Some of the readers may actually know that technology and social media are actually one of my areas of expertise from a psychological viewpoint. I spent about five years of my life and considerable efforts of research looking at how different people approach technological socialization. However, in that five years, technology changed and the impact of socializing through the internet became a much broader phenomenon than perhaps anyone with the exception of Heinlein and others of his ilk may have expected.
I’m sure some visionary souls saw the implications and potential of the information superhighway, but for the majority of humanity, it was a fad, a fluke, a diversion to entertain the technology enthusiasts. It couldn’t possibly impact things in our grown-up worlds? Could it?
The adventurous back in the early 90’s started creating their own identities on the internet. Between the bulletin boards (BBS) and internet relay chat (IRC) people of all ages were developing handles and becoming personalities around what would become the World Wide Web. Eventually, the urge to express theirselves combined with expanded graphic interface options led to the personal web page. People used hypertext markup language (HTML) to put their words and images up for the internet savvy to see, often accompanied by dreaded musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) files and animated graphic interchange format (GIF). I still cringe at the thought of some of the midi-file animated gif pages that would give you a seizure if you looked too long.
It soon became evident, even to the most itinerant cave-dweller, that the internet was the big thing in communication, commerce, education, and entertainment. Technology moved right along and expanded with faster processing and more real-time interface options. More and more of the regular everyday Joe’s and Jane’s out there, who were not necessarily of the geek persuasion, were drawn to the internet for learning, growing, talking, and shopping. People who may not be so skilled in the languages of the computer were given the same opportunities as programmers with new platforms such as MySpace and Facebook. People could share their interests, their talents, and their enjoyments with like-minded folks… and the rest of the world. No HTML (or any other languages) needed. Businesses found that not only was the internet the place to advertise and sell their wares but also to look for potential employees.
So, where is the downside? Broader market equals more opportunities to find the best options available, right? I wouldn’t argue that point, but along came social media. Gone are the days when your private life is kept private. Imagine what would have happened if J. Edgar Hoover had a Facebook or Twitter account. I’m not here to tell you that social media is the enemy either, but all that desire to express our individuality and free speech (among other freedoms) online have resulted in privacy breeches that make the British paparazzi look restrained. Seriously. As a friend of mine recently paraphrased, “Don’t put anything on the internet you wouldn’t want to see plastered across the front page of the New York Times…”
This is where so many people are failing to truly comprehend the impact of their self-expression. I believe in free speech. I believe in freedom of expression. I also believe that you still need to understand that the freedom you relish is everyone’s freedom, not just yours. That means that others have the freedom to not agree, to tell you to @#$% off, to have a less than shining opinion of you as a human being, and to not hire you as an employee… or discipline and fire you as an employee. What?!? Did she just say that?!? That’s discrimination, you say? No, it isn’t. It is the same right as you demand for yourself applied on a less restrictive basis. You have every right to express yourself however you choose… as long as you are content to experience the consequences, whatever they may be.
The next contradiction I can hear your little keyboards screaming at me: It’s my page! Only my friends can see it, because I know how to use my privacy settings! Well, I will refer to what my friend said about anything you put on the internet, and I will raise you the fact that no matter how private you think you are being about things you put over the electronic airways, once it is out there… it’s out there for good an all. Things that you would never expect to can go “viral” in the blink of an eye and click of a mouse. The only way you can insure that something is not visible to current or potential employers? Make sure it is never on the internet at all.
One of the more recent tactics in guarding the personal from the public has been to use fake names. It works… to a certain extent. Aliases are great, but remember that contrary to common belief, not everyone on the internet is a moron. There is a prevalence of facial recognition applications available. Also, you may have changed your name, but your friends and connections through the social media are not as a whole embracing the alias movement, are they? Adoption of a fake name or alternate profile will baffle some of the more amateur profiling attempts, but a good HR recruiter worth their salt can easily read between the nomenclature.
Am I saying you should avoid social networking via technology and the internet? No, I am not. There are some significant benefits to having an online profile, for many different career paths. Aside from having a social profile like Facebook or Twitter, there are professional social network sites like LinkedIn that provide an excellent resource for job search and connecting with professional recruiters and “headhunters” that can help expand your career options. I am saying that before you take the next selfie or post the next inappropriate meme, consider your potential audience. Employers are taking more stock of what current and potential employees are putting on the internet. Human resources policies have been written to address appropriate content or inappropriate as the case may be. Many employers will take the opportunity to search potential hires to see what profiles appear online. It can help or it can hurt. Keep in mind your professional goals and how your profile can speak to the people you see to impress with your skills and talents. Think about this: What does your online profile say about you?
