The Etiquette of LinkedIn Invitations

Last Updated: October 17, 2014

In my earlier post, The INs of LinkedIn, I explained what a LinkedIn Invitation is and showed you how to send them. However, those were just the mechanics of it. This post will discuss some of the etiquette questions regarding sending and receiving invitations, such as who it is okay/not okay to invite and what do you do if you don’t want to accept someone else’s request.

This post was updated on June 14, 2013 to reflect changes to LinkedIn’s interface since it was originally written.

Before I go into specifics, I want to start by saying that my underlying principle behind all of these points is the following (and it applies to any other social network system as well, such as Facebook or Twitter).

Everyone has the right to determine who she wants/doesn’t want to connect with for any reason whatsoever.

So please keep the above in mind, especially when it comes to the first point below.

Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t accept your invitation.

Everyone has different criteria for who they want in their network. For example, I think having someone in your network is pretty much a tacit endorsement of him, so I only want to have people in mine that I would feel comfortable saying something positive about if someone else asked me about them. So I do have personal friends in my network, even if I haven’t worked with them professionally. And if I don’t accept someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t like him or think anything negative about him. I just might not feel I know enough about him to include him.

On the other hand, you will see some people whose profile indicates that they are a LION, which stands for LinkedIn Open Network. They usually have thousands of people in their networks and are open to adding pretty much anybody, because they find value in having a more extensive network, even if they don’t know everybody personally. (Visit the group if you’re also interested in this networking approach.)

Other people will fall at different points on this spectrum between restricting and opening their networks. So even if you think you had a great relationship with someone you used to work with, if he doesn’t accept your invitation, don’t take it personally (and whatever you do, do NOT write to him to ask him why he’s not accepting it). Just move on to the next one.

Now, one reason someone might not accept an invitation is because she doesn’t really remember who you are (some of us have better memories than others!). That leads me to my next point.

When you send someone an invitation, personalize the message.

Unless you know for sure the person is going to know who you are and will automatically accept your request, write something a little more personal in the message box. If you think there’s any possibility he might not remember who you are, jog his memory. For example, I recently added someone to my network that I had interviewed for a job with a while back. I just discovered her profile and I knew we had some common interests, so I wrote to her and mentioned the interview and why I thought she might want to join my network. And she did.

Even if you’re not worried about whether the recipient will remember you or not, I just think the default “I’d like to add you to my professional network” message is a bit terse. If this is someone you think enough of to have in your network, surely you can take a moment to say something a little more personal. At the very least, I usually change the message to say, “I was wondering if you would be interested in joining my network,” which changes the tone from what I want, to what the other person would like to do.

Now, I have one more point I’d like to make about sending invitations.

It is NOT appropriate to send an invitation to someone who reports to you.

This happened to a friend of mine. Her boss’s boss invited her to join his network. And while she adored her boss, she thought his boss was a doofus, so she asked me what she should do. I told her to just ignore the request, which she did, but she was put in an awkward position, because this was a person who had influence over her professionally. If he decided to hold it against her that she didn’t accept the invitation, that could have been a very bad situation.

So unless you’re actually buddies with someone who works for you (or for someone else who works for you), don’t send him an invitation. The opposite does not hold true; it’s fine to send an invitation to your boss or someone else up the chain of command, as long as you always keep that first point in mind: Don’t be offended if she doesn’t accept!

So what do you do if, like my friend, you get an invitation from someone you don’t want in your network? It’s actually pretty simple.

If you don’t want to accept someone’s invitation, don’t.

Of course, this might seem a little easier said than done but, remember, you ALSO have the right to choose who you want to connect with—for whatever reasons you like.

One thing you need to know, though, is if you receive an invitation and just forget about it, you will get a couple of reminders from LinkedIn that you have invitations waiting in your Inbox. These are not prompted by the person who invited you—they’re built-in functionality because LinkedIn assumes if you haven’t taken any action at all, then you may have forgotten about it.

