My #JobHunt presentation is online #PASSProfDev @PASS_ProfDev @CASSUG_Albany #SQLFamily #ProfessionalDevelopment

If you missed my job hunt presentation, it is now available on YouTube. Click here to view my presentation!

Additionally, my presentation slides can be downloaded from here!

How to (and how NOT to) connect on #LinkedIn

Lately, it seems like I’ve been getting more and more request to connect on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the go-to social networking tool for connecting with people professionally. Ever since I (1) announced that I was looking for a new job, and (2) announced that I’d started a new LLC, the number of connect requests I’ve been getting has increased.

I had comments on my LinkedIn summary saying that I won’t connect with cold-call LinkedIn requests (and I still won’t, but we’ll get to that in a moment), but I toned the language down after my job hunt kicked into gear.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about LinkedIn connect requests, but people whom I don’t know or have never heard of still persist in connecting with me. I’ve said it before: networking is about relationships. If you’re trying to establish a network (which is what LinkedIn connect requests are about), you need to establish a relationship.

Yet here I am, once again, writing about this topic, because people still don’t get it. So, here are a few tips about how to (and how NOT to) establish a LinkedIn connection with me.

Things that will establish a connection between me and you

  • You’re a friend or colleague whom I know and trust, and I recognize your name immediately, regardless of whether or not you include an accompanying note.
  • You’re someone whom I invited to connect.
  • You’re an acquaintance whom I don’t know well, but you include a note saying “we worked together at such-and-such place,” or “we were classmates in such-and-such school,” or “I was one of your students at place-where-I taught.”
  • I don’t know you at all, but you include a note saying “we met at SQL Saturday,” or “I enjoyed your presentation,” or “we met at such-and-such place,” or “(a mutual connection) said we should hook up,” and so on, and so on, and so on.

    One of the best examples of this was the following note I received after I spoke at a SQL Saturday. Although I didn’t know her at all, I was happy to connect with her.

    “I really enjoyed your presentation on technical writing at SQL Saturday today! The tie challenge was a really interesting way to get the point across. I’d like to stay in touch and maybe pick your brain about tech writing again at some point in the future.”

    One note that I should add: try to be specific about how we’re connected. Mention where we met, which of my presentations you saw, what you liked (or didn’t like) about my presentation, why our mutual friend said we should connect, and so on. For all I know, you might be stalking my profile, just happen to see a connection on it, and say “so-and-so told me to connect.” If you don’t explain why we’re connecting, that’s not going to cut it. I don’t have any tolerance for BS’ers.
  • You’re a legitimate (key word!) recruiter who actually knows and respects what I’m looking for, and doesn’t blindly send me requests for jobs in which I have absolutely no interest. (See below for the opposite of this.)

I want to point out that, except for the first two bullet points, all of these have something in common: that you include a note telling me who you are and how we’re connected. This is key in establishing a connection.

Things that will make me delete your connect request immediately

These types of requests irritate me to no end, and will nearly guarantee that I will delete your connect request.

  • I have no idea who you are, and you do NOT include any note of any kind telling me who you are.
  • Same as above, even if we’re connected in some way (e.g. same user group, same workplace, same activity, etc.). If we’re connected, and I don’t know you well (or at all), don’t just assume I know who you are and how we’re connected! Tell me who you are!!! Don’t make me work to figure it out!!!
  • Including a note, but making no mention about how we’re related. I recently received a connect request from someone asking me if I was looking to hire developers. My business is a single-person LLC (for now), and I am not looking to hire anyone, at least not yet. Maybe several years from now, when I’m pulling in over a half-million dollars worth of assets and have more work than I can handle, then sure, I might look to hire people. But until that happens, please tell me how we’re connected. I felt bad for the poor guy, but he didn’t give me any reason for me to connect with him, other than “I’m looking for a job.”
  • Kissing my ass. This is something that pisses me off to no end. My number one pet peeve is insulting my intelligence. Doing so guarantees that you will end up on my shit list.

    The most egregious example was a connect request I received that said this:

    “I’m always looking to build my network with great people and would be delighted to have you in my network. I hope you’ll consider connecting!”

