my assistant is using my title on LinkedIn

A reader writes:

So, I got a new job (hooray!) and I have an assistant who reports to me.  When updating my LinkedIn profile today, I noticed that my assistant has himself listed in my position and has since February of this year (while the position was vacant).

Given that I am just starting with this company, I don’t want to rock the boat, or make this person in any way think I consider myself to be “better” than him, but I can see this getting confusing down the road.  Any suggestions on how I should approach this or if I even should?

Secondly, is it weird that this rubs me the wrong way?  Have you ever encountered a LinkedIn profile where people are grossly misrepresenting themselves?

No, it’s not weird that it rubs you the wrong way! And it’s not because you think you’re better than him, but rather because he’s, you know, lying.  (And is it wrong that I think this is actually pretty funny?)

However, I suppose it’s possible that he did legitimately assume the title on an interim basis while the position was vacant. Any chance that was the case? In fact, if you ask him about it, that’s what’s I’d say — “Hey, did you temporarily have a different title while my position was open? I noticed on LinkedIn that you’re listed as (TITLE), and I wondered if that’s because you’d been serving as the interim (TITLE).”

And frankly, you should ask him about it, because if that innocent explanation is indeed the case, it’s better for both of you for you to know that than for you to go around incorrectly thinking of him as a liar.

But if it turns out that the explanation wasn’t innocent at all and he just decided to inflate his title, then you’re doing him a favor by diplomatically inquiring about it like this, because he should realize how easy it is to get caught doing this sort of thing, and asking in this way at least lets him save a little face.

And if it does turn out that he was lying, assume you have someone with an integrity problem on your hands and be on guard for other instances of it.

Either way, he does need to change his profile, because he can’t be out there misrepresenting his role at your company.

Read an update to this letter.

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Wilton Businessman*

    Be cautious with this one, he has a tendency to exaggerate. If his interim title was “your title” then why didn’t they hire him? Or, maybe everybody in that department is called some degree of “your title”. What’s the upside of confronting him?

  2. Anne*

    This is one of two things: Someone inflating their title, or someone who honestly doesn’t know their title.

    I see both in my workplace (for example, people naming themselves “director” of a department they manage, when someone else might consider them an “assistant director” of the larger umbrella department that their department is a part of). There ARE gray areas with titles, especially when you have a payroll system that just classifies people with letters and numbers.

    Either way, worth an honest (but not accusatory) discussion.

  3. Anonymous*

    I’m a little conflicted about this. Yes, it might be lying, exxageration, or oversight, but is the LinkedIn profile part of his job description? If it isn’t, then is what he does in his private life really his manager’s concern? I would just mention it in passing and move on.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It does matter, because he’s representing himself as filling a certain role at that company that he doesn’t actually fill. If someone is trying to locate the person who’s the (TITLE) there and they look on LinkedIn, it’s going to cause some confusion.

      1. Anonymous*

        I guess I just don’t think of LinkedIn as anything worth looking at. This may be a cultural difference. In IT, we don’t care what you say about yourself, it is what you do that matters. Show me a blog, twitter feed, or a conference presentation.

        1. BennettPlusTwo*

          I think that anyone representing their professional history should do so the same way it would be outlined on a resume that they expected to be verified with former and current employers. I don’t know that it is cultural but could agree that it could be departmental. In Human Resources, this information is important and can often tell you more about a person than you might realize.

          I wouldn’t hire someone who I found to be misrepresenting his position in his resume and LinkedIn is essentially an online resume. It is the same way I wouldn’t hire someone who posted questionable material on their Twitter feed, in their blog or on Facebook.

      2. Anonymous*

        But so many people do this. I would guess more than half. You would have to go around confronting everyone. It makes you look like . . . the “precise languag” police.

        It is not right and it does annoy the crap out of me because if these people do this blatantly on a public websiteyou know they are stealing credit, intellectual property and opportunities from their peers in the office. The problem is insidious and endemic.

