Should Your Facebook Friends Ever Meet Your LinkedIn Connections?

Should Your Facebook Friends Ever Meet Your LinkedIn Connections?

Marshall Goldsmith, executive coach and author, recently published a book titled What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  Goldsmith’s premise is simple – the very characteristics that you believe got you to where you are today may indeed be the things that are now holding you back.  Much of his book focuses on helping us recognize and correct 20 bad habits that stifle our striving for success – from the need to show people how smart we are to the compulsion to add our two cents to every discussion.

In our work with executives on developing their career strategies, we have found that just as bad habits can prevent us from maximizing professional success there are instances when people in our lives place a false ceiling on our advancement.  In other words, poorly constructed personal and professional networks can be a weakness.  For us, the key is to recognize when who got you here won’t get you there.

When it comes to personal and professional networks there are three important career risks individuals have to manage.  First, personal networks contain the risk associate with your image as co-created online by you and your friends.  When your personal network is not well managed it can hold you back as you pursue your career goals.  Second, risk in professional networks comes from a failure to invest in connections that could continue to provide you the mentoring and access you require as you advance in your career.  As you experience success it likely becomes the case that reaching the next position requires support from new professional contacts.  Failing to refresh your professional network may have the effect of your career ladder being pulled up so the next rung is out of reach.  Finally, career risk also arises when you fail to properly maintain the boundaries between personal and professional networks.  Rarely does it make sense for your Facebook friends to meet your LinkedIn connections.And when interacting online it always makes sense for you to remember which network is being built for what purpose.

The Career-Limiting Potential of Personal Networks: Never before have your career aspirations been more at the mercy of your friends’ judgment.  The obvious and serious implications of this are, first, that you need to understand when your social network puts your career goals at risk, and, second, that you need to realize that social networking tools have blurred the lines between friendship networks and professional networks in a way that has not previously existed.

We see two challenges here.  First, it’s essential that you recognize how personal relationships can create professional limitations of their own making.  We are all familiar with recent sports and entertainment examples of the career-limiting consequences individuals face when they fail to recognize the way their personal network influences their careers.  NFL quarterback Michael Vick found himself ensnared in a dog-fighting ring with friends – many of whom he had known since junior high school.  He spent nearly two years in prison – and of course away from his career – as a result of his inability to make good choices about his personal network.  Actress Lindsay Lohan has found it hard to surround herself with people who would be career enhancing; for years she has been involved in an ongoing saga of trouble with alcohol and drugs.  During one of her many efforts to pull out of her career nosedive she acknowledged that she had been associating with the wrong people.  So it seems that for her, too, the personal network has created a career limitation.

Why Keeping Facebook and LinkedIn Separate is a Smart Career Move: One of the most common career mistakes people make today is failing to manage the boundaries between their friendship networks and their career networks.  In some ways, this is a new problem.  Before the ubiquity of social networking websites it was fairly easy to keep personal and professional relationships separate.  Professional relationships took place at work or at company sponsored events.  Personal relationships took place in the neighborhood, at social events, and the like.  The Internet has removed the time and geography based boundaries that facilitated our efforts to keep these networks distinct.  By now, it seems everyone has a story of how they wrestled with the dilemma of responding to an awkward Facebook friend request from a co-worker or boss.  On the other side of the coin, treating professional networks such as LinkedIn as an overly personal stage is also a mistake.  One executive shared with us a post from one of his connections: “Went to Costco, checked out their deals on pre-lit Christmas trees.”  This sort of post is an example of not putting your best professional foot forward.

There is a reason for separate Facebook and LinkedIn accounts: what you share on one is often completely inappropriate to share on the other.  Trying to professionally “network” through your Facebook connections is an easy way to alienate your “friends,” who may not have signed up to be a party to your professional advancement.  In certain situations, using Facebook to announce job market availability or potential work opportunities may be helpful – but only if using a light touch. You have to honor the spirit of the Facebook “social utility,” as the site calls itself.  Bringing too much of a professional “ask” to this context might be seen as a complete turn-off, and is often ineffective.  And of course you should expect to find potential employers, coworkers, and other professional peers curious about the pictures, anecdotes, and conversations you share with personal friends.

Here’s To Better Network Management: Consider making two resolutions to better manage your personal and professional networks.  Our first recommendation is that you honestly assess and then address the professional risk you carry in your personal network.  We don’t intend to claim you have to let old friends go like discards at the side of the road.  Instead, we want to emphasize that it would be a mistake to place long-standing friends from your past in roles that should be played by individuals who are connected in the way necessary to help you get what you want from your career.  Would you, for instance, put all – or any – of your friends from childhood on your resume as professional references?

Rather than letting happenstance rule, pledge this year to be deliberate and strategic about the wall you build to separate your personal network from your professional network.  How permeable that wall is should be decided thoughtfully, too.  It isn’t the case that your Facebook friends need to meet your LinkedIn connections.  Nor should you allow yourself to mistake one for the other when it comes to the nature of what you share with each.

Our second recommendation is for you to become strategic about your efforts to refresh your professional network.  Over the course of your career, the people who have the ability to influence your future success change.  As one of the first author’s students noted, “I realize now that the people who wrote the letters of recommendation that got me in to graduate school aren’t going to be able to help me switch fields when I graduate.”  Each new position changes the cast of characters who can help you learn the new job – and can help you prepare for the next.  If you don’t refresh your network by building new relationships, you run the risk of stalling in your career.  If you continue to rely on the people who got you where you are, you run the risk of failing to get where you want to go.  Our advice is simple – analyze these players in your network on the basis of how instrumental they can be as you work to demonstrate you deserve your next career opportunity.

By effectively addressing each of these network challenges you will avoid both the situations where personal networks limit your potential and those where your professional network lacks the influence necessary to support your next career move.  Make a strategic review of the degree to which your personal and professional networks are positioning you to achieve your career goals – and then take action!  In the meantime, think about the lessons that you can learn from watching such a public career game. Are you aware of how others define excellent performance in your role?  Are you responsive to the other players in your career game and are you building a reputation that encourages others to want you as a part of their career game?  Are you properly balancing short and long-term career goals as you make each move?

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