Solving the Connection Request Mystery: When to Accept Them, Dig Deeper or Kick ’Em to the Curb

A few weeks ago, I shared a post on LinkedIn discussing the many connection requests (13 in the last 3.5 hours as I write this, and not one included a tailored message) that I get from people I don’t know — requests that show up with zero context, personalization, or anything to help me decide if it’s worth pursuing. To add to the confusion, often when I dig deeper to understand why someone is trying to connect with me, I don’t get any type of response. Am I crazy, or does this seem odd?

I wasnt sure what to expect when I briefly shared my thoughts and asked if others had encountered this same type of experience, but over 27,000 views and 30 comments later, it’s obvious that I’m not alone.

So, what is there to do when you receive connection requests from total strangers? After all, I’m not a mind reader and someone’s intentions aren’t always apparent without a personalized message.

Now, I realize that some people who genuinely wish to connect might be using a LinkedIn function where they can’t easily identify a way to add a personal message (such as what happens when sending invites through “People You May Know” or connecting whilst on the mobile app — there’s a fix for this, read on). If this happens to you, there’s still a chance to recover well by sending a note post connection — it’s not that difficult, I promise.

Bad news people, this results in many lost opportunities. Personalization IS everything. For me, I find that I’m much more likely to respond (and be genuinely excited about the connection) when someone tells me why they want to connect in an authentic manner. If there’s no context, I’ll send a smoke signal to ask why they want to connect. In most cases, someone’s response (or lack of a response) to this message will tell me everything I need to know.

As I’ve read through the responses I received to my initial LinkedIn post and given this topic a bit more thought, I’ve narrowed these unsolicited requests down to four main categories. Understanding how these connection requests fit into the world of LinkedIn can help you decide who to accept or decline, while also helping you become more effective as you try to expand your own network.

1) Genuine Connection: Embrace Them with Open Arms

The first type of request is hopefully the easiest to spot — someone who wants to genuinely connect with you to share knowledge and experiences while becoming better acquainted. While you may not know these individuals personally, they tend to have a legitimate reason to connect with you. They’re the type of person whose connection request you should definitely accept, nurture and grow!

Perhaps they share some mutual connections, or (as some people shared in their comments to my post), they are looking to connect with professionals in their industry whom they wish to emulate in some way (cue flattery).

People in search of genuine networking opportunities may be looking to do business together, build relationships they can leverage for future career growth, brainstorm, share insights, learn, or simply demonstrate their marketable skills and knowledge (show offs).

Regardless of their motivations, I find that people in search of authentic connections have a dynamic presence on LinkedIn. They actively like others’ posts and leave insightful comments, and they aren’t afraid to share their own ideas in blogs and other postings. They’ve taken the time to build a strong network already, with a polished profile and plenty of legitimate connections — including work colleagues that they know in real life. Perhaps most telling of all, though, is that they’ll actually respond when you ask why they wish to connect!

Quite often, connecting with one of these people will result in a win-win where you both can learn from each other and potentially tap into new opportunities.

I know some people reading this are looking to wholeheartedly network on LinkedIn, and as you can tell by now, a little personalization can go a long way (in every aspect of life mind you). So how do you personalize your connection requests when using your mobile phone?

It’s pretty simple. When you find someone’s profile, you’ll see three small dots in the corner to the side of their picture. Clicking on these dots opens up a small menu, which includes the option to send a personalized note! Clicking here gives you the option to type up a short, special message that will make a huge difference when you’re trying to connect on LinkedIn.

2) Sales/Recruiting: Pause and Dig a Bit Deeper

It’s not unusual to receive a connection request from someone with the ulterior motive of trying to evangelize the numerous ways they can provide value to you or your company via their product, service or life-changing gig. These aren’t spammers — quite often, they’re business professionals making the equivalent of a digital “cold call”.

While this definitely doesn’t fall under my idea of the Golden Rule of sales (recruiting too), this doesn’t always mean that any sales-oriented LinkedIn request should automatically be deleted or discounted. There could always be something of value there and it’s worthwhile to try to find out more before making a snap judgment.

While a lot of these connections merit a quick delete, there are times when it is worth digging a bit deeper to see if accepting the request could be valuable. Naturally, the first thing you should look for is any sign of personalization or context in the initial connection request or in follow-up messages versus a “canned” message that was merely sent based on keyword matches (so sad this still happens more than any of us on the receiving end would like it to, sigh).

A salesperson/recruiter whose request is worth accepting will respond to your message with a legitimate reason as to why they think you’d be interested in their product, service or opportunity. They also should have a polished LinkedIn profile with established connections and meaningful content — a professional photo doesn’t hurt either. While you certainly don’t have any obligation to accept their request or even take a look at their product offering, you can probably have peace of mind knowing you won’t be buried under frequent spammy messages if you do.

3) SPAM: MAYDAY

Spam. Even saying it out loud probably makes your stomach turn (I know mine certainly does). The good news is that quite often, you can spot spam connection requests and quickly decline them (or block them depending on how bad it is) without having to get repeatedly bombarded.

More often than not, spam connectors are the ones who aren’t going to give you any sort of response when you ask how you know them. They might simply blast you with a sales message for a product that has absolutely no relevance to your industry or “pitch” a job that has not one thing to do with what you’ve been doing in your career.

Other common signs that you’re dealing with a scammer include incomplete profiles with few connections and frequent misspellings. Many fake accounts list their job title as a “bank executive” in preparation for future phishing scams (yep, they’ll probably want you to wire money for “investment opportunities”). These requests are an easy delete.

If you do make the mistake of accepting a spam connection request, don’t worry! You can still remove connections and even report or block spam accounts.

4) Voyeurs: Jury is Out

This is the trickiest of scenarios I’m afraid and my jury is still out. I struggle with accepting a “cold” connection request from someone that I’d absolutely love to get to know that fails to respond when I try to learn more. Did they see a posting I wrote and liked it? Do we have common connections that have brought my name up? Did they stumble across my profile, took a gander and wanted to make the connection because one never knows when they need an expert startup, sales recruiter to help them scale their team or get their next gig? So many different reasons and ZERO understanding why…

There has been a lot of back and forth on this along with many other postings beyond my own that debate the best way to handle or not to handle.

I find it comes across as disingenuous, creepy or downright rude. What exactly is the point of making a connection then? Some would argue to remove the connection or state that without understanding the request further they’ll be removed. Others would argue to send a separate message “schooling” the connector on their bad behavior. Some say, accept all and be grateful.

Like I said, my jury is out on this one, without reasoning behind the request, then why make the connection in the first place?

Conclusion

While navigating LinkedIn and other networking platforms can sometimes be confusing, overwhelming or frustrating, I strongly believe that they add a TON of value — whether you’re a recruiter, salesperson, “thought leader” or any other kind of professional.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in on this! How often is this happening in your world? Is it with a certain “kind” of person? How have you responded to these various types of LinkedIn connection requests? What criteria do you use to decide whether to accept or delete a request? What do you do to personalize your own requests and build your network?

I’m so looking forward to hearing what you think about this and appreciate the insight and perspective!

Note: I originally featured this stream of consciousness on LinkedIn

I help startups hire sales leaders without the cringe • Founder/CEO • 2X Entrepreneur • Personally closed $100MM+ in revenue (and counting) • LinkedIn Top Sales

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