Digital Manners: A Co-Worker Is Using MY Job Description on LinkedIn

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
Jan. 10 2012 12:44 PM

Résumé Robbed (Transcript)

What to do when a colleague steals your job title and description for her LinkIn profile.

Emily Yoffe:  Hey, Ashley, Congratulations! I just read on your profile that you’re the new CEO of the company!

 Farhad Manjoo:  I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo.

Emily:  I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.

Farhad:  Today’s question is from a listener whose colleague is trying to steal his professional thunder. He writes, “Dear Farhad and Emily, a coworker of mine has misrepresented herself on LinkedIn. She exaggerated her title and experience. To make matters worse, her exaggerated job position is the position I currently hold. What’s the proper way to deal with this? Should I confront her directly or should I let her résumé fabrications catch up with her?” Signed, Résumé Robbed.

So, Emily, have you ever seen anyone lie on their LinkedIn profile, and what do you do about it?

Emily:  I have a LinkedIn profile, but I don’t know how to access it or anyone else’s, so I can’t say I’ve tracked that too closely. But if I were Director of Sales at a company and I saw an Assistant Marketing person had listed on her LinkedIn profile that she was Director of Sales, I do think I’d go over to her and say, in a very low-key way, “Caroline, I saw that on your profile your job title is actually my job title. You probably want to go and fix that.”

Farhad:  I would agree with you. I think the whole point of LinkedIn is it functions as a public résumé, and the public-ness of it means that whatever you put up there is going to be vetted by other people – by your coworkers, by people in your industry.

So for somebody to lie on LinkedIn, I think it speaks worse of that person than if they would just had their résumé the old-fashioned way. It suggests a real idiocy, I think. So, yes, I think this person should confront her and if this resume padder doesn’t take down this total lie, they could go to the boss or do something even more than that. I think it calls for that.

Emily:  This is the question. I don’t want to call it “confront.” I think you have to do it in a low-key way, because things at the office can blow up and get out of control in a way you can regret. I think instead of saying, “I note that every fact on your profile is a lie,” I think you should keep it to the thing that materially affects you.

Then, if when you check on the LinkedIn profile, what if you see she doesn’t change it? That’s the question. I’m a little torn. Do you go to the supervisor? Do you go up the ranks? Is the LinkedIn profile a function of the company or is that something personal?

Farhad:  I think it’s a hybrid. It talks about your professional history beyond a certain company. It talks about your education. It’s not owned by the company in any way, but you are representing yourself. Especially if it’s a place you currently work at, you’re representing yourself as an employee of that company and anything you say there. If you claim that you’re the CEO of Apple on your LinkedIn profile, I think Apple should say something about it.

Emily:  You are the new CEO of Apple, right?

Farhad:  Yeah, I just put it up on LinkedIn right now. I think the company does have a right to intervene in that case, if an employee is misrepresenting her title at the company.

Emily:  That’s an interesting point that LinkedIn is a kind of hybrid thing. It’s not the company’s website, but the company is being represented by how employees describe themselves.

In that case, I do think you’re right, if this person doesn’t take care of it and realize she’s been caught. And how kooky do you have to be? That says there’s something really wrong with this person. I think you can go to HR or the supervisor and say, “Look, I don’t want to get in a personal situation, but the company is being misrepresented on Ashley’s profile. Maybe we need to have a company-wide policy that your LinkedIn profiles will be occasionally vetted by the company to make sure everything is accurate, because you’re representing this business to the world.”

Farhad:  I think in general it’s a really dumb thing to misrepresent yourself on LinkedIn. LinkedIn I’ve heard is a great way to find work if you’re unemployed. One of the ways people use it is they maintain an accurate profile, and then other people in the industry, other people in their network – their friends and colleagues – can promote their profile, add testimonials to their profile and in general keep them in mind for jobs that they hear of.

If you’re going around lying on your profile and it’s obvious to your coworkers that you’re lying on your profile, you’re just defeating yourself before that process even starts. It’s a really bad idea.

Emily:  I totally agree. Part of me says, “The system will catch and fix this,” but I wonder how often people do get away with résumé padding or outright lying. As Dear Prudence, I’ve done a lot of office-oriented questions and if you’ve got a psycho embezzler in your office who’s been fired, if that person is looking for another job, when the potential employer calls HR, HR is not going to say, “Oh, you can hire that psycho embezzler.” They will say, “This person worked here from X date to X date.” Now you’ve got to infer if you don’t hear any more than that.

I’m kind of wondering if a lot of people aren’t getting away with stuff because of fear of law suits. I would be curious to see how self-correcting the system is, and I think some business school professor should do this study.

Farhad:  That’s a good idea. I’ve heard, actually, of there being “rings” – people who go around and agree to add testimonials to one another’s pages as kickbacks. I might claim that I’m the CEO of Apple and you’ll claim that you were the Marketing Director, and we’re both lying but we both add our testimonials on each other’s page. You might get away with it for a little while.

But I bet that it doesn’t help you over the long run, because other people notice. I can’t see how it can go on for long and how much good can come of an obvious lie.

Emily:  In general, Farhad, I would agree it doesn’t help to be a lying nut, but when you hear people’s complaints about what goes on in their workplace, maybe it does.

I guess our bottom line is when you see something as egregious as this, particularly if the person is usurping your own title, go ahead and just have a direct conversation. Don’t make it accusatory. Just say, “There’s a mistake there. You probably want to fix it.” Then take it up the line if it’s not fixed.

Farhad:  I think it should be on the subway. If you see something, say something.

Emily: Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is digitalmanners@slate.com

Farhad:  You can also join our Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week.  Go to www.Facebook.com/digitalmanners.

Emily:  And we’ll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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