David Berlind’s recent discussion of the merits of LinkedIn versus other services like Plaxo (David thinks LinkedIn is “winning” — and I agree) inspired me to surface a recent experience I had with LinkedIn that illustrates the importance of old-fashioned offline personal relationships — not just the direct personal relationships you are explictly aware of, but the implicit networks that are created by the associations you specify in an online profile. When this kind of information is laid bare and made easily searchable in the context of defined relationships, the brutal efficiency with which personal and professional networks can be navigated by connections outside of your first-degree network can be breathtaking.
In my particular case, I was contacted by someone who shared a trusted mutual connection with me who just happened to be interviewing someone who I had worked with in the past. I’m not even sure if this person is even on LinkedIn. I wasn’t this person’s boss, and I would have never been offered as an actual reference on a resume, but the person who contacted me for a reference noted that we worked for the same company and wanted to know my thoughts. Unfortunately, my comments weren’t positive. I just couldn’t give a positive reference without feeling like I was compromising myself and the trust of our mutual connection (this was kind of an extreme case — not much of a gray area on this one, which is rare in a world where I think almost anyone deserves a second chance and the benefit of the doubt).
Like your parents probably told you (or at least should have), reputation is your most important asset, and what people think about you can make or break opportunities in life. No technology will ever change that — but services like LinkedIn can be a mercilessly efficient means for a bad rep to follow you.