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The Etiquette of LinkedIn Invitations | Tech for Luddites

The Etiquette of LinkedIn Invitations

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.

Elizabeth Kricfalusi

View Comments

  • Hi,
    Thank you for this article. My question is, if someone you want to connect with has viewed your profile and they have not connected with you. Is it ok to ask to connect with them? This is especially true for someone in a group, who you don't know personally.
    Thanks again.

    • Hi Stacey. I think it's fine although I probably wouldn't mention that you know they viewed your profile. I'd just approach it like anyone else I'd like to connect with. Tell them why you're interested in connecting so they can see why it would be valuable to them as well as you. - Elizabeth

  • I joined LinkedIn without realizing the invitation etiquette. I have over 100 pending invitations that I sent out within the past 6 days with no response. Would it be prudent to withdraw those invitations and re-send them with a personalized message?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi JR.

      I wouldn't do that at this point, as people may have seen them and getting a second invitation may look spammy. Plenty of people do send the invitations without personalizing them (plus that happens automatically in LinkedIn in certain situations), so people are used to it.

      If there are a few that are extremely important to you, you might want to try doing that to see if it makes a difference, but again be aware of the risk of being seen as spammy.

      Also, please note that 6 days is not really a long time. I often ignore invitations when I first see them and then discover them later when I'm going through email or go into LinkedIn and then accept them then.

      - Elizabeth

  • I have sent an invitation to my previous interviewer and he accepted my request and sent me a reply. He stated that he didn't log on to LinkedIn for so long and gave me his mobile number to reach him and keep in touch. I have sent a reply through the LinkedIn inbox. Should I contact him trough phone on top of that, just in case he doesn't use LinkedIn much?

    • Hi Yee.

      Did you mean previous employer? It's hard to answer this without knowing more about the situation but in general, I think if he gave you his mobile number, it's okay to use it. But I would only do that if I had something to tell him that I thought would be of value to him. If it's just to reply to his last LinkedIn message, I'm not sure it's necessary.

  • Thx for ur useful tips. One point I do t understand - mind my ignorance - is why do you suggest NOT to send invites to people below your rank/ working for you? Is there something in LinkedIn's purpose that I'm missing?

    • Hi Tina.

      I suggest that because if my boss sent me an invitation and I didn't want to connect to him or her for any reason, I would worry that if I didn't I could get punished professionally for it. I know several people who have been put in that situation and it made them very uncomfortable.

      If you move to a different department or leave the company, then it's fine if your former boss tries to connect. But not while they are in a position of authority over you.

      I hope that clarifies it for you.

      - Elizabeth

  • How would you suggest asking someone why they are adding you to their network without coming across too blunt?

    • Hi Florence.

      That's a good question. I think it depends on if you can see some reason why they're doing it. I often find with people that I don't know, if I look at who they're already connected to we have a lot of people in common. So I assume they just looked at those people's list of connections and sent invitations to people on it.

      Also, I have no problem with not replying to an invitation at all if I don't see any reason to. But if I feel like I should at least acknowledge it, I would go with something like, "Thanks for the invitation to connect. I generally prefer to only connect with people I know personally, but if you let me know why you would like to add me to your network, I might consider making an exception."

      Even that's not great as it's a bit like "I want to know if you're good enough to be in my network," but I'm not sure there's a great way to get around that. Maybe one of my other readers has a better suggestion to share.

      - Elizabeth

      • Thanks Elizabeth! Generally, I see that it is basic courtesy and decency to give someone a reason in a polite and sincere way when not accepting an invite or even when unfriending one. As far as some that have been unfriended, they have become very shocked and hurt when noticing when clearly having never done anything with curiosity.

  • The other question which covers something not able to be understood and kind of uncommon is that how could such a positive, glowing recommendation written for someone's profile not be shown anymore?

    I recall few years back having written a positive, glowing recommendation for a supervisor and two co-workers and I was able to usually see it on their profiles, but I don't see it anymore, but see other people's recommendations of them still listed. Why would this ever be the case especially with a good deed and when the positive recommendation was seen for awhile?

    Also, I have even written recommendations for another amazing boss I had and amazing co-worker who would be so fun to be around with a sincerely good relationship, but have not seen the recommendations ever posted to their profiles? This other boss described in this paragraph is always sincere, described as renowned and has written a great physical recommendation for me before and I clearly saw writing a LinkedIn recommendation for him as to pay forward or back.


  • What hurts and creates resentment with being offended personally is noticing a girl whom I worked during Americans Vista for a year before and she is connected to other people we have worked with while I have given her two different invitations with a personalized message as she still hasn't responded? I recall we always got along well at work and she would make me laugh with her acknowledging me as very nice in a card when leaving.

    How come such has to be like this above as illogical and unfair? I would never not accept an invitation from someone who is sincerely nice to me and has worked with me before.

    Wonder in general how to go about such? Also, is this girl burning a bridge with unprofessionalism?

    Wonder of the law of karma where one in general acts sincerely well and doesn't get the reciprocal treatment?


    • Well, as I said in the post, everybody has different criteria for whom they connect to. I wouldn't consider it unfair or unprofessional. Just find other people who do want to join your network.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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

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