You Are The Company You Keep

PKP Spring 1994 Formal

While growing up I was often told that you are the company you keep, and as a kid I had a very difficult time both comprehending as well as following that advice.  As time went on and I matured personally I began to better understand it, but this was really driven home for me while in college.  As a freshman at DePaul University I made a decision to join a fraternity.

While I wasn’t necessarily the “fraternity type” and as a commuter-oriented college DePaul wasn’t exactly the typical college campus in which a Greek-letter organization would thrive, I opted to join regardless. Overnight I went from being classified as a freshman to being a “fraternity guy”.  People started making very specific assumptions about me personally – both positive and negative based exclusively upon my decision to join a fraternity.  Moreover, people made certain judgments and assumptions about me based on which Greek-letter organization I joined.  Certain fraternities had been labeled as “jock” or “party” houses; neither categorization well defined me personally.  I often had to work to overcome these categorizations.

Professionally this same lesson applies, with more impact than could ever have been realized as a child or teenager.  When someone reviews your resume, they are instantly making assumptions about you based on the organizations you’ve worked for in the past, schools you’ve attended, roles you’ve held, etc.  While a resume doesn’t get you a job, it does get you further in the process.

For example – when looking for a Senior HR leader, I would give more consideration to a candidate who has been in HR roles at Pepsi, and organization known for growing very successful HR talent than I would a candidate who worked for a smaller, less well-known organization.  Prior experience at a top consultancy is always a plus, as is attendance at an Ivy League University (or any other well regarded local institution).  A MBA from a top school will always get my attention as well.  Lastly, when researching a candidate I always look at their profile on LinkedIn.  If they don’t have a LinkedIn profile I have second thoughts about their candidacy.

Why is a LinkedIn profile critical?

I can give you several key reasons:

  1. People are less likely to significantly stretch the truth about their employment, responsibilities, titles, etc on LinkedIn.  Since often someone is connected to colleagues or managers at their current employer, there is an incentive to not stretch the truth as much as on a paper resume where its not likely seen by colleagues.
  2. Recommendations are easily accessible.  While I don’t give them much weight, the lack of recommendations often tells me a fair bit about the individual as well.  They either haven’t done anything worthy of a recommendation or are shy/afraid about asking for one.  In either case, I can be somewhat confident that they’ll struggle in a senior role.
  3. You can tell a ton about someone based on the other profiles that are most commonly viewed by others when looking at the candidate’s profile. Web traffic doesn’t lie – it tells me exactly what I want to know.  Do people look at other senior HR leaders profiles after reviewing the candidate’s profile?  Is that list mixed with C-level execs or is it more closely associated with analysts, receptionists, and other less senior roles?

What does all this mean?

In the job market, in the conference room, in the halls, and in the virtual meeting places of the world people are constantly making judgments and decisions regarding you and potentially your future all based on things or people with whom you are associated.  I’m not suggesting that you go and quickly unfriend a bunch of people on Facebook, stop following people on Twitter, and unlink with a large quantity of your contacts on LinkedIn.  Rather I’m suggesting that you evaluate what you’re looking to get out of each of those sites and be sure that your connections are aligned with your personal objectives for joining.   After all,  you are the company you keep.

Do you make similar assessments when reviewing someone’s information?  Please share your thoughts on the topic.

And for those who are wondering, the picture on this post is from the spring formal of my fraternity in 1994.  See if you can find me in it.

One thought on “You Are The Company You Keep

  1. I know I’m weeks behind in commenting on this post but it’s awesome.

    I too am a member of a Fraternity (TKE) and have experienced the exact same things you mention. (scary)

    I’m curious how many other “Greeks” are in HR and if ever confronted would admit to being a member?

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