    Not only did she try to kiss up to me, she insulted my intelligence. I could not delete her connect request fast enough.
  • Try to talk about a relationship that doesn’t exist. I recently received a request that said this:

    “Thanks in advance for connecting. Tons of value in connecting with other sales professionals.”

    Um, did you actually read my LinkedIn profile?!? Name ONE thing in it that says I am, in any way, interested in sales!!! (Here’s a hint: I’M NOT!!!)
  • I make no secret of the fact that I have a deep contempt for spam recruiters. It is well-known by legitimate recruiters and scores of IT professionals that spam recruiters are radioactive and should be treated as such. If you’re a so-called “recruiter” who doesn’t give a damn about your client, doesn’t try to get to know what I want or am looking for, sends me a job in which I have zero interest, tries to send me a cold-call connect request when I don’t know you, have never heard of you, have no idea who you are, and only cares about how much you get paid and not about your client’s well-being, then don’t even bother trying to contact or connect with me.
  • Trying to sell me something, or push something on me that I either don’t want or don’t care about. Again, this is about establishing relationships. It’s a two-way street. If it’s something that’s only for your benefit, then I don’t want anything to do with you.

In a nutshell, if you’re looking to connect with someone over LinkedIn, always include a note that explains your relationship with that person. I guarantee that you will increase your chances that he or she will connect with you, and your networking experience will go much better.

No cold calls!!!

This is something that is one of my biggest pet peeves. I’ve written about this before. Because it keeps happening, I’m writing about this again.

I often get requests to connect from people I don’t know. I will only connect with people with whom I have some kind of established relationship. It’s so bad that I put this note prominently at the top of my LinkedIn profile.

If you want to connect with me, please indicate how we’re connected; otherwise, I will ignore or delete your request. I do NOT accept unsolicited connect requests from people I don’t know.

I especially hold a strong contempt for spam recruiters. For starters, I once had a bad experience with a spam recruiter. There are also many documented cases about spam recruiters being bad for professional development. And their queries are often downright insulting to me. They make absolutely no attempt to get to know me or what I want; all they do is look for buzzwords in my LinkedIn profile or resume. Any connect request I receive from a recruiter I’ve never heard of gets deleted immediately.

Granted, just because I don’t know you doesn’t mean I won’t connect with you. However, you need to give me a reason as to why I should connect with you. It doesn’t have to be much — even something as simple as, “I enjoyed (meeting/talking/listening/whatever) to you at (user group/activity/party/whatever). Can we connect?” is enough for me to at least acknowledge you.

There are a number of people who think that just because we have friends or groups in common that they can just connect with me. The fact is, if I don’t know who you are, and you don’t tell me how we’re connected, I will not connect with you. Just because we’re part of the same user group doesn’t mean I will connect with you. Several user groups and activities I’m in often have numbers of people whom I don’t know. You need to tell me we’re in the same user group. Do not make me have to work to figure out who you are.

I am very particular about this, especially in this day and age of identity theft and data security. It’s one thing to be asked a favor, but it’s quite another to be taken advantage of. There is a difference.

Networking is about relationships. Tell me what our relationship is, and I’ll be happy to connect with you, even if I don’t know you. But if you send me an unsolicited connect request with absolutely no indication as to how we’re connected, chances are I will delete or ignore your request. Don’t send me a cold-call connect request with no explanation as to how we’re connected and expect me to connect with you.

When does a request for info become spam?

I recently saw a post in a Facebook group that I manage for a user group to which I belong. She was brand-new to the group, having joined just hours (maybe even minutes) before she posted.

She turned out to be a recruiter. I won’t say too much about her because her firm is one with which I have a very good relationship. That said, I’d never heard of her, which made me wonder how new she was.

It also made me question her motives for joining the group. It’s one thing if she joined to become an active member of the group or to network, with which I have no problem, but it’s quite another if her sole reason for joining is to post online job solicitations — something with which I take issue. Since she seems new, I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt. I sent her a PM, explained my relationship with her firm, and asked if I could assist.

It made me think: when do job solicitations become spam?

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about recruiter spam, and, of course, I’ve written extensively about networking. Those of you who are inundated with recruiter emails or postings know how downright aggravating it gets. Unless we’re actively looking for a new position, we have no time or patience for responding to the deluge of messages about which we couldn’t care less. And it’s only once in a great while where we come across one that looks interesting enough to look into it further. And for those of you who think these things are harmless, I once had a bad experience with a spam recruiter.

