The idea of having a perfect online identity is not realistic. Instead, maybe you should focus on making your offline identity one that you’re proud of.
First of all, no one is getting away with anything online. Today recruiters are expert and tireless Internet researchers when it comes to scoping out candidates. I just read a story about someone interviewing for a job who was asked about his wish list on Amazon. I would never have thought of that. (In fact, I can’t even figure out how to find other peoples’ wish lists on Amazon.) The list of ways to snoop feels infinite. And the list of ways to fix snoopable problems seems very limited.
If there’s someone in your life who is glued to their computer each night, posting career-killing commentary, maybe you should forward a link to this Wall St. Journal article by Vauhini Vara chronicling one man’s struggle to get his page removed on MySpace:
“He emailed MySpace, begging the site to take down his old page. Nothing happened. He sent at least eight more urgent messages to the site, including a note to MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson. Finally, he received a cryptic email telling him to write his user name — “craigisanidiot” — and password with a marker on a piece of paper, to take a photo of himself holding it up, and to email it to MySpace along with a note saying, ‘I wish to be removed from MySpace.” (Note to the concerned: It worked.)
A pseudonym will not save you. A majority of bloggers use pseudonyms, but people will find out who you are. The first weekly column I wrote was about my job while I was in my job. I used a pseudonym and presumed I was safe. I wrote about my CEO’s pharmaceutical cocktail and diagnosed him (correctly, I still think) as manic depressive. I described the scene of my boss sexually harassing me. I documented my expensive and useless business trip. It turned out, pretty much the whole company had been reading my column.
If you are going to be anonymous, take a tip from Waiter Rant, who never reveals his restaurant but never disses it either, or Your HR Guy, who writes funny human resources scenes, but publishes his policy of not getting fired for his blog.
The BBC News tells us How to Blog and Not Get Fired, but it seems much harder to give advice on how to blog and still get hired. When it comes to recruiters, a blog is like a lighthouse: You don’t know how many people have been repelled because they never show up.
At some point, you just have to be yourself. Figure out your best self and be that — online and offline — and then no one will be surprised.
The people entering the workforce today did not grow up posting every little thing that happened to them. But in five years, those kids coming to work will have no way to cleanse the Internet of their posting transgressions from when they were fifteen years old.
There will have to be new standards for what is okay to have online. It will have to be okay to say, “Oh, yeah. I remember when I posted that. Stupid, huh?” Interviewers will have to judge people by what they are doing right now, or else they won’t be able to hire anyone.
So for now, take a look at that wish list you made. Does it make you look like a moron? Instead of getting rid of anti-social items and replacing them with crowd pleasers, ask yourself why you want to read books that reflect poorly on you. Ask yourself who you are.
Karen Salmansohn writes about the idea of congruence: “Be yourself wherever you are, whether at work, with your partner or with friends. When you compartmentalize yourself to be wildly different in different circumstances you can start to feel out of whack. Create a life that is congruent with the person you truly are.”
The impact of incongruence is big: You’ll have an online persona that conflicts with your work persona. You’ll have huge stress. When I was making fun of my co-workers in my column it was because I was a fish out of water in that office. When your impulse is to write mean things about the people you work with then you probably shouldn’t be there.
Research published in the Harvard Business Review (paid) shows that in order to be a great leader, you need to make your work consistent with your core self. When you can be authentic in your job and authentic when you blog that’s a step toward living congruently and you will be priming yourself for success.