Guest Post: Online identities clashing with job prospects

The following is a guest post care of Rose Leonard, of I live with crazy people fame (okay, so she might not be famous… yet, but she will be.)

Recently, I was offered a position in the public service. I will be working closely with a high ranking member of this particular organisation, and as such I will be expected to act in a professional and discreet manner. I expected this, and in the interest of full disclosure, I mentioned in the job interview that I use many social media websites, and that I have a relatively strong online identity. My future boss looked confused by a) social media and b) online identities. He admitted to having no knowledge of the internet.

A few hours after my interview, I received a call. I had been Googled, and my boss was freaking out. I seemed to be broadcasting my entire life to the world via some ‘Twitter’ nonsense. I also had a ‘blog’ that detailed illegal behaviour committed by people I know! (Not by me.) I was quickly informed that if I wanted the position, this would all have to go. The organisation I work for has received considerable negative press in the past 10 years, thanks to Howard, and apparently they just can’t risk a senior official being linked to this sort of thing. I agreed and offered to shut it all down.

However, I feel that they’ve missed the point of my online behaviour. It is an outlet, and has little to do with how I behave in a professional environment. I made no mention of who they were when I discussed the interview on Twitter. I am pretty clear on my blog that the actions committed by the people around me are not also committed by myself.

I can’t help but wonder if this is all fair. How can a man who admitted to having no knowledge of these websites declare them to be unsafe? More importantly, if he openly admits to having a bad public image attached to himself and the organisation, why not welcome a new way to reach people and change? Their website is outdated and confusing. They have no youtube or twitter presence. Instead of looking at a new employee with a strong understanding of this as untrustworthy, why not implement my understanding? He’s demonising something he has no comprehension of, simply because I’m younger than him and therefore less intelligent. (Apparently.)

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5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Online identities clashing with job prospects

  1. Completely relate to this post and issue. The Generation Gap is never more evident that when people clash over the value or threat of social media at work! Particularly in public service.

    The only way I have been able to work through this issue is with education. Get the detractor/road block educated about the value and role that sm can play for the organisation.. slowly introduce them to this new world. Perhaps this senior manager would benefit from having a Facebook page – he can even become a Fan of his AFL team!

    The moral dilemma of ‘closing’ your personal sm activities to perform your role is a sticky one. Some orgs are taking the lead with this – Dell’s sm policy is great, and so too is (don’t hate me for this) but Telstra’s RRR policy… maybe putting it on ‘ice’ for a bit while you subtly integrate it into the workplace is the necessary evil for a positive outcome?

  2. Having read your blog on and off, I was pretty much expecting this to occur at some point. It’s a recurring story.

    There was a mild Internet panic back in the earlyish 1990s when Dejanews (now Google Groups) not only started indexing Usenet, but started scouring old archives to build a searchable newsgroup history, even to the extent of buying boxes full of old backup tapes of university news servers.

    Suddenly, people just graduating and looking for jobs were faced with the prospect of the undergraduate posts to alt.sex.bdsm they thought would expire from the server after a week showing up at their next job interview.

    Information doesn’t get deleted from the Internet very easily. There are always mirrors, backups, Dejanews or the Wayback Machine.

    Politics is going to be an interesting place in twenty or thirty years time, when all the Young Labor/Liberals who today are posting their drunken antics to Facebook are seeking public office, and find that the Internet doesn’t forget. We’ll have to come up with a whole new discourse on hypocrisy and discretion that does a much better job of evaluating people as they are, not based on how well they keep their skeletons hidden.

    That’s the future, though. Today the old hypocrisy still reigns, and the appearance of propriety is far more important than its practice. Anyone who thinks that online is some magical “other place” that doesn’t have any bearing on how they might be perceived personally or professionally in the real world is living in a realm of sparkly flying ponies.

  3. Charles – was that directed at me or at “Rose”?

    Just for my 2 cents, I personally don’t worry about the impact of my personal contribution to this beast we call the interwebs affecting my work life for 2 reasons:

    1) I work in digital media, everyone has an online presence, it is expected.

    &

    2) I wouldn’t want to work anywhere that would not allow me to express my opinions online. I do not pretend to represent the views of any employer (except in articles I write on their behalf of course) and I am not spouting racial hatred or condoning the behaviour of serial killers. What I write is in no way offensive enough to justify someone not employing me.

    In conclusion if my online persona were to cost me a job I wouldn’t change the online persona, I’d sacrifice the job.

    However, everyone’s situation is different and I can see how some people would not have the same flex-abilities nor the same viewpoint as I would.

  4. I was more surprised at the slight hypocrisy to both reject the necessity of understanding the internet and its influence, yet demand that I remove all trace of my online presence because he has heard bad things about it. If he doesn’t understand it, why act like he knows what’s best?

    Also, what he doesn’t understand is the magnitude of what he’s asking me to do. Deleting a website account to him is equal to deleting an email. I will be losing a large part of my life. I have made friends on Twitter. I have also made valuable contacts.

  5. Yep i’ve experienced this too.

    Hence why, up until a few days ago, i locked my twitter updates and kept my blog professional but my facebook for personal use.

    It’s a fine line between giving away aspects of your personality and remembering that the whole world is watching you and that anything you commit to the online world is pretty much permanent…

    Now, however, i’m taking the approach of ‘take me or leave me’.

    I’m not going to be outlandish and swear etc on my Twitter or Blog but i will bare my personality and new job prospects will either love me or hate me.

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