Tuesday, June 10, 2014

4 Kinds of LinkedIn Requests and How to Respond

How many times have you seen this email in your inbox?

It's an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, the professional networking site. But it's from someone you don't know, or someone whose name you might have heard at a networking event. Did you go to college with this person? Maybe you bumped into this person at Starbucks and swapped business cards. No matter. The point here is you have an invitation, and you don't know what to do with it.

These invitations can be generated in a few different ways. Someone might have been browsing your profile and clicked "Connect." Often, I get these emails when someone has had LinkedIn search their address book and checks the options to mass invite every email address they have. I don't recommend doing this. It's not really spam, but it feels like spam to the person who receives it. This method doesn't give you an option to enter a customized message, which is the gold standard of LinkedIn requests.

The options for responding to a LinkedIn request are: Accept, Ignore, and Mark as Spam. 

So how do you decide what to do?

Scenario 1: You think you know who the person is, but you're not sure.

Check out their profile. Look for things you have in common, such as skills, location, or schools. That should be enough to jog you memory so you can make an informed decision.

Scenario 2: You don't know who the person is, but s/he is someone you might like to connect with.

You're in online marketing, and someone from an online marketing firm that you'd like to work for sends an invitation. Go ahead an accept, but make sure to follow up with a note within the next day. Your note should be clear and concise. Here's a sample:

Hi Samantha,

Thanks so much for reaching out over LinkedIn. I notice from your profile that you work at Digital Marketing Professionals. I work in digital marketing, and I would love to hear more about your role at DMP, as I am very interested in the company. Would you have time to chat by phone next week? You can reach me directly at email@address.com or (617) 555-1234.

Best regards,

After that, the ball is on the requestor's court to respond.

Scenario 3: You don't know who the person is, and you're not sure if you want to connect.

You got a request, you checked out the person's profile, and you're on the fence about whether connecting would be useful. Without accepting the request (you'll need to go into your LinkedIn inbox to do this), send the person a quick note:

Hi Quinn,

I don't think we've met. Can you tell me a little bit about why you would like to connect?


This gives the person an option to explain that they also went to your alma mater and wanted to meet fellow Electrical Engineering majors, or that they are a long time fan of your blog. If they don't respond, it's safe to assume that they aren't serious about connecting. 

Scenario 4: You know the person, but you don't know if you want to connect.

True story: A woman getting divorced found a great lawyer through word-of-mouth recommendations. The divorce proceedings went well (as well as any divorce goes), but toward the end of the process, the lawyer made a pass at her. She made it clear she wasn't interested, and they completed their business. Now, some time later, the lawyer invited her to join his LinkedIn network. Her dilemma was that he was a good lawyer in court, but he wasn't a very sensitive person, or the most professional.

The answer to this one is:

Ask yourself two questions. Would you recommend this person for a job? This would include everything "should I hire this person to paint my house, I hear he painted your house last year," to "Peggy is a finalist for the role of VP of Sales in our firm. What do you think of her work?"

Then ask, "Would this person recommend me for a job?" This would include being comfortable enough to ask, "Hugh, can I put you down as a reference on my job application?" as well as being reasonably certain that if a future hiring manager called Hugh, he would say you were the right person for the job and be able to enumerate your strengths. 

If the answer to either question is no, I don't recommend connecting. Some people are just out to collect connections the way other people collect stamps or camel figurines--just to see how many they can get. There's a danger in doing that. People actually use LinkedIn to augment real-life networking. If you have 5,000 connections but can't say anything about more than 20 of them, this signals that your network's value is low, and that your ability to create a network is similarly low. 

I have read that people should aim to have 500 or more LinkedIn connections in order to be perceived as "professional" or "good at networking," or whatever. This is silly. Connect with the people you know and trust, with people that you would be able to refer work to, with people you have worked with. Connect with people you talk to/collaborate with in an online-only relationship. Beware of the LION (LinkedIn Open Networker)--this person is out to collect scalps. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Conference Swag Dos and Don'ts

I have always wanted to write about conference swag.

I have been to many conferences: legal conferences, technology conferences, academic conferences. And of course women's conferences.

The two women's conferences that I have been to the most are the Massachusetts Conference for Women, and the Simmons Leadership Conference. These are two very different conferences in terms of content, mission, and execution. The Mass Conference for Women is usually a nice time, some good cookies, and a few light, feel-good keynotes and total fluff breakouts. Well, that's not entirely fair. The first year I went they did have Gloria Steinem, who was more substantial. The Simmons Leadership Conference (which is no longer called the Simmons Women's Leadership Conference for a reason) brings in big names for keynotes (think Hillary Clinton, Sallie Krawcheck, and Diane Keaton).