I do give leeway if the message is from a recruiter or firm that I know. As I’ve written before, it’s about relationships and trust. If a recruiter that I know asks me if I know someone with a certain set of skills, I would be happy to refer someone to him or her, and I’ll be more likely to take their job search requests more seriously. But if the recruiter is someone I don’t know who cold-calls me asking for a referral, what do you think the chances are that I would give one? In all likelihood, slim to none.

So in my mind, the difference between a referral and spam is the relationship. If the person who posted that request already had a preexisting relationship with our group, I’d be happy to see the post. But that she posted nearly immediately after joining the Facebook group has me questioning her motives. Establish yourself before you go looking for favors.

Postscript: As I was winding up this article, the recruiter to whom I sent the PM responded to me, and in doing so, dropped the name of someone I know. I now trust her a bit more, and I feel a little more comfortable with her posting.

Characteristics of good recruiters

I’ve written some articles about spam recruiters. To put it very bluntly, spam recruiters are evil. They do not work for your best interests; they are just looking to make a buck. And it’s a pervasive problem. Do a Google search for “recruiter spam” and take a look at all the hits that come up. Quite frankly, I hate them. I’ve had bad experiences with them. I’ve done plenty of ranting about them. Every time I get an email from a spam recruiter, it goes right into the trash.

“Okay, Ray,” you might say. “We get it. You hate recruiter spam. So what do you think makes a good recruiter?”

That’s a fair question. Let’s talk about that.

I’ll say that I have a number of friends who are recruiters. I have very good relationships with many of them. There are many good recruiters out there who make good networking contacts. I can easily drop them a line to say “what’s up?” Every now and then, they’ll send messages like, “I’m looking to fill such-and-such position. Can you help me out?” If I know someone, I’ll gladly pass names along. If I have a good relationship with a recruiter, I make sure that I maintain it — even if I’m not actively looking for a new position.

So in my mind, here are some of the things that make a good recruiter.

  • A good recruiter takes the time to get to know you. As I wrote before, networking is about relationships. (S)he will sit down with you and ask what you want in an ideal position, how you work, your strengths, what you like, and so on. (S)he will also critique your resume and provide some advice based on what you tell him or her. More often than not, these discussions are more conversational, not necessarily a full-blown interview (although it might not hurt a prospective candidate to treat it as such).

    In my consulting position, I regularly have lunch with my consulting firm contact — who is himself a recruiter — about every couple of months. We’ll discuss a variety of things — how’re things going, what’s going on, etc. I enjoy these conversations that I have with him; they make me feel as though he’s looking out for me — which he is.

    Simply put, a good recruiter looks to establish a relationship with you. You are not just another number to him or her.
  • A good recruiter is honest with you. I’ve had conversations with recruiters who’ve said, “I don’t have anything that’s a good fit for you right now.” That’s okay. If (s)he doesn’t have a position that’s a good match for me, then it is what it is. (S)he will not try to force you into a position that is not a good fit.

    I have a friend — a recruiter — who is brutally honest with her clients. She has given me comments about my resume and job hunt activities in the past that I haven’t necessarily wanted to hear, but when it came down to it, I realized that she was often right. She doesn’t want to steer her clients wrong, and wants to make sure they end up in a good situation. I have some friends who’ve been placed by her, and they all attest that she is a great recruiter.
  • A good recruiter doesn’t spam you. Rather, (s)he’ll ask for favors. I often get emails from my recruiter friends saying something like, “we are looking to fill (insert name of position here). If you’re interested, or if you know someone, please let me know.”

    What’s the difference between this request and a spammer? These emails come from people with whom I have an established relationship. As I’ve written before, networking is bidirectional and symbiotic. They’ve helped me with my job search. In turn, they’re likely looking for a favor from me. Maybe I know someone who can help them. And as I wrote above, they’ve taken the time to get to know me. They know what I look for, and they know the kind of professionals with whom I likely associate. Contrast that to spam recruiters, who send you emails based on keywords that they find in your resume or your LinkedIn profile. A legitimate recruiter is someone with whom you’ve established a measure of trust.

