Sharpen Yourself: LinkedIn & Social Networking Sites
DID’s new “Sharpen Yourself” category aims to supplement our ongoing procurement and defense coverage with articles like “Preparing More Powerful Presentations,” which are equally valuable to professional readers of an industry magazine. One aspect that often gets neglected in this industry is career management, especially among engineers. The defense industry is widely seen as stable and recession-proof, and to some extent that’s true, but long-time veterans know from personal experience that this is only a partial truth. Programs get canceled, firms move or consolidate, the politician a Hill staffer works retires or is defeated, or it becomes clear that a change of scenery and/or role is in order. When those shocks hit, the difference between a managed and an unmanaged career is like the difference between a managed and an unmanaged defense program.
This article addresses a growing trend in business, and a topic that’s coming up more and more frequently to a Human Resources consultant of our acquaintance: the use of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Ning, Friendster, LinkedIn, et. al. in the hiring process. For those in the active military, these sites also have a security dimension.
Social networking sites are distinguished by a keystone combination. A personal profile, which any job board also has, is part one. Part two is a central mechanism that leverages the voluntary connection of these profiles to each other – a major shift that can be “6 degrees of separation” powerful. These sites can and are used for many purposes, including entirely personal uses like sharing family photos. For dedicated professional business networking, however, LinkedIn has become the clear leader, and is now a key platform for executive recruiters (DID has no business affiliation with LinkedIn). If you’ve never seen these sites, you’ll need to see an example to understand. The Watershed Publishing team have all built free LinkedIn memberships and profiles – here’s mine:
LinkedIn carries few risks, but there are features you’ll want to pay careful attention to as part of good career management. Other social networking sites like MySpace carry more risks – for candidates, for employers, and for military members…
Professional Networking: LinkedIn
On LinkedIn, your profile starts from zero. It can be built as a focused effort, or it will arise as you invite connections, and enter the answers to questions like where and when you worked with each person, how you know them, etc. The result quickly builds up into something approaching a resume, and the ability to publicly endorse others brings some of the power of Amazon.com reviews to the career arena. The service has also evolved other features like professional Q&A discussions, which are beginning to gain traction due to the quality of the answers. Some organizations are also harnessing the power of a feature called LinkedIn Groups to show affiliations among approved members – members of a firm’s current employee set and alumni network, for example.
Your personal profile is your foundation on LinkedIn, and it’s wise to treat it just like any other professional document. It doesn’t have to be letter-perfect, however, and a simple list & chronology of jobs is fine to start. That’s because it isn’t the most important aspect of one’s profile. The profile is just the table stakes, and can be brushed up quickly as necessary, but a profile full of solid, sincere recommendations is a difference-maker that takes time (and performance) to attain. It’s the kind of feature that especially interests people like recruiters, given their keen interest in “passive candidates” who do good work and aren’t actively looking, but might be persuadable if the right opportunity comes along.
One caveat to keep in mind involves personal photos in the profile. While they’re an option on LinkedIn, consider either not having one, or using one that provides very little detail, unless you have a very public business persona by necessity. Photos can suggest answers to all sorts of illegal hiring questions, and introduces considerations that take people away from the career-oriented information you want them to focus on. Even a job candidate who looks like Russell Crowe or Gabrielle Resse won’t necessarily benefit from that.
With those thoughts in mind, you’re ready to begin using professional networking sites like LinkedIn effectively. Some firms even have sites of this nature behind the firewall for use within firms, running on IBM’s Lotus Connections, BEA Systems’ Aqualogic Pathways, et. al. In those high trust areas, some of the rules, like using photos for example, will change.
What’s clear is that these sites are here to stay. Knowing how to manage your profile(s) there will become a more and more useful career meta-skill.
Social “Social Networking,” and Employment
The social networking universe reaches far beyond LinkedIn, Lotus Connections, et. al. Facebook has exploded in popularity, MySpace has seen exponential growth, and other sites abound. There is no question that sites of this kind can be extremely valuable on a number of levels: keeping in touch with family and friends, meeting people with common interests outside of work, and more.
The flip side is what people might be able to find out about you from perusing them. Despite the potential implications of introducing illegal hiring criteria, and obvious concerns re: whether the “Joe Katzman” on MySpace the same as the “Joe Katzman” applying for a job, studies show that human resource professionals are beginning to step beyond mere Google searches, and actively using these sites as a source of hiring information. A November 2007 IT Manager’s Journal article said that:
“About half of respondents [to a survey] use search engines, with just under 20 percent researching candidates on social-networking sites. Of the organizations reporting use of the Internet in these ways, roughly 20 percent said they had disqualified at least one candidate based on information that was found.”
