The internet offers multiple ways for people to express themselves and connect with others. There are personal websites, blogs, bulletin boards, and online communities such as Facebook or Friendster. Of those online options, blogs and online communities are extremely popular. BusinessWeek recently reported that there are about 9 million blogs in cyberspace, with about 40,000 new ones coming up each day! Wikipedia's list of notable online communities (social networking services as it calls them) has over 50 entries. All of these online options provide a great way for people to connect, talk about issues of the day, and meet similarly minded people. But in the context of employment and the job search, they can also pose a problem for their authors and members. Take these unfortunate examples: A 22 year old Google employee had set up a blog talking about his experiences working at Google. In some of his postings, he complained that the Google health plan was not as generous as that at Microsoft and he complained that Google was offering free food to its employees just so they would work late. Two weeks later, he was fired! In January 2006, Stanford University's daily newspaper bemoaned the developing practice by employers who screen applicants by reviewing their profiles on Facebook.com. Those examples are disturbing and unfortunate. After all, the Google employee was essentially punished for expressing his views in what he thought was a personal space. Students who lose job opportunities because of pictures, comments or expressions on some private online community like Facebook or Friendster are having their privacy violated, in a way, by nosy employers. On the other hand, employers can hardly be faulted for using every bit of information to make an informed decision on who they are bringing in or keeping in their organization. Before the internet came along, employers had to rely on the cover letter, resume, references, a background check and a "gut feeling" at the interview to assess their applicants and employees. Now, a simple Google search can provide insights no sane applicant would ever reveal. A blog can reveal an applicant's political views, sexual orientation, race and even vices. An online community can show pictures of a racier side to the well dressed and well mannered job seeker. Any of this information can unintentionally sabotage your well planned job search. These online presences pose an especially difficult problem for lawyers. I think you will agree that the legal community is conservative. It lives by well defined boundaries and does not look kindly on those who either cannot figure out those boundaries or ignore them altogether. The legal community also tends to make rather loose and fast impressions of a person's character or abilities based on scant information. So how do you think a legal organization would react to the latest political rantings on an applicant's blog? Would it view those as simple rantings of a frustrated political observer or would it view those comments as belonging to someone who is a little too emotional and perhaps unstable? Is it possible the author could be viewed as inarticulate; creative ability to use a four letter word in ten different ways notwithstanding? Lastly, is it possible the employer might question the applicant's judgment in posting such readily accessible information? Obviously it is up to each individual how they express themselves. However, in the interests of protecting your professional reputation and your job prospects, here is my one simple suggestion: use common sense. Just because you can blog or post anything you want does not mean you really should. If you would not yell, curse or scream in polite company, do not do it on your online space. If you would be careful to shield your private life from your employer's eyes at the office, then do not expose it online. If you do not think you can criticize your employer at the office without repercussions, do not think you can do it online without paying a similar penalty. Lastly, do not think posting anonymously will give you any greater protection. The legal community is small and the law school is even smaller. Unless you tell absolutely no one, your secret will mostly likely be revealed. Incidentally, these comments also apply to the student facebooks. Students are surprised sometimes that employers read those facebooks to get a glimpse of their applicants and again learn about things the student would rather not have revealed. The Career Services Office has tried to mitigate that problem by only offering facebooks with only students' name and picture. Of course, that does not prevent a determined interviewer from seeking out the unedited facebook. If you have comments or questions you want answered about the job search, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted by Nilesh Patel, Career Advisor on April 24, 2006
This article appears in the categories: Career Services & Student Job Postings