I recently facilitated a Distance Credentialed Counselor training that was Career Counselor focused and many of the participants in the training stated that Linkedin has become an essential part of their work as a career counselor, often endorsing, recommending and linking with their career counseling students/clients. I pointed out the ethics regarding possible breach of confidentiality and dual relationships and several counselors stated that this just was not a concern and did not apply to their roles as career counselors on college campuses.
While we have established the Ethical Framework for the Use of Technology for Career and School Guidance we also realize that technology moves rapidly and so do expectations about its use. So I reached out to my colleague Lynn Atanasoff who is a Career Counselor at Penn State World Campus. Here is what she graciously shared:
If you use LinkedIn for your professional presence, then I think it becomes part of your professional counselor space. I don’t think that ethical (or legal) responsibilities cease. The same would be true of using BranchOut (a career networking app on Facebook http://branchout.com/ ). Likewise, when you link to someone, you always get additional suggestions of people to add to your L-I connections, just like any other social media. What if your client realizes you have several people in common – you start to blur boundaries and issues of trust and safety need to be considered. I think it’s a slippery slope professionally because if you are a career counselor, you’re taking on a dual role and of course there are client confidentiality issues.
You have to ask what this request is akin to in a face-to-face scenario – in my mind it’s akin to using your career counselor as a professional reference. I don’t believe this is an appropriate request given the nature of the relationship. Imagine giving a prospective employer the name of your counselor as a reference. Can you as a career counselor speak to the ability of a person to perform work tasks? I know that academic advisors sometimes write letters of recommendation based on academic performance, but I don’t think the same rules apply for a career counselor. Also, you have to ask yourself, if you would serve as a reference for one student, are you willing to do the same for all of the students with whom you work?
As the manager of a university L-I group where group members could also be career counseling clients, there are a some steps I’ve taken to set expectations.
- When people join any L-I group, there is a welcome message. As a manager I include boundary expectations within the welcome message. The expectations part of the welcome include that even though I as a career counselor moderate the group, I will at no time accept social networking invitations or respond to blogs written by any student. I also state that I will never acknowledge that I’ve done career counseling with a student and I alert group members that their posts are public to the group. I encourage them to seek a confidential counseling exchange and I include the confidential way to contact me below the welcome message.
- When students ask me to connect individually on L-I, I send an individual e-mail message to the student. I state the boundaries/ restate expectations. I thank the student for thinking of me but also explain my policy of not accepting social media invitations. In the message I explain that my reasons are because L-I is not confidential and it’s not intended for career counseling (i.e., it is a professional networking site). I provide information for how to reach me for a confidential exchange. Obviously an individual counselor will need to write something that sounds like him/her interacting in text. By that I mean the counselor needs to figure out the style and tone that fits with who s/he is as a counselor.
- I have more recently included the same expectations directly on my L-I profile where there is “Advice for Contacting” me, which is a relatively new section of the L-I template. In the message I provide the appropriate channel to reach me and restate that L-I is not confidential or meant for career counseling exchanges.
I do understand that there might be some career professionals who do interface with employers as much as students. Even in this kind of role, such as on a college campus, your job is not to place people in jobs (as would a staffing agency), rather find ways to broker relationships by creating ways the employers & students can interact (e.g.,http://www.naceweb.org/knowledge/principles/career-services-ethics.pdf). For instance, a career center could establish a group on L-I where employers and students can interact with one another.
My final point – it’s absolutely appropriate to help clients understand how to behave professionally on a networking site such as L-I – how to use it, when to use it, benefits and limitations, getting introduced to others, how to establish rapport online, etc. – we want to empower people to further their own career development. I’m not sure that we do that by accepting L-I invitations.
Thanks to Lynn for the fab feedback and permission to blog her thoughts!
Follow Lynn on Twitter! @PSUWC_Career