From an employer’s point of view, that’s actually a risky course of action, for a number of reasons. Some of the links below, for instance, document the legal hot water that could result for the company. Then, too, there’s the dynamic of being burned by the very fire one plays with. A Facebook group of “Stop CORP’s Invasion of Applicants’ Personal Lives,” for instance, that comes up prominently when the company name is searched, won’t help recruiting. It may even hurt sales. And like those personal profiles, it will be very, very difficult to ever get rid of once it is launched into the Internet. This is an entirely possible scenario if Human Resources or its designated agents start asking questions that demonstrate familiarity with things that aren’t on a resume, and an applicant draws conclusions and takes offense.
Even so, it isn’t wise to depend on the good judgment of others for security. In general, it’s wise to use this maxim:
Treat the internet as public information. If you don’t want something about your person, character or beliefs to be in the public domain, don’t say, write or display photos of it on the Internet. Never forget that Google cache and archive services can make that material last long after it’s taken down, and that employers often cache sites you visit via the work network.
Then, too, there’s the question of what someone with a grudge, a photo or two, and some personal details could do with a ringer MySpace page… and whether you’d even be aware it had happened to you.
As part of basic career management in the modern era, employees should, at a minimum, understand what comes up when they Google their own names. They must also manage their own reputations – affirmatively, on professional sites like LinkedIn, and defensively, on predominantly social sites.
In addition to following the advice above, and posting only things you’d be comfortable for the world to see, information access control is a necessity. Some social networking sites place limits on the access people have to your profile until you make them a contact, or even let you place limits on what some of your contacts can see, via features like “limited profile.” Those features are useful. Note that they are not foolproof, however, and could be subject to compromise by people in your network, who may have relationships in other companies and decide to share. Note, too, that other social networking sites are public by default. Jeff Chiu’s Associated Press article advises users of non-professional networking sites like MySpace to:
- Keep public pages as career-focused as possible.
- Choose “friends” wisely [on non-professional sites], and ask for their cooperation.
- Think about how much time you spend signed on.
- Think about the details.
If you’re serving in the military, of course, one of the details to think about is that bad guys (and, we’ve heard, SERE instructors) have access to the Internet, too. Using non-professional sites needs to be done with care, with especial attention paid to things like available photos (esp. photos with family members), the level of detail given out under “location,” etc.
There’s a reason that social networking sites have become so popular. Used properly, they can enhance both your career and your life. Used without thought, however, they can do damage to employees and employers alike.
Additional Readings & Sources
- DID – Sharpen Yourself: Get Found On LinkedIn. Guest article by Steven Tylock, in response to this one.
- USAF (July 31/09) – The ‘happy’ medium between OPSEC and social networking: Can it be achieved? By Maj. Gen. Henry C. “Hank” Morrow, 1st Air Force commander.
- WIRED Danger Room (July 30/09) – Military May Ban Twitter, Facebook as Security ‘Headaches’. Apparently, the systems offer too many insecure points of entry for malware like viruses and trojans, and the scale of that problem is forcing the military to take a step back.
- DID (July 8/09) – Information Shifts: From Facebook, With Love. The prospective head of MI6 may face a Parliamentary inquiry, thanks to his wife’s Facebook account.
- BBC News (July 6/09) – Brought to book. Facebook has created serious personal problems for a few folks in Britain.
- Associated Press (Feb 6/08) – Online social networking has pitfalls in the workplace. Refers to non-professional sites, and lists a good set of things to keep in mind.
- IT Manager’s Journal (Nov 9/07) – Should you research job candidates at social networking sites? “Violations of the law are easy, and often unintentional, with the amount of data available on [non-professional] social networks.”
- Manchester Evening News (Sept 25/07) – Perils of social networking. “Gone are the days when you can be one person at the office and another out of hours…”
- LinkedIn official blog (July 25/07) – Ten Ways to Use LinkedIn | Guy Kawasaki. Guy Kawasaki is a Silicon Valley marketing and startup strategy guru.
- ZDNet Lawgarithms (July 16/07) – Facebook and employment: an equal opportunity information trap. “…when CollegeRecruiter.com asked employment lawyer and blawger George Lenard to examine the increasingly common employer practice of using Facebook and other social networking tools to check up on potential hires, George produced three thoughtful and informative posts describing how candidate data can land employers in hot water as well.”