, the number of hires you can make. Or perhaps it could lead to more sales or networking opportunities.
But this strategy presents several challenges. First, you might have more contacts, but are they quality contacts? Second, you are allowing strangers to solicit your close contacts. And third, it’s very hard to manage a connection list with thousands and thousands of people.
Quality versus quantity
With a network of contacts numbering in the thousands, you’ll be connected to all kinds of people all over the world.
You could be connected to business developers in Cairo, marketing managers in China and recruiters in Morocco. Wonderful, but how does this help you?
How can a marketing manager in China help you fill an accountant position in Chicago?
Yes, this strategy will increase your reach to more people, but many of them won’t be able to help you recruit the right kind of people and you might spend many hours sifting through irrelevant emails from these contacts. Instead of spending your time trying to get as many contacts as possible, you should focus on developing a few relationships with key stakeholders in your industry. Not only will you get more leads on candidates, but they will be better quality candidates.
Back when I was toying at the idea of becoming a LION, one of the strangers I had connected with, a fellow LION, saw I was connected to a CEO at a large company.
This fellow LION, a headhunter, found my close contact’s email address and contacted him directly. In his email, the LION falsely insinuated he and I were close and I had suggested he contact the CEO for a business opportunity.
The CEO, who was also my mentor, agreed to meet with him. And, despite getting a bad vibe from the headhunter, he referred him to his vice-president of recruitment because the rules of networking suggest a referred contact should be given preferential treatment. During this meeting, the headhunter’s lack of experience and knowledge became evident and both the vice-president of recruitment and the CEO wondered why I would have recommended him.
The CEO called me and angrily asked who this headhunter was and I had to say, “I don’t know.”
While other people I know who use the LION strategy have only had good experiences, there is always the chance someone will try to abuse the system. After this, I decided to never allow complete strangers into my network.
I will, however, connect with strangers who are contacting me for a specific purpose as long as they are willing to have a quick conversation to get to know each other. Social networking enhances and amplifies in-person networking, but it can’t replace it. If you decide to become a LION, it will definitely increase your network — but be cautious of how your contacts use your name when connecting with your other people in your network.
Managing larger lists
I sometimes have a hard time believing a LION can know 16,000 people. My definition of networking is helping others achieve their goals by understanding their problems and offering solutions.
So can someone really understand the needs of all their 16,000 contacts? Other than my anecdotal answer of “no,” there are some theories around how many people you can build stable relationships with.
According to Robin Dunbar, a professor of psychology at the University of Liverpool, we can only maintain close, stable relationships with about 150 people. Technology can do some of the work for us, such as keeping track of friends’ birthdays or important meetings in Outlook. And social media helps us stay in touch with our fringe relationships, such as former colleagues or an old boss.
But as networks get larger, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain these fringe contacts based on the amount of information we receive. Take this into consideration when toying with the idea of becoming a LION — or an open networker — on other networks.
Harpaul Sambhi is the CEO of Careerify, a company that develops social recruiting tools focused on employee referral programs with offices in Toronto and San Francisco. He is the author of Social HR, published by Carswell, which sheds insights in how social media is impacting human resources. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (416) 840-6216 or visit www.careerify.net for more information.