        But you can’t stop it by saying, “hey I saw your profile and that’s not true.” What needs to change is the corporate culture that glorifies the gift of gab and networking and the Gallup hooey of “hard work, knowledge and experience don’t matter; only talent matters” and “what is talent? we know it when we see it.”

        Institutionalized discriminatory practices given some false legitamacy, that’s all it is.

        But confronting someone in their lies won’t stop it and will only hurt you.

  4. BennettPlusTwo*

    Hi Alison! Thanks for answering my question!

    To answer the question, no he was not acting in the Generalist position while it was vacant. The Operations Manager was handing the duties during the vacancy. I was kind of hoping that he would change it once the position had been filled but he still hasn’t! I will approach him about it on Monday casually in order to change it.

    As for the comment by Anonymous @ 6:00pm, the fact of the matter is that this person is misrepresenting himself in the name of our company. This really has nothing to do at all with what he does in his spare time – he is giving people on the outside an impression which is false. In a society which comes more and more dependent on social media, I think it does become my business when someone has indicated to the world that they are doing my job when in fact, I am. I think I am doing my due diligence in also keeping in mind the best interest of the business and ensuring that our credibility stays intact by monitoring things like this as well. So I will absolutely defend my position that it is my business, regardless of what his job title says he is saying he is something else. Would you have a problem paying $10 for saffron and finding out it was really sawdust? Same thing. Bigger scale.

    1. Anonymous*

      If a LinkedIn account represents your company, then there should be an established policy regarding it. To my mind, it is more like Facebook-in-a-Suit. I realize some regard it as more than that, but I just don’t think it is. It’s misrepresenting-underling’s account, not the company’s.
      —sincere but well-meaning dissenter, OP 6pm

      1. BennettPlusTwo*

        No no, this is the individual’s personal LinkedIn profile. The company does have a professionally managed account.

        I think I find the motivations more questionable than the actual content. It would be embarrassing for me to have someone call, confused as to why my position is split between two people if it was not something that I had noticed before!

        I do agree about the Facebook-in-a-suit comment and think that LinkedIn could actually be a very valuable resource if it was used as a tool in which content had to be verified instead of all content being user provided like Wiki.

      2. ckf82*

        I actually agree with the OP – I see lying on your LinkedIn page as similar to lying on your resume, which would absolutely not be acceptable.

    2. Slaten*

      I think you’d better review your company policy on social media. Assuming they even have one!

  5. Anonymous*

    We had this happen at my company. We have an in-house attorney who has been there for almost ten years, and another person who has a law degree and license had been there for maybe 2 years (we are not a law firm). We caught this other person using the title “General Counsel” on his LinkedIn, when he ISN’T GC. He wasn’t even practicing as an attorney or associate GC in our office. You’d be surprised how common this is, and how many people really don’t think they’ll ever be caught. I’m not saying this guy is deliberately doing it as was the case in my situation, but it’s definitely something I’d bring up if I were a manager. It’s misrepresentation (and actually for most State Bars, that’s kind of a big deal!).

  6. BennettPlusTwo*

    I think the worst part is that the information is SO accessible! Anyone who types a name into a search engine can quickly retrieve this information. I think it is a shame that this type of information doesn’t have to be “vetted”, similar to a “verified” Twitter account. Being an HR Professional, I would love the ability to use LinkedIn as a VOE tool (Verification Of Employment)!

  7. Anonymous*

    Sorry this is not exactly on topic but social media just lends itself to this sort of thing. My ex-wife lists herself on facebook as a “nurse” and a degree from a school she simply attended part time. It drives me crazy every time I see it or someone comments on her page about her being a “nurse”. Obviously this is different because this is mis-representing their role in your company which can be detrimental for the company. I just find it funny that people put this stuff up thinking no one will ever actually see it that knows it isn’t true.

  8. BennettPlusTwo*

    There was actually a woman here (Canada) who was sentenced to prison recently for impersonating a nurse. She used fraudulent credentials to secure a nursing position and actually treated patients!

    I think social media puts the onus on people to be honest and forthright and the simple fact of the matter is that a great deal of people are not. Generally speaking, the internet provides a gateway to dishonesty and it is really disheartening to see people do things like that.