If you don’t want to accept an invitation and you don’t want the reminders, you should tell LinkedIn to Ignore the request. Unfortunately, you aren’t given that option in the actual invitation or on the person’s profile page. You need to go to the Pending Invitations page of your Inbox. You can also access the last three invitations by rolling over the message icon at the top right of the page and click the button from there.

Note: When you Ignore an invitation, the person who sent it is NOT informed that you’ve done this, so you don’t have to worry that you’re suddenly going to get a message from the person demanding an explanation for your rejection.

You have two other options in this situation as well. You can send a message back to the person either to explain why you’re not adding her (for example, if you only accept people you’ve worked directly with before, you can let the person know to avoid potentially offending her) or to ask a question (for example, if you need your memory jogged a little about the person). To do this, go to your Pending Invitations page and click the down arrow beside the Accept button.

The other option is to select “Report Spam” but I wouldn’t recommend using this unless you think the person is actually abusing the system or harassing you in some way. If you do, that person will be reported to LinkedIn and may have restrictions placed on his or her account.

If you’re worried about receiving too many unwanted invitations, you also have an option to restrict who can send you one. Rollover your image at the top right then select Privacy & Settings to go to that page. Click Communications in the left-hand nav and then the link for “Select Who Can Send You Invitations.” A window will pop up where you can choose to receive all invitations, only those from people who you’ve imported from other contact lists (like Yahoo Mail or Outlook), or from those people plus anyone who invites you by using your e-mail address (theoretically proving you do have some kind of existing relationship).

Note: If you want to remove an existing connection, go to Network > Connections from the top menu and then click the Remove Connections link at the top right. This will bring up a list of all your contacts. Put checks beside the ones you want to remove then click the Remove Connections button. These people will not be notified that you’ve done this; you’ll simply disappear from their list of contacts.

So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with any of my rules? Or do you have any additional tips you’d like to share? If so, please add a comment or send them to me at and I’ll update this post with your thoughts.

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  1. Bill says

    I was curious to know what others thought on connecting with clients. Specifically, I work in fundraising and have work relationships with foundation presidents at various corporations. With fundraising it is all about networking and relationship building so I thought to connect with all my present contacts in hope to gain more. Would you think this is appropriate, even though I don’t know them personally or have worked with them other than stewarding and donor requests for my nonprofit.

    • Elizabeth says

      Hi Bill.

      That’s a great question. My opinion with LinkedIn is that if you have any sort of actual professional relationship with someone, even if you haven’t met them, it’s fine to invite them to connect with you. I would definitely personalize the invitation, especially if you think there’s a chance they may not recognize your name. And, as always, don’t be upset if they ignore your request or say no outright — everyone’s criteria for connecting with others is different.

      However, I wouldn’t necessarily ask those connections to introduce me to others in their network if you don’t have some sort of stronger relationship. But you would be able to see others in their network and introduce yourself to them in the ways you do now.

  2. Jacqueline Bunting says

    I have received invitations from people I know, even though I’m not on LinkedIn. I suspect that LinkedIn uses your email contacts to issue invitations. I finally unsubscribed. The option is there at the bottom of the emails.

    • Elizabeth says

      People can send you an invitation even if you’re not on LinkedIn as long as they know your email. They’re basically inviting you to join LinkedIn at the same time as you would connect to them. I will say, though, that LinkedIn sometimes shows you names of people and it looks like they’re already on LinkedIn when they’re not. I’ve accidentally sent invitations to people before thinking they were a member when they weren’t.

  3. says

    Now Linkedin is going through some really cool things this year, enough that I think it’s strange to imagine someone not accepting the connection with their superior’s boss in the Network. It’s absolutely THE most productive-focused network out there. It’s all about working and making things happen. I have high hopes it’ll help me get a great position – one that I deserve. Here’s hoping anyway…
    -Robert Hughey
    Atlanta Dentist

  4. john says

    if your not looking to connect with people you do not know, do not join a website that is supposed to increase your network. they should not even have the option of “i dont know”. is it really that difficult to press ignore instead of IDK. seriously though don’t be angry if people want to link with you, its not the right place for you if your not adding people you dont really know but are in the same profession.

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