What’s the deal with people you have never met before IMing you? This is analogous to interrupting a potentially important conversation (let’s not pretend all of my conversations are important but some of them are...some are event important AND interesting). In my opinion, IMing basically says, “I know you well enough to do this” (among friends) or “this is urgent” (among business associates). I cannot tell you how many times I receive IMs that fall into neither category. When a simple e-mail would suffice, IM is chosen for the immediacy (of the sender) without regard to the time of the receiver.
Don’t get me wrong, I think IM is an amazing tool under the right circumstances. It’s like social networking…a great opportunity that many people simply mis-use. My mind has conceived of ways to use it that my bandwidth and resources don’t allow for (chats that I can publish on my blog, for example).
Every once in a while, I get a little box that pops up with a name I don’t recognize (“who IS that?”). Candidates have done it. I think that in messenger products, when someone wants to add someone to their “buddy list” or “contacts list”, the tool should tell the user that the person they are entering is going to receive a message that says “Jim has requested that you give him permission to interrupt you at any time via messenger” (OK, that's a little strong, but still...). I think this would really make people think before they enter folks in. I mean, that is really what they are asking for. Yes, I could decline and I do. Yes, I could log out of the tool, but then I won’t hear from the people I really need to work and communicate with.
I don’t think that this is a functionality issue…I love the features available and hope to use them all someday. It’s a user education issue. The more sophisticated, educated user would hesitate before asking. I don’t think they have bad intent…they just don’t realize what they are asking: “Heather, I am a candidate and although you receive hundreds of resumes a week, I’d like to contact you at any time, even though you might be in the middle of something”. Frankly, I don’t mind communicating with every person that sends their resume to me. To some extent I already do and that’s not even to mention this here blog thing. The communication is A-OK, the implied immediacy of IM, not OK. It just assumes a little too much.
I don’t want to be the hand-slapper (but I will decline the IM request). I want to be the person that gives you the inside scoop on how to engage with “people like me” (you decide what that means). Unless a recruiter invites you to IM, I wouldn’t do it (just my opinion, of course). The reaction you get might not be what you were hoping for.