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Public Venting Made More Public
Just because you can doesn't mean that you should. While you can certainly air your grievances publicly, think about the times you've walked down the street. When someone on the street is publicly venting, how does it make you feel? If that same person came to you a few hours later, asking for a job, would you grant him or her an interview? If someone flips out and rants and raves at work, or is bragging about how drunk or high he or she got, what are you likely to think? Would you promote this person in the company?
On the Internet, our names have become our brand, like it or not. Reputation management has become a legitimate field for consultants. It is just too easy for people to hop online and spout off on a variety of topics. While you might think that post was humorous, someone else may not. The venting blog has become akin to the guy shouting in public.
Pictures posted of your weekend drinking binge have become akin to the guy at the office who brags about the last great party. There's a big difference, however. Instead of the vent, rant, brag-fest or indiscretion only being localized, now anyone can stumble upon your thoughts online – including current and potential employers.
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The False Sense of Safety in Saying Anything
Bloggers tend to have a sense of safety when posting online. In the past, things have been anonymous online; increasingly, this anonymity is disappearing. This is especially the case on social networking websites where the author's name is associated with anything that might be said.
Even if you use a pseudonym, chances are, you'll release details about who you are and where you work or go to school online when you write on your blog. These details can then allow potential employers (or current employers or co-workers) to identify you. This is especially the case when you post a picture of yourself online.
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Why Companies Care
You may wonder why it what you post online matters, but there's very good reason for companies to worry about what their employees are posting. What you post, especially if you mention where you work or go to school, reflects back on the brand of that company or university. What this means, is that if you're spouting off about radical ideas, complaining about a client or professor, or talking about sexual conquests and parties, you damage the reputation of that company or school.
For this reason, many companies will either fire or avoid hiring individuals who post controversial or provocative blog entries. It may not necessarily be the case that they disagree with you or what you're posting, but your company's clients might.
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But...That's Really Not Fair!
Isn't it though? Would you want to have people complaining about you, your customers, or your employees in a public venue? Most likely, your answer to this question will be "no." No matter how unhappy you are with a class, classmate, coworker, job, client, or customer, think twice about complaining online. Call a friend, send a private email to a trusted friend, but don't post it in your blog. It could come back to bite you like it has for Ellen Simonetti, originally fired after posting on her blog covering her mother's struggles with cancer. Now Simonetti blogs about what has been termed the "employer blog backlash" where employers who can terminate at will fire employees for their blog posts.
The reasons that many employers have the right to fire (or not hire) employees because of their blog posts is the same reason that an employer can fire you for publicly blasting the company or moving too slowly on the job. Many employers have a clause in their hiring contracts that say that they can terminate you at will, without need for an explanation, for any cause. When you sign your hiring paperwork, you agree to this. Thus, it is absolutely vital that when you're signing all those papers when your company hires you, that you read the paperwork and understand what the terms of your employment are.
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They're Not Even Going to Give Me a Chance?
If you blog a lot, you might want to look at the topics you post on especially if you're looking for work. It may be the case that you're giving prospective employers the wrong idea. They may take a look at your posts and determine that you pose too much a risk to the company's reputation.
Remember that when you post online, you're representing yourself and your beliefs in a public venue - just as you would if you were to give a speech at an event or walk down the street in a risqué outfit. Your online personality is an extension of yourself, and sometimes employers will be turned off by that version they see. Even though the ethics of "Googling" potential employees is in question, employers do commonly Google people – especially if there are a few equally qualified applicants.
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What Can I Do To Rectify This?
There are a few steps you can take to clean up your online act. First, Google yourself. See what is out there that has your name on it. If there's questionable content, take steps to delete the content from the web. Remember that anything posted online, even if you delete it, remains in the cache for quite some time.
Second, set up Google alerts to track your name and any names you go by online. This way you can see what you're saying and what's being said about you, every time there's a post. It also helps you to know whether anyone sharing your name is out there posting controversial material, so you can have a case should this become an issue.
Third, consider this piece of advice from BNET: Don't post anything online that you wouldn't want to have featured on the cover of The New York Times. If Anthony Weiner had followed that advice, he might have thought twice about sending out provocative pictures online. Don't post anything you wouldn't stand behind in several months time.
Fourth, if you have slipped up in the past, make a resolution to not do so in the future. Some people believe swearing in a blog is quite offensive. You can often go back and clean up curse words, make rants less offensive, and censor your blog. You especially want to do this if you're going on the job market soon.
Fifth, if you wouldn't want your grandparents to read it, it shouldn't be on your blog. It's that simple. Parents might be too modern to give you an objective feeling, but Grandma and Grandpa might object to seeing pictures of you holding a beer bottle in your hand. By that same philosophy, if you could get arrested for it, you don't want to post about it on your blog. Freedom of speech is great, but with Internet searches being used in murder trials, you might want to think twice about posting information that could implicate you. Plus, it makes you a risky candidate for a job. How would your company feel if they knew you did x, y, and z in your spare time? It should be common sense, but a surprising number of people do this.
Finally, (and perhaps most importantly) always be courteous to others. Don't ever say mean things, act in an aggressive manner, or bully another person online. In fact, don't do or say anything on your blog that you wouldn't do or say should that person be standing in front of you. Sometimes the seeming anonymity of the Internet gives users courage they otherwise wouldn't have. Don't give into the temptation to say whatever comes into your mind. If you're upset, angry, or elated, write your post. Save it. Walk away. Come back tomorrow. You'll often find this saves you a lot of embarrassment (and in many cases, your job).
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Some people don't care whether what they post will hurt them or not. Others simply don't think about it until they regret a post. What if there were no delete button and you couldn't take back what you put up there? Would you still post your rant? Has your career been hurt by a blog post? It's so important to think about what you do before you do it. Even if it is "just the Internet."
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Eileen B. (June 16, 2011) "Do You Regret Posting Anything Online?" Eileen's Social Technology Blog.
Simonetti, E. (December 16, 2004) "Perspective: I Was Fired for Blogging" CNET.
Wyncoop, C. (May 4, 2011) "Googling Yourself: How Google Can Change Your Job Search." Jobfully
Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1327383