I’m very cautious with the people I add and accept on LinkedIn. I’m so cautious I’ve published a request acceptance policy I never deviate from. I’m even more cautious when I have to accept a former colleague.
I have a very good reason for this.
I’m old enough to remember reference checking the old way in the tech world. The company you were applying to was calling your former boss or manager, sometimes asking you for their phone number to check what kind of employee you are. This led to an embarrassing situations if the above mentioned manager was unaware of your will to check how green was the grass somewhere else, but that was part of applying to a company populated of narrow brained people.
The rise of professional social networks like Linkedin, Viadeo or Xing have changed the game. Displaying a more or less comprehensive list of your current and past colleagues, they give recruiters a privileged access to people you’ve worked with on a daily basis.
This is not a big deal until the day you get a cold call or email from the company your former colleague is applying to, asking you why he left and if you would recommend them.
And then, you find yourself in that awkward situation where you don’t want to stab your former colleague in the back, but you can’t endorse him either, because you know something’s wrong. Maybe they’ve a problem with management or hygiene, or they can’t finish what they start, or they’re just an incompetent slacker who go though his probation period.
And the person at the other side of the line knows something’s wrong, and they’re playing cats and mice with you, pushing you in the ropes, trying to get that critical information you’re trying to hide.
And you’re struggling, trying to protect someone you wish you’ve never heard of, losing your credibility instead of him, in a twisted real life role playing game. That’s the moment you know the only way around is to admit you’re a Juda or answer “They’re just somebody that I used to know”. And get away with it whistling a little song.