May 22, 2012

Is an Employer Pushing your Social Boundaries Online? Push Back!

pushing backQuick – what would you do when you get home from a successful job interview only to find you’ve been friended by the hiring manager on Facebook? In an ideal world, this scenario would never arise, but in reality this situation is occurring at an accelerating pace and can be a tough issue to address with any sort of grace. And instead of responding with a feeling of flattery over the immediate connection, you may be well to approach the issue with a note of caution and suspicion.

The behavior could be an attempt by the employer to check out your social media profile updates without requesting your explicit access to your accounts (as a growing number of employers are trying to do). If you suspect that the request is simply the employer fishing for personal information to assess you professionally, you are well within your rights to decline the request. You might wish to redirect them to your professional profile on LinkedIn. It is perfectly polite to inform the hiring manager that your Facebook, or other personal social media account is for family and friends only, while LinkedIn (or any other segmented social network) is your tool for professional networking.

If that response is refuted and you are informed that it is company policy or an unstated corporate culture to be friends with managers and peers, you can either bargain with the hiring manager and mention that you would be willing to be friends upon hire or you can decline altogether and look for employment elsewhere. A third alternative could be to add the manager, then create a custom group within your friends list that allows group members to see only the most generic of updates and information.

An even more common scenario is one where you’ve been hired, begin working, them start receiving friend requests from everyone you’ve met at work. And while you probably don’t have a problem friending those coworkers with whom you’ve forged a fledgling friendship, you may not feel so comfortable accepting a request from your boss or HR. In the latter case, they need to understand that you keep your personal and professional lives separate. Consider these tips for alerting them to this fact with tact:

• Your first line of defense is to direct your manager and HR personnel to your LinkedIn account. Let them know that you keep your professional contacts separate from your personal ones. If you don’t have a professional social account, create one and fill it out completely and with more-than-a-modicum of professional decorum.

• If you suspect any of your coworkers of being more interested in spying than being friends, pass them off onto LinkedIn as well. Be especially careful of coworkers who are found using Facebook during the day, as they may be trying to see what you are up to while you are supposed to be working. But if you have developed a true friendship with a coworker, don’t be afraid to add them to Facebook or Twitter.

• If you simply do not want to create a professional networking account (e.g. LinkedIn), create a separate professional Facebook page to act as a resume and display your portfolio and professional accomplishments. Steer your company and other professional acquaintances to this profile instead of the one created specifically for personal use. Or use the segmented approach by selecting which groups to share social updates with – it’s easy to do with Facebook group lists or Google Plus circles.

• If you really don’t care who knows what you’re up to, you can always add everyone and refuse to moderate yourself. If you’d rather work at a company that can accept you for who you are both within a professional context and in your free time, take the idealistic approach and let everyone in on your life. If this is your attitude, make sure your workplace culture values those same ideals of free expression that you do – but you might find that these employers are few and far between!


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Joshua Bjerke, from Savannah, Georgia, focuses on articles involving the labor force, economy, and HR topics including new technology and workplace news. Joshua has a B.A. in Political Science with a Minor in International Studies and is currently pursuing his M.A. in International Security.