person on phone
Hero Images/Getty Images

For the longest time, I was a major proponent of accepting LinkedIn invitations from total strangers. “It’s for networking!” I’d proclaim, while clicking that friendly little checkmark to add new people to my network, “There’s no point in connecting with only the people I already know.”

In fact, I felt so strongly about my “come one, come all” philosophy, that I went so far as to write an entire article justifying my choice to enthusiastically accept nearly everybody who wanted to connect.

There’s one thing I didn’t anticipate happening after that article published: Receiving hundreds upon hundreds of requests from perfect strangers. But, sure enough, almost immediately after that piece went live, my inbox became stuffed with messages from people across the globe.

And sure, if networking was strictly a numbers game, then my now 1,457 LinkedIn connections (and growing!) would mean that this experiment could be chalked up as a success. After all, I added hundreds to my web of contacts with very little effort. That’s a win, right?

However, in all honesty, it completely flipped my perspective on accepting anybody and everybody who sends you a request—so much so that I felt a need to write a rebuttal to my own previous article.

That’s because I now have a...

A Large, But Somewhat Meaningless Network

Ask yourself this: What’s the point of having a professional network?

To put it simply, the benefit lies in being able to build a web of contacts who you can rely on in a variety of professional scenarios. Maybe you need a recommendation. Perhaps you want an introduction. Or, maybe you want an army of people to keep their ears to the ground and let you know if they hear of any job opportunities that might be a good fit for you.

Now, ask yourself this: Are these things that people can do for you if they don’t actually know anything about you? Probably not.

Yes, I now have a bursting LinkedIn network filled with everyone from software engineers in Mumbai to sales people in New Zealand. But, will these people be who I turn to when I need something professionally? Will I be able to rely on them to tout my skills or offer any sort of benefit—other than making me look extremely popular on social media?

Probably not. It sounds harsh, but the fact remains: I don’t know anything about these people, and they know almost nothing about me—aside from the bits and pieces they read in that one article that I wrote. We could literally share a bus seat or sit in the same doctor’s office waiting room, and we wouldn’t even know it.

By all intents and purposes, I have a large network. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have a strong network.

So instead, this year I’m going to focus on...

Building a Meaningful Network

Not wanting to limit myself to only the people I knew personally was always one of my biggest justifications for accepting all requests that came my way. And, I still stand by that—I don’t think you need to treat the platform like this exclusive group that only the people you’ve personally shook hands with can join.

However, I do think it pays to be a little more selective and intentional about who gets let through the door. For example, if there’s an editor who I really admire and would love to start a professional relationship with, I think it’s still totally OK for me to request to connect (with a personalized message, of course!)—even if we’ve never met personally.

The key here is to fill your network with people who you think could add some value to your professional life—and vice versa. Need help with that? Ask yourself these 11 questions to determine whether or not that person is someone you should add. That way, you can rest assured that you’re focusing on the end result, rather than simply watching the connection count on your profile increase.

I never expected to totally shift the way I felt about my LinkedIn network—I guess it’s interesting what hundreds of random requests can do.

While I’ll admit that it’s frustrating to feel like I’m left with a group of contacts that I don’t have any sort of relationship with, I’m still glad that I went through this process. It was eye-opening, and it made me understand the value of building a group of beneficial connections, rather than a large roster of people I’ll never even directly interact with.

So when it comes to your professional network, you should have the same philosophy that you do with your friendships: It’s about quality over quantity.

Updated 6/19/2020