    Speaking of trust…
  • A good recruiter is someone you trust. Can you trust that a recruiter acts in your best interest? Is (s)he someone you feel is reliable? Do you feel comfortable talking to your recruiter? If you’re looking for a position, do you feel that (s)he will place you in the best possible position? Is (s)he open and honest with you? Do you accept his or her feedback?

    If the answer to these is yes, then you have a good recruiter you can trust.

These are some of the characteristics that I feel make a good recruiter (and if you have any more that I’ve left out, feel free to add them below in the comments section). Good recruiters are good people with whom to establish relationships — even if you’re not looking for a job — and may very well be some of the best networking contacts you could have.

Ranting my frustration about connect requests

This article may seem to go against one of the things that I preach in my ‘blogging presentation, and that is to avoid frustrated rants and “getting it out of your system.” Maybe I should be a little more specific. One should avoid mindless rants in which you angrily spew your passions without any thoughts, and in which you say things that you’ll later regret.

Yes, this article is a rant. However, it is not without thought, and there is a purpose to this post.

As many of my regular followers (both of you) are likely aware, I write and present primarily on professional development topics. I’m not as technically sharp as I once was, but I still contribute to groups such as PASS and SQL Saturday in the form of “soft” topics that are of interest to industry professionals. I’ve started using this analogy during my presentation introductions: “when it comes to my relationship with PASS and SQL Saturday, I’m the professor at MIT who teaches English Lit.”

Among other things — and if you follow my ‘blog and my presentations, you probably already know this — I write a lot about networking. These days, networking is the lifeblood of one’s career path.

However, there is a difference between networking and connecting. Therein lies the heart of my rant. I’ve written before about people who don’t give a crap about actual networking, as well as spam recruiters.

I still get connect requests from these people, and it frustrates me to no end. So with that…

<Rant>
  • If I don’t know who you are, tell me how we’re connected!!! I get a lot of LinkedIn requests from people whom I don’t know from Adam. Some might be people I’ve met from my user group or at a SQL Saturday, but if I’m not friends with you, I didn’t invite you to connect, I don’t interact with you on a semi-regular basis, or we don’t have some kind of common relationship (more on that below), chances are that I’m not going to know or remember who you are. I do NOT connect with random strangers that I don’t know. If you tell me how we’re connected, then I will be happy to connect with you. But if you send me a cold-connect request with no explanation whatsoever — or worse, send me a message where you kiss my ass without explaining how we’re connected (I’ve had that happen before) — then there is about a 98% chance* that I will delete your request. (And if you try to kiss up to me, insult my intelligence, or try to sell me something, that shoots all the way up to 100%.)

    (*If I recognize where you’re from, then there’s a slight chance that I might at least retain the request, not delete it altogether. But if I don’t know you, I still won’t connect until you tell me who you are. Don’t make me have to work to figure out who you are.)
  • I am NOT in a contest to see if I can get the most connections. So you have 3000+ connections. That’s great. But if you ask me for a recommendation, will I know anything about you? Networking is about relationships. If I need a favor (for example, let’s say I lose my job and am looking for a new one), are you willing to help me out? Or are you looking for something for me and are not willing to give anything back? If the answer no to the first question and yes to the latter, then don’t even bother with me.
  • We don’t have to be friends. We just need to have something in common. I don’t expect to be buddies with all my networking connections. Many of these people I will likely not recognize if I bumped into them on the street. Some might even be people with whom I have some kind of conflict. But if we’re both members of the same “family” (e.g. my alma mater, my fraternity, my gym, #SQLFamily, etc.), then I’m more likely to connect with you. If we’re friends, great, but having a networking relationship with acquaintances is okay.

And I have a special rant regarding spam recruiters. I hate spam recruiters passionately. (I once had a bad experience with a spam recruiter — if you really want to hear more about it, I talk about it in the link.) They give legitimate recruiters a bad name. All of the above bullet points about connecting apply, along with these points.

