Ask LH: What Do I Do When My Employer Wants To Connect On Social Networks?

Dear Lifehacker, I went for a job interview, and everything went well, but when I got home the hiring manager had sent me a friend request on Facebook and LinkedIn. What should I do? I know some people have got their jobs through Twitter, and he seems like a nice guy, but I feel a little creeped out. Should I accept his friend request? What if I get hired and this is normal for everyone who works there? What should I do? Sincerely, Slightly Antisocial

Title photo by Annette Shaff (Shutterstock).

Dear Slightly Antisocial,

I know a number of people who owe their current jobs to interactions with companies or individuals on Twitter or LinkedIn. Social media can be a powerful tool to help people get exposure and connect with people — people with jobs to offer — that they would never have spoken to directly otherwise. Reaching out to employers via Twitter and LinkedIn gives you a way to get your name in front of someone and out of the stack of resumes they have to sift through. How closely you connect to potential employers on those networks however, has more to do with the network in question and how comfortable you are with it than anything else.

At the same time, with potential employers asking candidates for their Facebook passwords, you have reason to be cautious. Mind you, that practice is definitely against Facebook's terms-of-service, and Facebook is threatening legal action against anyone who does it.

It's possible they just want to see what you have behind the veil of your privacy settings, or maybe they really want to get to know the real you before extending an offer, to see if you fit in with the corporate culture. You're also right to be worried about what might happen if you're hired there — maybe it's normal for everyone in that office to be Facebook friends, or to all follow the company's Twitter account. Let's take a look at these possibilities one at a time, then you can decide whether you want to click accept, or ignore.

The Post-Interview Friend Request

Your situation is a rough one, Slightly Antisocial — my first instinct is that they want to see your Facebook profile, but don't want to directly ask for your password. If the interviewer is especially malicious, they may be asking now to give you the impression that your future with that company may hang in the balance. You have every right — and frankly, should — say no here, and direct the interviewer instead to your LinkedIn profile. You mentioned they wanted to connect with you there — respond by letting them know that your Facebook profile is for friends and personal acquaintances, and LinkedIn is for professional networking. Photo by birgerking.

If they don't care for that response, or claim (like one company I know) that it's company policy for everyone to be Facebook friends, then you have a choice to make. You can dangle it back in front of them and say you'd be willing to do that when or if you're hired, or you can walk away. Ultimately it depends on how sensitive you are to what your Facebook friends see, and how much you personally value that privacy. If we can offer a tip that's outside the principle of the matter, consider setting up friends lists or groups so you have better control over who sees what. Then you can dump this person — and any other future coworkers — into a select group that sees little to nothing. The trouble is that you'll have to go back over past posts, photos, updates and everything else to make sure their permissions are changed to exclude this new group. You'll have to decide whether that's more hassle than it's worth.

The Post-Hire Friend Request

The next — and more common — scenario you might encounter happens after you're on the job and you start getting friend requests from coworkers, your boss, or even HR. At one company I worked for, our marketing department sent out an email to the whole organisation to "let us know" that the company now had a Twitter account, and that we were "highly encouraged" to follow it, and to like their Facebook page while we were at it. This same company would regularly check on its employees to see if they were updating their LinkedIn accounts or publicly posting their resumes and reported those employees to their managers, warning that they may be looking for new jobs.

The big difference here is, of course, if you're good friends with your coworkers, you may have no trouble friending or following them on Facebook or Twitter. However, if your boss or HR suddenly sends you a friend request and you're not comfortable with it, there's no reason you should accept it unless you think it really is a friendly request and you're about to rebuff them for personal reasons. If that's the case, they should understand that you try to keep your work life and your personal life a little separate, but either way the situation calls for a little tact. Here are some tips:

  • Direct managers and HR to LinkedIn whenever possible. If your boss wants to connect with you professionally and does so by sending you a Facebook request, let them know your professional connections are at LinkedIn and give them your profile URL. Assuming, of course, you have a LinkedIn profile.
  • Are your coworkers are really friends or just snooping? It's unlikely, but it is possible that your coworkers are just adding you in order to see what you're up to, especially during off hours. Be careful of coworkers and managers who use Facebook during the day to see whether you are using it during the day, when you should be working. If you're really friends with your coworkers, go ahead and add them. If not, it might be time to shunt them to LinkedIn.
  • Lock down your Facebook account. Using your Facebook profile to snag a job by sprucing it up, adding a new photo, and updating your education and interests is a great idea, but be ready to back it up if a company tries to connect with you. Lock down your past posts so only your real friends can see them — especially any times you were complaining about your old job. Then add them to a list where they only see things you're comfortable making public.
  • Use Facebook to your advantage. Create a friends list for professional contacts, and feed it accomplishments, certifications or other similar news. Even better, create a Facebook page for your "personal brand" that can serve as a Facebook-based resume. Then encourage the company or hiring manager to like your page to see your portfolio, accomplishments, and what you're working on professionally.
  • Clean Up Your Twitter account. The beauty — and trouble — with Twitter is that everything's either all public, or all hidden. I know more people who have found new jobs through Twitter than Facebook or even LinkedIn, but the only things you can do is go back in time and delete anything you think would be worrysome or be on your best behaviour when you tweet. You have the option to take your account private, but then no one can see anything, and you're cut off from potential friends and employers — but you will have your privacy.
  • Throw caution to the wind. There's always the option to just not care. You could just accept friend requests and Twitter followers and not bother to moderate yourself at all. There's some logic to the notion that any company that won't accept you for who you are, both in public and to your friends on Facebook or Twitter as well as LinkedIn, doesn't deserve you. It's idealistic, and most of us know there's a difference between our professional and personal lives (you often check your political, religious and potentially disruptive views at the door). However, speaking as someone who knows what it's like to work at a company where you have to keep even your benign interests and hobbies secret, it can be soul draining to have to be a different person at work than you are when you get home. This XKCD comic sums it up pretty well.

