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Should You Connect With Strangers On LinkedIn?

Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. Should you connect with strangers on LinkedIn?

I work in an industry that’s largely freelance, with a massive component of networking and word-of-mouth. But almost all of that networking is done in-person. As far as I know, I’ve never gotten a job or a useful contact out of LinkedIn because it’s just not really the way we work. Additionally, we have several networking websites that are similar to LinkedIn but just for this specific industry and I have pages on those as well.

On the industry-specific sites, I’ll accept almost any connection because it gives me a list of people by skill set with easy access to links to their work and experience. For years I’ve treated LinkedIn the same, but it’s starting to rankle me how many people who I’ve never met and know nothing about keep reaching out to connect there. I can’t recommend these people, I’ve never seen their work, and never met them. If I was approached for an introduction, I would feel uncomfortable providing it because they’re strangers. So part of me wants to just go through and purge every person who I’ve not met and personally worked with, because otherwise LinkedIn feels so useless.

Is there a hidden benefit to keeping these random “we’re in the same industry and maybe have a single contact in common” type of people? And going forward, should I start automatically rejecting these types of people?

Different people use LinkedIn differently. Some people will connect to anyone or almost anyone who sends a connection request, even if they’re complete strangers. Some people will only connect to people they know personally. Some people are somewhere in the middle. You can use it however you want. It’s not rude to ignore connection requests from strangers; lots of people do. You can also clean up your contacts and pare it down to just people you actually know.

As for the benefits to keeping random strangers in your connection list … the argument is that it expands your network. I’d argue that it doesn’t expand your network in a meaningful way, but it’s true that if, for example, you’re ever looking for someone who worked at at particular company and can give you the inside scoop, you’d have a much larger universe of people to choose from.

2. Should you let candidates reschedule interviews?

I had a candidate email me the night before the interview saying that “something came up” so she couldn’t make it, but she’d like to interview next week when she was free again instead. I know that personally, when I interview for jobs, I make it my priority. Her rescheduling gives me the impression she would treat the job with the same kind of abandon, and she didn’t give me any indication there was an actual emergency.

How lenient do you think hiring managers be if a candidate wants to reschedule?

It depends on how strong the candidate is and what they say when asking to reschedule. “Something came up” is a pretty cavalier way to ask to reschedule, and it would raise some concerns for me about the candidate’s reliability, sense of professional norms, and degree of polish. If she was a very strong candidate who you’d been excited to talk to, I’d reschedule but go in with some heavy skepticism. But if she wasn’t particularly strong, I might not reschedule at all.

To be clear, there are plenty of good reasons for asking to reschedule an interview — getting sick, family emergency, etc. But “something came up” isn’t on that list. (Of course, it’s possible that that the thing that “came up” was indeed illness or an emergency, but you have no way of knowing that from what she said, and when you have limited data on candidates, this stuff matters.)

3. Juggling a side business with a full-time job

I have held my current job for six years and it is fine — not too stressful, pays decently. My side hobby has recently developed into a full side business, which I run on evenings and weekends. It depends heavily on publicity and social media presence, so I can’t run the business quietly. It’s totally unrelated to my regular job (say I’m a teapot maker and my side business is cat grooming), but it’s been widely publicized and most of my coworkers know about the side business.

How do I handle wearing both hats? I feel strange about my teapot-maker colleagues asking me cat-grooming questions at work, and I worry that my teapot-making boss will think I’m gearing up to leave for the world of cat grooming when it’s in fact a side job and a hobby, albeit one that may start making money.

If you think it’s pretty likely that your boss will hear about it, I’d just address it head-on with her. For example: “I wanted to mention to you that even though I’m doing this cat-grooming work on weekends, I’m really committed to not letting it affect my job here. I really like my work here, and I have no plans to take the cat-grooming full-time. I’ve been careful about keeping the two things separate, and I’ll continue to do that.”

And of course, make sure that’s really true. It shouldn’t be a big deal to answer occasional cat grooming questions at work, but if it starts getting frequent and your boss could reasonably worry about it distracting you from your job, be prepared to say something to coworkers like, “I don’t want Jane to think I’m running this business from here, but I’d love to talk about this with you. If you want, you can email me at home or text me after work and I can give you some advice. Or let’s talk when we grab coffee tomorrow.”

4. Early morning client work when I’m several hours behind

I work on the U.S. west coast and have several clients on the east coast. They often have me and my team fly out for meetings and workshops. The problem is that some of these clients want us to start as early as 7 a.m. — which is 4 a.m. my time. I’m usually able to power through until lunch, but by 1 or 2 p.m., I am fighting to keep my eyes open.

Sleeping aids haven’t been effective. Flying in a day early to get acclimated to the time change is not an option because the client would never pay for that. When one of my colleagues told a client we were having a hard time staying awake, the client brushed it off and said too bad, we have a lot of work to do.

What can I do? Falling asleep in the middle of a presentation seems like the pinnacle of non-professionalism. But I’m only human!

Have any of you tried pushing back with the client? Telling them that you’re having trouble staying awake isn’t as assertive as you should be here. Instead, why not say at the time travel is being arranged, “Because we’ll be three hours behind you, we can start any time from 10 a.m. EST onward”?

If that doesn’t work, then ideally your employer would handle this with clients on your behalf, by making it clear from the get-go that because of the time difference, you either fly in a day earlier or start later. If you don’t get anywhere with the client yourself, then ideally you and a group of colleagues who are experiencing the same problem would push your employer to handle it for you. If they won’t, then they’re really the problem here more than the client, because they’re allowing the client to think this is fine.

5. My old manager asks for confidential information from our company

There were some shake-ups at my company about a year and a half ago. In that time, my manger was let go. I still work at the organization. The problem is, from time to time she contacts me for specific information about projects we worked on while both working at the company. I never send her anything as it is always privileged and I would never want to put my current job at risk, but it really bothers me she has the gall to ask.

Do you have any advice on having a conversation with her so she understands it’s not okay to be asking for this? Also is there any reason to inform my current manager to cover myself in case something does ever get released?

When you’ve refused in the past, how have you said it? If you haven’t been explicit that you’re not able to send her confidential company information, do it next time by saying something like, “I’m not allowed to send anything like that — you know we have confidentiality rules around this kind of thing. It’s come up a few other times, so I want to make sure you realize that I’ll always need to say no.”

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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