Q: Should I trim my LinkedIn network? I worked in the service industry while I put myself through graduate school, so many of my LinkedIn connections are people in the bar and restaurant business. If my professional target has shifted more toward the corporate world, should I get rid of these contacts? Can they hurt me in any way?
A: I see no need to cut these people from your network. Unless you’ve found out that a connection has done something unethical or illegal, you don’t need to do any contact trimming at all. LinkedIn is all about showcasing meaningful professional relationships—regardless of the industry—so your focus should be on staying linked with people you actually know. Having genuine relationships with people in a different industry than yours is much more impactful than being linked with people you don’t know and who don’t know you.
Just as you have moved into a different industry and career path, your former restaurant colleagues may have also. These people could have worked their way up to run the bar, manage the restaurant, or even open their own establishment—or done any number of equally exciting things. Think of the rich network of connections you could lose from your restaurant days. Maybe one of your former coworkers bartended with someone who later became the CEO of that new start-up everyone’s talking about. Maybe the chef started an amazing new restaurant that has a six-month waiting list for a reservation. Having a diverse range of contacts in your network is never a bad idea. Perhaps you work in marketing now and soon find yourself in need of a venue for an important company event—and you’ll have just the right network to do it.
Trimming your network would also take away from the big picture of your professional identity. It would be like erasing college or high school contacts or anyone from your first few jobs. If any of those things had an important and positive impact on your life and career, you should keep them. As time goes by, you might find that you eventually streamline and trim early job details on your resume, especially if they no longer directly support your current career goals, but LinkedIn is a great space to tell your full story—and it’s a good story! You had the drive and initiative to finance your graduate school education and have worked in an industry that teaches some highly transferable—and highly valuable—skills for any industry, such as strong customer relations, task prioritization, and adaptability in fast-paced environments. You shouldn’t worry about these past experiences or contacts harming your corporate career trajectory, when really they help paint a more detailed picture of your professional skills and qualities.
Do you need to weed out LinkedIn contacts who no longer share your career path? No. Should you adopt the blanket approach of “the more connections, the better”? Not exactly. Remember, a connection with no relationship is meaningless. The more real, meaningful work relationships you can document through LinkedIn, the better. Presumably, your service industry colleagues have seen your skills in action and could truly speak to your strengths in the workplace—all the more reason to keep them in your network.