Last year about this time I had a post on Angry Overeducated Catholic’s favorite topic, credentialism. (I say it’s his favorite because it’s first in his nom de plume, but that’s probably just a quirk of the English language that forces adjectives to be first.) Well it’s time for graduation again. I could be lamenting the fact that I’ve been pestered into participating in the graduation perp walk—a vestige of the academy’s long ago connection to the Medieval church—as a faculty representative… at my own expense no less [grumble, grumble]. AOC is the kind of person who enjoys that sort of thing, not me.

Rather than lamenting further, I found this little gem in the Washington Post. It’s about the problems that the “MySpace generation” are having with, well, their MySpace and Facebook pages. It seems that one of the big problems these days among young teachers is a lack of understanding that MySpace is a public web page. Pictures from your senior year spring break showing you and your friends licking tequila off a hooker’s tits in TJ are, as they say, “not professional.” This is something schools are bothered by, amazingly enough. So, as part of my mission in higher education, I figured I’d put up something on this issue for the recent graduate.

I know for fact I got Googled before I went to interviews…. Now that I’m on the other side of the desk, I assure you I Google any potential candidates I’m asked to evaluate. You will be, too. The lack of acceptance of your party pictures on the net is going to apply in nearly any industry that goes under the general rubric of “professional.” It’s probably going to apply to elite higher education opportunities such as highly selective law or medical schools, where nearly all the candidates are super-qualified and decisions are often made on fundamentally arbitrary criteria. It may well apply further down the great chain of being, the employment edition; that will require checking on your part. So what is a sinner to do?

  1. Choose a career where it doesn’t matter. Recognize and accept that this will limit your options and, hence, earning potential, quite possibly A LOT. Of course this depends a lot on your chosen career and the location: As the old knock-knock joke says, jazz musicians are probably already delivering pizza for a living. They are expected to be at least a little eccentric anyway. Baristas at Starbuck’s can have lots of tats and piercings, but I bet you don’t see the district managers sporting that stuff much. Many careers are reputed to be more tolerant but, in fact, are not, at least not unless you are God’s gift to your field, which, most likely, you are not, no matter how smart you think you are with that new college degree of yours.
  2. Do what generations of gay men have done until recently: The closet. That’s right, sanitize your internet presence. Forget about who you really are (whatever that is). More specifically, forget about your burning need to tell others about it. The more esoteric and difficult to understand or accept for outsiders your pastimes are, the deeper they should be buried. If you have thousands of posts to a Usenet group like rec.arts.bodyart about the unmentionable things done to your unmentionables under your real name, first of all I applaud your honesty but have to say: WTF? Are you insane? Then I’ll say, JUST STOP. The riskier things are, the earlier you have to stop.

Assuming you choose (2), start sanitizing your internet presence BEFORE you plan to go out on the workforce. Once you go out, it’s too late. While things are forever on the net, in the mind of your employer there is a “statute of limitations.” Venal sins of a few years back can be swept under the rug with “Well I used to do that stuff but decided it was high time to get serious about my career….” That your employer will understand. Even the US Government forgives things like personal drug use for security clearances. Mortal sins, on the other hand, will not be overlooked so easily. Chances are you won’t even get an interview if you are public enough about it. What’s going to be venal and what’s going to be mortal, alas, is not easily discerned, but for the record, here’s my ballpark guesses of a few:

  • Being on the local board of NORML or Operation Rescue. Probably mortal.
  • Being on the local board at a food co-op. Probably venal (if a sin at all, but watch out for hidden political affiliations).
  • 13,000 posts on Gleemax about the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons (WTF? Gleemax? What marketing genius thought of that?). Venal, unless you plan to work for Pat Robertson and aren’t awfully good at repentance.
  • 13,000 posts on ESPN.com about the Cubs or Yankees. Venal, unless you plan to work for Sox fans, White or Red, respectively.
  • Your name associated with warez sites. Probably mortal.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have an internet presence when you go on the job market, but it does restrict what you can and should have. So here goes….

Stuff that’s OK:

  • A small photo album of your family (kids, siblings, wedding, mom and dad, kittehs, etc.). Avoid the risque: A picture of you and your dad sharing a manly beer on the boat after a day at the lake is just fine. A picture of your cousin Jennie—the one who’s been working as an escort for the last few years—showing off her new bra from Vickie’s is not.
  • Brief info on your hobbies, so long as they’re not too “weird,” a mind-numbingly vague and domain-specific word requiring you to know the industry to which you are applying.
  • Preprints of your past work, a portfolio, etc.
  • Your vita/resume. (But make sure to go to a resume doctor for cleanup. Please.)
  • Light to moderate participation on professionally relevant forums.

Stuff that’s definitely not OK:

  • Visible online presence on anything remotely risque: Porn, heavily ideological politics (lay off the Daily Kos or WorldNetDaily posts), “alternative” lifestyles, etc.
  • A strong online presence in general isn’t good for most “professional” jobs, even ones involving The Intarweb. It’s a sign you put work at a low priority. The exception: If your job is to be interacting online with customers.

Stuff you’re going to have to make a judgment call on:

  • Social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace. In my kinda bitter and conservative late thirtysomething view, dump them. At minimum cut WAY, WAY back on what you’ve got there and make sure you’re not being “friended” by anyone you wouldn’t want your grandma to meet. Sure, the whole “six degrees” of separation thing means you’ll be friended by some dubious people, but that’s why I suggest getting out while the getting’s good. Upper management simply won’t care to understand.
  • A blog where your name and confessions about how you feel is revealed on a daily basis. IMO, dump it.

If you are at all uncertain, it is best to err on the side of no presence at all. You can’t be hanged for something that doesn’t exist and you can always put it back up later… assuming you’re not interested in promotion. 😛

As Kafkaesque as many workplaces have become in the days of zero-tolerance policies and litigation, most administrators aren’t fascists (ObFascism tag 🙂 ) or, more correctly, totalitarians, in that they don’t really care what you do in your free time—be it crocheting socks for orphans in India and volunteering at your local church, or hanging with hookers when in TJ and horses in Washington State—so long as they don’t hear about it, nobody among their stakeholders hears, and it doesn’t affect your job performance. That’s right, it’s really, truly about the risk of scandal and getting the job done. Beyond that, you are a cog in the wheel, especially if you are a noob. The one exception is if your life outside work makes them look warm and fuzzy by association and even this is a big “maybe.” Remember, administrators, above all else, value peace and quiet, and are trying to head ’em off at the pass. The best way to head off such incidents is to not let you in the door in the first place. The more effective you are, the more they need you, and the fewer questions will be asked, but don’t count on being viewed as a “scarce commodity”—even if they say you are. Even early computer genius Alan Turing and Shakespearean actor John Gielgud had problems in their careers because of socially sanctioned (at the time) out of work activities, aka “the love that dare not speak its name.”

In short, part of your job search is to look moderately boring in your personal life, and save your activism for later, or be willing to pay the price now. Is it fair? It depends on your perspective—more traditional conservatives say absolutely positively, more socially libertarian types might say not—but, ultimately, who cares? It’s the reality of being supervised by people who are a generation or two older than you. That’s right: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” applies more broadly than just the military. Earth to twentysomething new college graduate: Posting stuff on the intarweb is called “telling.” When you sign the checks, you can make the rules.

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