Friday, October 23, 2009

LinkedIn: The Power of Numbers

Can you have too many people in your professional online network? Are you a LinkedIn "megalomaniac"? Or the more the merrier? 

From NYTimes article "Networks Too Big for Their Own Good":

"Online social networks like LinkedIn, which have created something of an electronic scorecard in the networking game. LinkedIn can be a very effective tool, provided that members are circumspect about whom they add to their professional networks."

But some people end up erecting professional networks larger than the populations of some small developing nations. Can these LinkedIn megalomaniacs really know hundreds upon hundreds of people so well that they’d be willing to put their reputations on the line and vouch for their entire network’s professional competency?"

The crux of this article is that recruiters and hiring managers put too much weight on personal networks, and questions the validity of an online professional network that extends into the hundreds. But as someone who has hundreds of LinkedIn contacts, and who has use the site very actively in recruiting, hiring, coaching, and job searches, I think the author misses the point on 2 counts.

1) I don't think any user would mistake that having someone in your contact list means that you unreservedly endorse their "professional competency." It simply means that you share some professional connection - they could have been your boss, your vendor, your intern, or the guy in the next cube whose job description you are unsure of. 

Just because I have a former coworker in my list of contacts doesn't mean I'd necessarily recommend them for a job. And for those who do actively ask you for a recommendation that you don't feel comfortable sharing, you can always politely decline (I have).

2) More importantly: there is value in having a lot of people in your network, even if you don't know them well. Here's why: LinkedIn enables you to create a giant, searchable database for you to utilize on your job search. Each person you connect with (1st level contact) adds their contacts as well (2nd level), and when you do an advanced search it adds THEIR contacts (3rd level). 

In other words, you create an exponential increase in the efficacy and power of your database with each person you add. My 600+ contacts enables me to have a database of 4 million+ people. Why does this matter? 

Let's say you are on a job search, and you create a list of companies that you might want to work for - HBO, PBS, and CBS, for instance. I don't know anyone who works at HBO, but wow, a lot of my first level contacts do. But even if THEY didn't know anyone who works at HBO, with 4 million people in my database I receive search results on 1000+ HBO employees. It gives me a sense of who works there, what kind of positions are available, and who I might approach directly with a job inquiry or a request for an informational interview. I am able to figure out who might be most receptive to my approach (by how many connections they have, their social networking profile, and if we have anything in common in terms of career, groups, education, hobbies or interests). 

On the flip side, LinkedIn is one of the most used tools in a recruiters' toolkit. The more connections you have, the higher the likelihood that a hiring manager will locate you. 

It's true that having hundreds or thousands of connections isn't indicative of deep relationships, or a vast pool of vetted candidates. But there is still great power in numbers on LinkedIn.

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