The post-hire friend requests are harder to deal with, for obvious reasons, and you should take any direction you're most comfortable. Ultimately though, make sure you do what's comfortable, not what you think is expected. You'll have to deal with the consequences, and sometimes removing someone causes more hassle than not accepting their request in the first place.

The Post-Employment Or Pre-Interview Friend Request

While far less common, friend requests from people you used to work with, or a company that's interested in you are just as tricky. On the bright side, you're in the driver's seat in both cases, so you can decide whether you want to stay in touch with a colleague you used to work with on Facebook, or read their weekend activities on Twitter. You can research a company that wants to connect with you on LinkedIn or Facebook, and decide if you'd like to talk to them about what they have open.

Again, we'd advise caution with Facebook, just because it's such a tome of personal connections and information that you may not want public — and make no mistake, friending a company or coworkers means that information is public, at least at the office — but LinkedIn is always a good bet, as is Twitter, mostly because both are designed to be more public than private.

In the end, the network an employer wants to connect with you over makes much of the difference, as does your familiarity with that network's privacy tools. If you're already a master at custom friends lists at Facebook, and your status updates are set to post to a safe list by default, then you probably have no problem friending your boss. If not, or you don't want to tempt fate, it might just be better to apologise for any offence and suggest they head over to LinkedIn and connect with you there, instead.

Hopefully that gives you a few options, Slightly Antisocial. While it's a little underhanded of your interviewer to dangle a potential job in front of you with a friend request attached, how you handle it — even if you tell them Facebook is personal and LinkedIn is professional — may land you the gig. Good luck!

Readers: How would you handle Antisocial's situation? Do you friend colleagues or bosses on Facebook, or does all of that go to LinkedIn? Do you follow coworkers on Twitter? Or perhaps you prefer to keep your social networks personal and your professional life at the office only? Whatever you think, let's hear it in the comments below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Another way to deal with this is plausible deniability.

    First, do not let people search for your facebook profile using your email address. Change the email to [email protected] (i.e. not your regular email address).

    Lock down your Facebook profile so that the only thing anyone searching for your name will see is a profile pic and your name. Make the profile pic NOT of you - I use an old photo of someone who looks a bit like me (my doppelgänger).

    If they search for your name, they'll see an anonymous-looking photo amongst a long list of people with your name. If they send a friend request to you, ignore it. If they press you by phone/email, you can say you don't have a facebook account, ask them to connect to your linkedin profile instead.

    I have some current and past colleagues that I met through my job on Facebook, but I only added them because I considered them real friends, ie. I would be comfortable spending time with them out of work. Things have gone pear-shaped with one or two of them, but it hasn't mattered so I have no problem with that. I would never EVER add my boss on facebook though, that's just asking for trouble.

    As mentioned in the article, Facebook is really for personal stuff your own friends and family. For all other things business/work/job related keep it to LinkedIn only. Keep everything separated. If at the new job you become real friends with the people that work there then it becomes a grey area, add them if you want to, but its at your own discretion there.

    Linkedin is work. I would have no problem with that. Facebook is for family and friends. I would have no problem with saying that to them, and confirming that I would be happy to accept them as a friend if we developed a social relationship. If that is not good enough for them, do you really want to work there?

    I have a facebook professional group.

    If a co-worker or boss adds me, I just put them in there - its pretty much the same as not being my friend except you can see my profile photos. problem solved.

    i have no dilema - no FB account, no problem...

    'I'm sorry, I don't use Facebook for professional contacts. Do you use LinkedIn?'

    Facebook is for bitching about your boss, or checking in from the beach when you're taking a mental health day. Never add current coworkers, add past coworkers only with EXTREME caution and keep all your privacy settings turned right up.

    The lines blur when you are become friends with some of your co-workers. There is nothing wrong with a healthy friendship in the workplace.

    If you're fortunate enough to enjoy your job and to find at work people who share your interests and values, chances are you're going to being real friends with them. So, as Lachlan say, the lines blur. And they can blur big time. In my experience it simply hasn't been practical to exclude colleagues and former colleagues from my Fb connections. (I'd probably have five friends total if I excluded everyone who has a professional connection to my particular field.)

    So my advice: if you're on Facebook and want to connect with more than just your family and most intimate friends, then you need to master lists and use them well. It is most definitely worth the effort. Keep abreast of the privacy settings and, again, be smart about using them. Don't go overboard and try to create a million and one categories. Other than family you just need 'friends' and 'colleagues' (or 'friends' and 'managers', if you prefer). Needless to say, the colleagues/managers list sees either a stripped down version of your profile with no real interactions, OR they can be given a selective feed of things you're happy for them to see. The latter is nice, of course, but takes more work and thought to maintain.

    Normally I keep work off of my Facebook to avoid awkward Monday conversations but I will usually accept a friend request from a previous work colleague.

    Once when that happened the previous colleague started their own company and poached me from my current job. The networking tools work out well for everyone if handled appropriately.

    I've got a work email I hand out to employers which is not linked to my Twitter or Facebook accounts.

    I also have my profile only visible by "friends of friends" and my partner actually hasn't even put her last name on her Facebook (she's a teacher).

    The only thing that an employer may dislike about my Facebook, however, is I swear a lot - I barely drink, never get drunk, don't do drugs...so I can't see it even being much of an issue.

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