  9. MrPlusMinus*

    As an interesting note I’ve seen some research by Kris Dunn and others that show that people’s LinkedIn profiles are more accurate than their resume. This is probably due to the public nature of a LI profile.

  10. Anonymous*

    I get that you find it questionable and unsettling, and well, it is. But that just doesn’t change the fact that it is the individual’s “site”, presumably done on their own time. If there is a corporate policy regarding what employees may post online when they are identified on that same site as a employee of X, then X can control/suggest/review the content. If there is no policy, well then, it’s not right, but there isn’t much to be said.

    I guess I am arguing for a corporate internet policy.
    –dissenter, who is getting lots of addition practice today!

    1. Anonymous*

      oh sigh, I didn’t do the spam-math the first try and instead of being a reply to OP it ended up down here. Bad web programmers, bad UI.
      dissenter who IRL is a web programmer so yeah I do get to criticize.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it would be like if they found out the assistant was introducing himself at conferences as having a different position that he really had at the company. It would be the company’s business because he was (a) representing himself as affiliated with them but (b) misrepresenting the nature of that affiliation.

      Sorry about the spam-math mistake :)

    3. BennettPlusTwo*

      I have to respectfully disagree with you there. I think it is one thing for someone (on their own site) say they are a “Lawyer” when really they are just in law school. I think it is something different entirely for someone to go ahead and associate that with an actual brick and mortar company.

      There are Internet Acceptable Use Policies, which would govern his access to social media during working hours, but we don’t have the right to exercise control over what he does in his own time. However, when the content of his personal site has an organizational impact, I think then it really does matter.

      The problem is, that we really can’t control someone else’s social media profile. Where I worked previously, we had a young woman who was a client who setup a Facebook page with our company’s name. This was actually done with good intentions as a means for other clients to sing their praises about the company, but where liability comes into play, they aren’t entitled to represent the company. It’s the same thing here.

      I can’t force the young man to change his title on the website, but I can mention it to him and I will. If he choose not to remove it then that is his prerogative. Keeping in mind however that willful misrepresentation is a breach of the code of conduct…..

  11. Anon y. mouse*

    IMHO, an employee doesn’t have to be on the clock for their employer to object to them doing something unethical and potentially embarrassing to the business. I also think the concept of a ‘private’ life and behavior breaks down when someone is putting things on a website that is deliberately designed to be very public. It’d be one thing if this employee were lying to impress his date, but Linked In is more like printing it in a newspaper.

    Nice diplomatic suggestion, Alison. I hope the dope takes the hint and corrects his profile quickly. I know I’ve done really dumb stuff and learned from being corrected.

  12. Brian*

    I usually forget I even have a LI account but spend a few minutes looking things over whenever someone sends me an invite and I have to login to accept. I was amused last week when I saw how many people had incorrect titles. For example, the most incompetent desktop tech was the “Team Lead”. He would probably have the lead if they were picking people for the next round of layoffs. The most common fib was how many people add “Senior” in front of their title (although several of my previous companies loved to throw that around in lieu of raises).

  13. BennettPlusTwo*

    Problem SOLVED! In a most convenient way for me…

    My assistant was talking this morning about something that happened on Twitter and after he finished I said “Oh! That reminds me, I have to update my LinkedIn profile. Do you have LinkedIn so I can add you to my network?” He nodded that he did so I told him I would be sure to add him. By the time I got back to my office (I detoured to the bathroom first) his profile had been reverted back to “Assistant” and he removed experience as the “Generalist”!

      1. esra*

        As an aside, what’s with the spam protection addition? It kept telling me 8+9 did not equal 17 and I had to hard refresh (after briefly having a crisis re: my math skills).

    1. Emily*

      I have a feeling your assistant was messing around with his LinkedIn profile (the way people do) at some point during or between your predecesor’s departure, the hiring process for your position, and your assuming the role, and he might have used it—inappropriately—to cope with the effects of the transition on his own role.

