Keep some links out of LinkedIn to hold onto your intellectual capital

Linda Musthaler
By | September 21, 2012

Posted in: Network Security Trends

A column by L.M. Sixel in the Houston Chronicle points out that LinkedIn has become a recruiter’s best friend. When a company is looking to hire a qualified professional, what better way to find him or her than by looking through the networking site that provides everyone’s unofficial resumes?

Even people who may not be looking for a job are basically putting their experience and credentials out there in the public eye. Consequently, many people are receiving unsolicited job offers and are being drawn away from employers who don’t want to lose them.

This got me thinking about another kind of security. Most of us focus on keeping data from leaving the company via unauthorized breaches. But what happens when the intellectual capital of the company – in other words, the people – are recruited away? The workers that are considered a company’s “key employees” are also the most likely ones to receive solicitations for jobs elsewhere because of their knowledge, experience and professional network. Their departure could have a detrimental effect on the company.

Of course, we can’t compare people to data. People have free will and we can work wherever we choose to work. If changing employers means that intellectual capital walks out the door for good, so be it. Nothing can be done about it.

Or can it?

Increasingly, companies are developing policies that cover the use of social networking. Such a policy would (or should) cover LinkedIn and what employees are allowed to reveal about their current employment. Theoretically, restrictions on what can be made public may reduce the likelihood that a company’s employees would turn up in searches of the LinkedIn database—and making them less susceptible to recruitment.

For security purposes, employees should limit information to the barest details such as company name and business title. They should refrain from giving too many details about what they do for the company, and certainly shouldn’t be permitted to discuss company business or projects that should remain private.

If you think this is limiting “free speech,” then consider this: anyone who publicly posts anything about a current employer is, in effect, a representative for that employer. It is appropriate for the employer to set policies over how employees represent the company—and that includes discussing what a worker does for the company. If a company is going to have such restrictions, it should provide clear guidelines on what content is – and isn’t – acceptable to publish.

Some companies also restrict employees from publishing their company email address. Again, there is a legitimate business reason for this restriction. Email addresses and other forms of personal information are being harvested for use in social engineering and spearphishing attacks against companies.

Of course, many people put their profiles on LinkedIn with the hope of being “discovered” and recruited for a new job. This is no different from posting a regular resume on a job board. However, a company’s social media policy can prohibit employees from using social media tools during work hours to conduct a job search. This is hard to police, but it does put workers on notice for an acceptable use policy of web resources on company time.

If a company’s employees are hell-bent on finding new jobs, nothing will (or should) keep them from leaving. However, companies need to use every weapon at their disposal to hold onto quality workers, and certainly strict guidelines for use of professional networking sites like LinkedIn fall into that category. It’s a matter of security, and of protecting the company’s intellectual capital.

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