As someone who is an active networker both on and off-line, I am frequently asked about personal security. I have to say that although it doesn’t overly pre-occupy, I am always judicious.
There is a certain irony that men and women will go on dating sites without hesitation, connecting with each other romantically and eventually meeting, with really only minimal precautions.The same basic security measures also apply to professional networking.
There are clearly potentially psychopaths on all social networks and online networking which can lead to some inappropriate or extreme situations but there are many safety nets in place to protect us. We can block and report. Many people will only connect with people they know personally, although I’m not in that camp. On LinkedIn I always check credentials and ensure that profiles are reasonably complete, with a picture. I am more relaxed on Twitter, but consider it generally wise to avoid naked people. My content is always completely professional.
I have a vast online network and have had very few poor experiences. Sometimes these have been rooted in cultural or language issues, when a short note indicating that I use the network for professional purposes does the trick. I was once asked for my private telephone number, but as the gentleman was the same age as my son, a kindly recommendation to consult an optician seemed the appropriate course of action.
If you go on to meet an online connection (and I have) then apply the same personal security measures as if going on a date. Always arrange to meet in public places, well-known reputable venues, let someone know where you are going and keep your mobile switched on. If the contact wants to meet in a dubious watering hole, in an isolated location, late at night – don’t go. It’s really not hard.
Every day professional situations
The anomaly is that although there are many cautionary safety tales published about the vulnerability of our personal security when networking, in some ways we can be more exposed in other seeming routine areas of our daily professional lives. This is not just women, Increasingly men are also tell me that they are also becoming more cautious.
- Travelling – I have probably seen too many movies, but I find underground car parks particularly challenging, following a late night incident some years ago. Arriving alone in train stations or airports late at night is especially creepy. If it’s not possible to be collected or take a cab, some car parks have well-lit women’s parking zones. Make a note of your space number so you can go easily and quickly to your car. Don’t write that on the ticket. Carry a whistle or alarm. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even some of the burliest guys are investing in key chain alarms. If driving late at night is part of your professional life, membership to an emergency breakdown service would be wise – just in case.
- Working late: many companies will provide taxi services to employees working after a certain hour for security reasons. That is a great bonus – use it or ask for it. It’s always best to let someone know you are working late and not to work late alone of that can be helped.
- I.D badges: Many large organisations have increased security against accidental or malicious harm, crime and other threats. Our bags are searched at the entrance or even screened through a security monitor. Sometimes we have to pass through metal detectors and are obliged to wear badges with photo ID, our name and quite often the company logo. I heard two stories where individuals were approached on the metro because of their ID badge. One was from an old school chum visiting Brussels from the United States and the other was unwelcome. After a drinks party with his ID badge on display all evening, a contact found himself the object of a total stranger’s interest and she pursued him relentlessly until he threatened to file a police report. Keep your badge in your briefcase when not in the office. Many forget, especially at lunch time or at after work drinks. In a reputation economy, a name and company is the only lead a person needs to start tracking someone down.
- Collection: I was collected at Manchester airport by a man who after some conversation claimed to be from a taxi service where I had booked a cab . It was only afterward did I realise that I didn’t ask for ID, and actually hopped into a car with someone who may not have been bona fida. He was, but I had failed to do due diligence in the same way as I would have done online. It’s easily done.
What other security situations have you encountered as part of your professional activities?