Because I am also a proponent of neurolinguistic programing and know that the human brain pretty much ignores “no”, “not”, “don’t”, “won’t”, “couldn’t”, “shouldn’t”, and “can’t”; I am focusing primarily on the Do’s and not so much on the Don’t’s.
- Do use privacy settings. Just because they won’t keep everyone out or everything in doesn’t mean they aren’t useful. They show that you have some sense of decorum and aren’t permanently on public blast like an exhibitionist.
- Do use different types of profiles. For instance, I have Facebook, which I use for what I might call my “private life.” In other words, it is mostly friends and family and people I socialize with outside of business. I share jokes, interests, pictures, rants about traffic and people who don’t observe the 15 items or less sign… you get the idea. I use LinkedIn for my professional profile where I say where I work, include my resume, and I rarely turn down a link on this. All connections can be useful in this job market.
- Do use some common sense in posting pictures of yourself or allowing others to do so. Right now, that picture of you participating in the wet t-shirt contest might be hilarious. Next week when a potential employer sees it or the guys down at the break room discuss the size of your assets… yeah, not necessarily the professional image you wanted to put out there.
- Do check privacy settings and policies of social networking sites regularly. Updates have been known to change the broadcast options and settings.
- Do change your passwords occasionally to deter hackers. The last thing you really want is for someone to get hold of your profile and represent you in a way you would never wish to be portrayed.
- Do avoid negative comments about co-workers, supervisors, or corporations for whom you work. Sure, everyone wants to gripe occasionally about the usual trials and tribulations and basic asshatery that we experience in the world of what I like to call occupational hazard, BUT think about how that might appear to others. Even if it is not me or my company about whom you choose to vent your vituperative spleen, I’m highly unlikely to want to employ someone with such a negative attitude, and I may assume you will bad-mouth me and mine in the same way you do your current co-workers. Save the venting for your buddies at the pub like the rest of us.
- Do be wary of friend requests from people you do not know on Facebook or the less professional networks. These can be phishing techniques, and they may not be people with whom you would necessarily be honored to have connection.
- Do be wary of even private messages to individuals. Take for instance the cautionary tale of the young lady in the U.K. who passed along an email she received from her fiance’s step mother (The Daily Mail, 2011). The bride to be passed the email to a few “trusted” friends and she ended up having paparazzi at her wedding. So, take heed, and watch what you put in any format that might be taken “viral” or used against you in future.
- Do searches on the internet for yourself periodically and see what comes up. You might be surprised what you find. Also, take a long hard look and try to see your own profile from the perspective of a potential employer or someone you might want to impress. What would a complete stranger assume about you if they found your profile on the internet?
There are a lot more specifics out there. I’m sure some of you probably have a lot of other tips that I have missed. The bottom line is that once you have put something speeding out there on the information superhighway, you may not be able to throw the breaks on or put up roadblocks to prevent specific people from seeing it. For some, you may not be concerned with the perception of professionalism, or possibly infamy and even bad attention is still attention and works for the career you are hoping to promote. However, if your purpose is to obtain gainful employment in any field where a professional appearance, reputation, maturity, and decorum are part of the “uniform,” you may want to reconsider the plethora of inadvisable selfies or vituperative rants rife with expletives, racial slurs, or political extremism. Your personal profile can easily become a professional nightmare if you are incautious. We’ve come a long way from the BBS, IRC, midi-files, and animated gif pages out there. With all the freedom of expression and opportunities for connection, there are incredible benefits for finding jobs and getting the word out there about your mad skills on a variety of topics. You can attract employers with the right kind of profile in the right places. Treat your online profile the same way you would your interview wardrobe. Make sure you aren’t scaring off your next opportunity for advancement with the wrong impression in your personal profile. Keep it classy out there!
Carolyn Bourne: Mother in law from hell. The Daily Mail. June, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2009518/Carolyn-Bourne-Mother-law-hell-sends-email-bride-Heidi-Withers.html