Your LinkedIn Profile Might Be Giving Away Trade Secrets

Last week, a behemoth Silicon Valley darling required one of my clients to upload his LinkedIn profile instead of submitting a résumé for an open position.

The problem with this method of recruiting is that LinkedIn is a public document. As such, the smartest and most successful candidates won't list certain confidential content on their profiles.

They will not list all of the many (and important, and rampant) quantitative metrics so important to today's best résumés.

In a perfect world, a résumé will be inherently richer in detail than its companion LinkedIn profile.

Don't believe me? Let's examine what people are placing on their LinkedIn profiles.

For this article, I conducted a simple search for "enterprise sales executive" from my own LinkedIn profile.

One of the first profiles listed reads like this (details scrambled and fictionalized for confidentiality):

  • ABC Company, President’s Club, 2012: (Top 1% of 5,000 Sales Reps, 400% achievement)
  • XYZ Company, Excellence Club, 2011: (Achieved 325% against $8.7 million quota)

That all sounds great, doesn't it? (And no, I'm not entirely clear what "400% achievement" means, but bear with me.) It sounds good enough to at least reach out to that person. Stat!

Alas. On LinkedIn, this ubiquitous and beloved misconception has some unintended consequences.

First, our subject is letting competitors speculate that at least 5,000 sales reps have a sales quota of $8 million, so they can extrapolate the company's sales goals. Okay, maybe not eight million each, but even at half of that calculation (5,000 reps x $8 million), it gives information that our subject's company might not be fond of releasing to a competitor.

Second, notice that our subject stopped listing their stratospheric accomplishments in 2012. It's a good time to note that they're still, remarkably perhaps, working at the same company in 2015.

It begs the question: are they now failing? Furthermore, are their potential and/or repeat clients arriving at the negotiating table armed to the teeth because they had the pre-meeting foresight to review our subject's LinkedIn profile? Realizing that our super successful subject is a selling shark?

I mean, if I were a potential enterprise client exploring this company's expensive widgets—and I knew this enterprise sales executive was in the top one percent of five thousand sales reps, and not only that, but they effortlessly exceeded their multimillion-dollar quotas for the past five years—I'd arrive at the table ready for battle.

By all that is publishable, this super-duper enterprise sales executive isn't going to get one by me!

My recommendation.

Okay, so I have to preface my recommendation by saying that I am a major, premium-paying LinkedIn fan. If you're not a premium member, I believe you should be.

That said, I often swim upstream on this point. I've even presented with recruiters with whom I share a mutual fondness and respect, and we openly disagree.

A recruiter recently said, "I agree with Jared on all points. Except the one about redacting certain quantitative details from your LinkedIn profile. I need to see your value." (You'll see this repeated all over the interwebs.)

To which I always reply: "Make the recruiter do their job." I was once a recruiter, so I can say this with conviction. I believe recruiting is an art as much as it is a science, and recruiting first respects everyone's confidentiality.

I continued and drove home my point to the audience: "You, dear audience members, are ultimately responsible for your own stories. If that unwittingly involves giving away trade secrets—and giving away your secret sauce and professional prowess in a public forum—then you've only shot yourself in the foot."

Again. Recruiters are paid to do a job. Make them do their jobs.

So, all of those caveats and exceptions stated, here are my recommendations:

  • Don’t list confidential information on your résumé. That's a given. But take it further by not listing details that, when compared alongside other pieces of online / published information, might be amassed to make competitive assumptions about your company. Other companies are busily scraping the web and selling aggregated information. Don't be a part of it.
  • Refrain from using résumé speak and listing potentially confidential metrics or trade secrets on LinkedIn. Scrub the information and carefully write your LinkedIn profile for public consumption.
  • If you've done either of these things, fix immediately. Don't let another week go by. Sure, web crawlers may have already scraped, archived, and exploited the information you presented unknowingly to the world. But now you know, so begin making amends.
  • If you're in a supervisory role, audit your employees' LinkedIn profiles. If they've unwittingly revealed confidential, proprietary, or potentially competitive information, don't blame them. Yet. They knew not what they did. Instead, explain why they need to scrub the heck out of that content, and why. Indeed, the LinkedIn profiles I write that really make me sweat are for companies with strict social media policies. For example, Apple, Inc. employees are basically allowed to say nothing about what they do. Apple again leads the pack, knowing that loose lips sink ships. (Speaking of technology, broadly, not Apple, you can't imagine the information product developers reveal in LinkedIn groups ... bellyaching away and giving away all manner of secret sauce.)

Will you miss out on potential opportunities? Probably. But it's up to you to understand this incredibly important nuance. LinkedIn is a tool for doing business, and the humble résumé bears the confidential weight of telling your story within the finite realm of job searching. Even then, you don't want to ever reveal proprietary information about your company. Past, present, or future.

If you're a recruiter and you're using "LinkedIn only" as a sole recruiting tool, stop. You're potentially missing out on the brightest candidates who, indeed, know better than to treat LinkedIn like an online résumé. Respected institutions are apparently starting to miss out on this big picture privacy issue. Don't be one of them.

Repeat after me:

  • Just because LinkedIn says I can, doesn't mean I should.
  • LinkedIn is not my online résumé.
  • LinkedIn is a professional platform to do business and communicate my professional (and very public) brand.
  • If a recruiter finds me and thinks they want to talk to me, I will make peace that they must do their job and learn more by calling and/or asking for my résumé.
  • My résumé is the place to self-market myself to a discrete audience.

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San Francisco-based executive resume writer and career transition coach, Jared Redick, works with senior leaders at Fortune 50 companies and beyond. He draws on early experience in retained executive search and nearly two decades of resume writing to help stealth job seekers re-imagine the marketable intersection between their background, interests, audience expectations, and career goals.

Jared's strategic “purpose, content, design” approach to résumé writing helps executives and professionals understand their value, develop their unique professional brand, and position themselves safely online and on paper.

Reach him at info@theresumestudio.com or 415-397-6640. Follow @TheResumeStudio.