Anyway, I am always irritated with the difference in swag between a women's conference and any other kind of conference. At INTA, I've gotten high quality pens and card cases. (Quick tip for conferences: carry a second card case to keep the cards you get from other people.) At tech conferences, I've gotten flash drives and USB hubs. These are all useful things. At a women's conference? Nail files, fold up mirrors, and nail polish. That last one came from Raytheon. Yes, the company that makes weapons for the US military appeals to women by giving them nail polish in Raytheon Red.

So here is today's haul, from the 2014 Simmons Leadership Conference:

EMC and The Harford - Tote Bag

I did go as part of the EMC contingent, which entitled me to a fancier bag than the general admission. Sadly, I didn't get to see the other bag up close, so I can't tell you much about it. This bag is actually quite good. It's some sort of water-resistant canvas with good straps and an internal flap with two pockets and a few pen holders. I will absolutely be using this bag again

Swag pile 1:

Novartis - dust cloth for electronic screens
BNY Mellon - dust cloth for electronic screens
EMC - luggage tag
MFS Financial Advisors - mini notebook
Merck - Sample of Oxytrol for Women, a patch to relieve overactive bladder symptoms

Points to Novartis and BNY for realizing that I am always getting finger oils on my iPhone screen. I have tons of these and use them plenty. They also work well on glasses. The EMC luggage tag is very useful, I have several of these now, in different colors and they are easily spotted on your luggage as it moves around the carousel. MFS went with the old standby, and several attendees were taking notes on their mini book throughout the conference. Merck--well, I'm not sure. In some ways, this is really neat, giving you an actual medical product. However, it's not one that most women would need, and I deduct major points for it being in a super-girly pink package.

Swag pile 2:

Zoetis - change purse
HP - USB to cigarette adapter charger
JP Morgan - pen
Babson Capital - mini flashlight
Dimension Data - lip balm
Wells Fargo - compact mirror
EMC - "Lovely Day Luxe Body Custard" from Soul Purpose
A bag of Craisins without attribution, so I'm assuming Ocean Spray

Zoetis gives you something mostly useful, but fails to tell me what their company does. I did see their exhibitor booth, and I think it has something to do with animals, since they had a line of dog figurines on display. HP is spot on with a car charger for your phone, everyone needs that. Good on JP Morgan, that's a really good pen that won't fall apart and leak in your pocket or purse. Babson Capital also provides something useful, a flashlight that would be handy to keep on your keys or in your dashboard for an emergency. Craisins fall into the good pile, because most people need a snack at an all day conference.

But then there's Wells Fargo and EMC. The Wells Fargo mirror is super flimsy. I have some fold up mirrors, one at work and one in my purse, but they came as giveaways from Clinique or Lancome, and those mirrors hold up. This one has a hinge that's dying to break, and a mirror that is loose from its frame. EMC--and yes I work for them!--is the biggest disappointment. Luxe. Body. Custard. Last year, they gave just plain body custard. This year we get Luxe! This is stupid. EMC is capable of much better swag, I've seen it all over EMC World--travel mugs, USB hubs, phone cases, t-shirts. At EMC World, no one gives out body custard. This irritates me the most of all the swag because not only is it cutesy and girly, it's in a pretty little chiffon bag! Like most people, I'm really picky about what skin care lotions I'll put on. So this isn't just sexist, it's useless. I am not going to use this. Ever. In fact, I sent last year's body custard to a coworker for a prank. He had no idea what it was. This isn't something you would ever think to put out at a conference with men.

So, overall, this was a good haul, especially for a women's conference. But seriously, if you are ordering swag for a conference (or any giveaway), or know someone who does, please tell them to think about it harder. Don't go for gendered products. I'm going to get rid of the mirror, the body custard, and the Oxytrol. I will use the pen, keep the car charger and mini flashlight in my car, and keep the mini notebook by the phone to take down messages. The tote bag is going into the pile that I use for grocery shopping and errands.

Moral of the story: if you want to spend money giving away tchotchkes to clients or potential clients, make sure it's not something they will look at, make a face at, and toss. Go for useful. And women like a lot of the same things men do, like device chargers. Lastly, never, ever give out body custard, luxe or not.