      Maybe he imagined what it would be like if he was hired for your position (someone else asked why he wasn’t—maybe he just doesn’t have the chronological experience yet?) and used LinkedIn to visualize that, not accounting for the impropriety of publicly inflating his title that way. Maybe, though the Operations Manager officially assumed responsibility for the Generalist’s role while the position was vacant, in practice, your assistant performed more of those duties than anticipated or that you know of, and your assistant felt he was due a LinkedIn title boost in return.

      Clearly this has raised your eyebrow, and either of those [totally speculative] scenarios might be cause for concern—is this the only way he has inflated his official status? Does he have an ego problem? Will he exhibit resentful or entitled behavior in the future? It could also be an aberration. I’m all for giving the benefit of the doubt and assuming positive intent (a sentiment I learned from a commenter on this blog!) but you don’t want the incident to come back to bug you—or bite you—later.

      I like the way you handled it and it sounds like you got the result you wanted (and that he owed you, the company, and himself*) but you might still take advantage of what you observed. Find out what his aspirations are and if he does envision himself becoming a Generalist eventually, manage him with mentorship—help him achieve that role legitimately. Find out what duties he performed during the transition—maybe he has knowledge or skills that you don’t yet know about and he can be a greater asset to your department.

      *Not to mention the LinkedIn community! LinkedIn is only as legitimate as the people who use it!

  14. Anonymous*

    Two thoughts on this:

    1. Yes, companies should have a social-media policy, especially if you actually plan on taking any disciplinary actions. But the OP wasn’t planning on firing the guy, just correcting the situation. Also, do you really need to have a written policy telling people not to lie about their titles?

    2. For those blaming this on social media: So you’re saying people haven’t been doing this kind of stuff on their resumes for years? To paraphrase Marvin Gaye, believe half of the job titles and none of the bullet points. If anything, social media sites make deception less likely because they’re so transparent. My guess is the people who do it on their profiles are naively assuming the old rules apply.

  15. SSpiffy*

    I had forgotten about my LI accont and am updating it now.

    Not job hunting, but one never knows…

  16. Charles*

    One follow up question for BennettPlusTwo: Did you ever find out WHY he used the wrong title?

    I could see if someone made a mistake as some companies often do NOT give formal titles and the employee is “forced” to assign themselves one. But it doesn’t sound like that in this case.

    Perhaps, he listed himself this way because he was in fact doing that title’s work even if he wasn’t formally assigned to that role?

    No need to force the issue with him, I’m just being curious as to why.

  17. Anonymous*

    I have seen Linked In list people by default; most of these have incorrect titles (that I have seen). I found it strange to find myself on Linked In with the wrong title. First I corrected it, but then later just deleted my Linked In page.

  18. Anonymous*

    I was horrified to see my assistant calling herself by my job title although her correct title ‘Assistant Credit Controller’ is written in to her Contract. She has been with the Company approx. 4 years. I have been in the position as Credit Controller for nearly 14 years. I approached her and spoke to her verbally when I first noticed her using my title nearly two years ago in her correspondence & she corrected this. I have now noticed that she is doing the same again and was going to write this time, quite strongly but after having discussed with the Financial Accountant it was decided he would speak to her. This was a week ago & I am still waiting. I feel quite upset & offended. I have just reached retirement age but she & the Company know I am staying on as long as I am able .

  19. Alexander*

    I actually have a tangent from this issue… What about misrepresenting education on LinkedIn?

    I am proud of my degree, it’s a BS from a good university that is known for a rigorous program. However, the university also has “satellite campuses” across the state. A lot of people in my company attended the satellite campuses but their profiles do not indicate that. The people also join Alumni groups that are reserved for Alums of the main university program, and it all “looks great on paper”.

    My problem with this is that it completely misrepresents their educational background. For example, a part-time MBA from a local chapter of a school ($7500 per semester) is not the same as the highly acclaimed top-25 program on the main campus. What can be done about this on LinkedIn? A lot of people are claiming that they are alums of my university, but they have never even been to the campus. The name alone gets a lot of respect on LinkedIn… i’m frustrated.

    Any thoughts would help. thanks-

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