  • I will NOT relocate. If you try to sell me a position that requires me to move, consider your message deleted immediately. I have a home and a life. I have roots where I am, and I will NOT pull them up unless I desperately have to do so. I will NOT even look at any message that tells me about a job in someplace I’ve never heard of or located hundreds of miles from where I live. Every time I see a message like that in my inbox, it goes straight into the trash. I won’t even bother reading what it says.
  • Don’t even bother contacting me about sales or help desk call positions. Although I’m open-minded enough that I’d look into nearly any job depending on the circumstances, there are some positions in which I have absolutely zero interest. I have no interest at all in any type of sales associate or help desk call* position, and I state that very clearly in my LinkedIn overview. (There are a number of other positions as well, but those are the ones about which I get the most emails.) I don’t even know what on my resume says that I have any kind of interest in either position.

    (*I might consider a position that involves managing or supporting a help desk, but again, it depends on the circumstances.)
  • No growth? No dice. I’m always looking to grow. That doesn’t necessarily mean climbing the ladder (although it could mean that). It means improving myself, learning new skills, and possibly even furthering my education. If you don’t offer that, chances are that I won’t budge.

Having gotten that out of my system, I do have some points for legitimate recruiters (some of whom are my friends).

  • I am not actively looking for a position (at least not as of this article), but I do look passively. If something that looks interesting drops in my lap, I’d be stupid to at least not look into it. And if it’s something that works for me — whether it’s an increase in salary or an upward move — then who knows?
  • No, I won’t relocate, but… I do enjoy traveling, so I give bonus points for a position in which I get to do some traveling. Also, I would consider a position where I can work from home full-time, even if the prospective employer is located hundreds of miles away.
</Rant>

Okay. That’s out of my system. I feel better now.

A tale of two LinkedIn requests

Over the weekend (specifically, while I was at SQL Saturday Philadelphia), I received two different LinkedIn connect requests. The two requests were polar opposites, and I thought they were worthwhile writing about in this article.

As a technical professional, I often receive “cold-call” connect requests or emails. I am very wary and picky about with whom I connect; indeed, I’ve written before about spam recruiters. The problem has become so pervasive that I included this note at the top of my LinkedIn profile summary: “If you want to connect with me, please indicate how we’re connected; otherwise, I will ignore or delete your request. I do NOT accept unsolicited connect requests from people I don’t know.”

In my networking presentation, I include a section on “how to break the ice” — that is, how to initiate a networking contact with someone you don’t know. The two requests I received were perfect case studies as to what to do — and what NOT to do.

I’ll start with the one that describes what not to do. I received a “cold-call” connect request from someone who sent me the following note. Keep in mind that I do not know this person.

“I’m always looking to build my network with great people and would be delighted to have you in my network. I hope you’ll consider connecting!”

(name withheld)

If you’ve attended my presentation, or if you’ve downloaded or perused my PowerPoint slides, you’ll know that I include a section of what not to do. This person’s email checked off one of the boxes in that category: brown-nosing/sucking up/kissing up. The message was canned, impersonal, and insincere. Not only that, but she gave absolutely no indication as to how we’re connected or if we have any kind of (business) relationship. She gave me absolutely no reason for me to connect with her. “Wanting to build my network with great people” is NOT a reason for me to connect with you!!! Not only did she not give me a reason to connect, the tone of her message insulted my intelligence. This message is a perfect example of how NOT to establish a networking contact.

(And in case you’re wondering, I deleted this person’s request immediately.)

On the other side of the coin, I received this message from someone who attended my SQL Saturday presentation this past weekend. Again, I did not know this person. However…

“I really enjoyed your presentation on technical writing at SQL Saturday today! The tie challenge was a really interesting way to get the point across. I’d like to stay in touch and maybe pick your brain about tech writing again at some point in the future.”

(name also withheld)

(Note: the “tie challenge” refers to a demo in my presentation. If you haven’t seen my presentation, I’m not telling you what it is. You’ll have to attend to find out! 🙂 )

To the person who wrote this email (if you’re reading this): nice job! The message was sincere, complimentary (“I enjoyed the presentation”), referred to specific things (so I knew she attended my presentation; therefore, we have a connection of some type), and asked to potentially continue a conversation (“maybe pick your brain”). This is a perfect example as to how to initiate contact and break the ice. I was happy to connect with this person, and I did.

(P.S. I might use your message as an example the next time I give my networking presentation!)

If you want to establish a networking contact, you need to be sincere and give the person a reason to connect. Make the person feel valued. This applies to any networking situation, regardless of whether it’s face-to-face or online. Following this guideline will ensure that your networking efforts are much more successful.