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My boss is pressuring me to change my LinkedIn profile

The Question:

After being a self-employed trainer, coach and consultant since 2006, I accepted a full-time trainer position with a large private training and development agency. I started the position two months ago, and my employer has asked me to update my LinkedIn profile with my new position.

While I understand his reasons for making this request, I feel uncomfortable making the change during my probationary period. I've addressed my concern with my employer who remains adamant that I should update my profile immediately. What should I do?

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I have a few concerns with making the change:

1. I just started this role, and already have some doubts as to whether or not it's a long-time fit for me. If I choose to leave before my probationary period ends (or, they ask me to leave), I would not want to note this position on my LinkedIn profile.

2. The owner of the agency and I have agreed that I will be continuing to offer training, coaching and consulting services, to non-corporate clients, under my company name (separate and apart from my work at the agency). I am still considering how I want to represent the combination of my two separate roles.

3. My ego is feeling a bit bruised after moving away from full-time self-employment, and I don't feel ready to notify my entire network of this change.

4. I feel uncomfortable about being pressured into updating my profile. If my boss can make me change my LinkedIn profile, then what about Facebook or other personal profiles? I view my LinkedIn profile as my online résumé, and feel that I should have complete autonomy over how I represent myself.

Can you offer your opinion or advice?

The Answer:

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Know that often it can be a challenge to transition from full-time self-employment to working for someone else. There is usually a period of letting go, loss and grieving. In your case, hopefully, it will be mitigated by the fact that you will be carrying on with your non-corporate clients under your own business. It sounds like you can have the best of both worlds, though with respect to retaining your private business with non-corporate clients while working for your new employer on corporate business.

I hear your concerns and fears about this change. You may want to consider viewing it from the perspective that you will be able to work out a compromise that will work for you and your new employer as opposed to fearing and expecting the worst (for example, that he will not compromise, you will not stay with the agency). You do not want this to become a self- fulfilling prophecy. Try imagining that you will be able to work out a long-term mutually beneficial working relationship with your employer. Keep your fears, judgments, and inner critics in check as best you can. Know that you are likely far more sensitive about this change than anyone else in your network. Another way to look at it is that you are keeping your network up to date on your professional status and assignments.

Be clear on what you want regarding your professional positioning and branding with respect to your own business and your work with your new employer. Draft how you want your business and your relationship with your new employer represented both in person and on professional social networking sites. Present a proposal to your new boss. Be prepared to discuss it with your new boss and to negotiate a compromise that will work for both of you.

You will want to figure out how you will represent the combination of your two separate roles. It sounds like you can consider doing one for your private, non-corporate clients and one for your corporate clients under your new employer. Consider listing your new employer as a client. Indicate to your new boss that you would like to do this, at least until the end of your probationary period.

Be curious about why your new employer is adamant about changing your social network profile. Likely he is concerned about losing business to you on the side. Check to see if your new employer has policies and/or guidelines with respect to conflict of interest and fair business practices. If so, these should help in sorting out how to handle business and client referrals and management issues. You may want to suggest adding a section on use of professional networking sites.

See what you can work out with your boss with respect to a compromise position. Be up front and frank with him about your desires and concerns. His concerns are naturally about the use of LinkedIn profiles for business networking and marketing. Your new boss will likely not be asking you to make any changes to your personal Facebook or other personal social networking sites. Take note though that Facebook is moving more into the area of business networking as well. This is a good reminder to make sure that there is nothing on your Facebook or other social networking sites from a personal nature which can impact your professional and work career.

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On the topic of who owns your LinkedIn profile and other social networking materials, that is where you may want to consult an employment lawyer with experience in social and business networking sites. Ownership of posted website materials – individual versus networking site is a fairly recent legal issue that has been addressed in different legal jurisdictions. The topic of employer's rights to instruct employees or contractors to change their social or business networking site materials is another important and timely legal issue.

If your employer continues to pressure you about changing your LinkedIn profile and is not willing to compromise then you have more information about your new employer and his flexibility and adaptability. You can then determine how long – and in what capacity – you will continue to work with this company.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting in Vancouver.

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