This one comes from the mailbag. If you're somewhat new to GC, let me break it down: I can help you with all things social media and the CPA exam. Salary questions and all that crap should go to our general advice mailbox but if you have a question about how not be an ass on Twitter, getting the most out of LinkedIn, making your Facebook profile work-friendly or passing the CPA exam, hit me up.
I am in the process of recruitment for internships with the big 4 at this moment and was wondering about LinkedIn etiquette. I have met a lot of recruiters, staff, managers and partners. Is it ok to add them on LinkedIn despite never working with them?
I've struggled with this one myself so hopefully I can steer you in the right direction.
First, are you an open networker on LinkedIn? The difference between open networkers and regular old LinkedIn users is that open networkers will add anyone. The benefit to this is that as an open networker, you have a broader network of connections but the downside is that your "connections" are little more than nodes in the web, not actual connections. LinkedIn is not MySpace (I'm sure you know this), hoarding the most friends will not win you any sort of prize. It will, however, increase the odds that you are connected to someone who is connected to someone you actually want to be connected to.
My general rule for making connections is that I limit mine to people I have actually connected with. I will readily accept new connections from GC readers, fans of Jr Deputy Accountant and general AG Internet stalkers but I don't actively reach out to connect with anyone unless I have had an actual interaction with them. Can I technically say I "worked with someone" who reads my work here on Going Concern? I guess. The point is that the definition of a connection is different for everyone – but in my experience, most of those who are active on LinkedIn are willing to connect with you as long as you have actually met or interacted with them in some way. If the managers and partners you're meeting with have only 10 connections, I wouldn't bother. If they have 500+, you're good.
Your issue is a bit different, though, because I am in media where having a lot of connections makes it easier for me to do my job but for you, think about how it might look a year from now if you've got 30 PwC managers and partners in your connections but now work for Deloitte (just an example, please don't take any offense by me implying you'd actually work for Deloitte). Then again, having all those connections might come in handy if you end up at Deloitte and realize 6 months later that you can't stand the culture, the pay and the general discontent.
Notice when you attempt to connect with someone on LinkedIn that "friend" is an option. Don't select that, it's weird. You aren't friends with these people.
I'd warn you to be cautious about adding tons of recruiters – they might make your life (and inbox) hell later on by blowing you up with "opportunities." That sounds fine now but let's say a year from now you're very happy where you're at, do you really want to get spammed twice weekly by overzealous recruiters blasting their connections? It's helpful to have a few on your team just in case but don't go crazy.
Keep in mind too that if your connections are visible to others (you can change this in your settings), these people you're adding will know for a fact you're also adding competing managers and partners. I doubt these people have the time or desire to comb through your connections but just something to consider, you never know who might get butthurt when they find out you're also being seduced by other firms. I'm sure they assume as much but seeing it in black and white is a different story.
LinkedIn is not just for people who have worked with each other – if that were the case, I'd be down about 350 connections. It is, however, best for all involved when you keep your connections relevant. So don't add the secretary at the firm that interviewed you but I'd say feel free to add professionals you come across during the recruiting process sparingly. If you made a real connection with this person (not just exchanged cards and shook hands), I don't see any issue with reaching out to them on LinkedIn.