It was partly my own fault. I realize that now. I naively accepted an invitation on LinkedIn to connect with someone I didn’t know. I did confirm that this person was in the employment field, and since I’m terrible at remembering names, I thought that we may have met at a conference somewhere. I still don’t know whether that’s the case, but as soon as I accepted the invitation, this person started to spam me with email after email about openings he was trying to fill. And therein lies the central problem with LinkedIn, at least as it is currently used by a very large number of people.
LinkedIn advertises itself as a networking tool for professionals. That’s fine. But building up a huge (or even a small) address book of contacts is not networking. In fact, given that networking is actually a form of dialogue that is most appropriately practiced as an integral part of one’s business day, what’s going on at LinkedIn today is best described as “notworking.”
You see, the Golden Rule of Networking is that you have to give as good as you get. It’s fundamentally an exchange of information, ideas, and/or assistance from which both parties derive value. That mutual allocation of benefit establishes familiarity and trust, and those two factors are the twin pillars of a relationship. When networking is working, that’s what it creates—a relationship.
How Do Relationships Happen?
Now, if you’ve ever been in a relationship, you know two things about them. First, you quickly learn that they are hard work. That’s why the word is spelled the way it is: it’s netWORK, not net-get-around-to-it-whenever-you-feel-like-it. And second, you come to appreciate that relationships take time to develop. They don’t happen with the click of a mouse, whether you’re on LinkedIn or Facebook or any other social or professional “networking” site.
And sadly, my connection on LinkedIn understood neither of those points. As he put it when I asked him to stop sending me his intrusive email, “When you linked to me you agreed to receive email notifications and to network with me.”
Well, my friend, that’s not networking. First, you’re not working at building a relationship with me. You’re spamming me with unwanted email. Second, there’s no reciprocity here. All of the value in our interaction accrues to you. You want me to provide the names of people I know for your openings, yet you haven’t taken the time to get to know me or to offer me anything of commensurate value. You aren’t giving as good as you get. You’re just taking what’s useful to you.
Now, I’ve heard the stories about people finding a job through their LinkedIn contacts. That’s great. But those situations are the exception to the rule. There are more than 36 million people with profiles on Linked, and most have fewer than 10 contacts. In other words, they’ve checked off the online Social/Professional networking box on their to-do list—they‘ve joined the latest and greatest job search tool for the 21st Century—but they haven’t done anything with it. They aren’t investing the time and effort required to build up their Web of relationships or enrich them.
I call this situation the Weak Link Syndrome. It produces two harmful consequences.
- First, a lot of people in transition who have now joined professional networking sites believe they’ve strengthened their ability to find a new or better job, and they haven’t. They think they’re using a state-of-the-art tool to enhance their personal performance, and they aren’t. They’re wasting their time and talent fiddling with a technology—online professional networking—that isn’t working for them.
- Second, the absence of so many job seekers networking effectively online has created a vacuum. And into that vacuum has flowed a crowd of individuals who are happy to misuse the system. Like my former connection on LinkedIn, they are clueless about the true nature of networking and feel entitled to use some malformed version of their own. And that misappropriation of the online networking experience diminishes it for everyone else.
So, what do I recommend? I think we have just two options. We can either devote the time and energy necessary to extend our online professional networks far beyond their current meager limits and then transform those contacts into genuine relationships or we should abandon the sites that are supposed to nurture them and turn our time and talent to more productive activities. As the old truism notes, it’s not worth doing something unless you’re going to do it right.
Who is Peter Weddle?
Peter Weddle is a recruiter, HR consultant and business CEO turned author and commentator. Described by The Washington Post as “… a man filled with ingenious ideas,” Peter has earned an international reputation, pioneering concepts in human resource leadership and employment. He has authored or edited over two dozen books and been a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, The National Business Employment Weekly and CNN.com. Today, Peter writes two newsletters that are distributed worldwide and oversees WEDDLE’s LLC, a print publisher specializing in the field of human resources. WEDDLE’s annual Guides and Directory to job boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the American Staffing Association to call Weddle the “Zagat of the online employment industry.”