Monday, December 10, 2012

Senseless Online Networking Mistakes - Always Assume Someone is Watching

Yeah, I know, it sounds a bit paranoid, but many people fail to come to grips with the fact that one of the simplest ways for a company to conduct a reference check on you is a Google search and all that can be found so easily. I am not talking about your professional presence, but rather the open window into your personal world - often a bit too personal. What will they find? Most of us are online, and social networking enables us to stay in contact with friends and family, express opinions and so much more. Living on another continent, it allows me fast and direct contact. 

However, many people post without even a second thought. Sure, it can be very entertaining for you and your friends, but companies are watching or they have the means to check what you are up to at any time they choose – whether they tell you or not. The same goes for your company email and computer usage. The percentage of time people are online during work hours, conducting personal activities is staggering. You’ll likely get away with it, and most do, but when a company chooses to select someone to scrutinize, the employee has provided them with the ammunition to use against them. For example, I strongly recommend if a person wants me, a headhunter, to assist them they should never send me anything nor conduct communications with the work-related email address. I am even careful about text messages. I know of international law firms – yeah, I said law firms, who monitor their employees' mobile phone activities. And do you think they are the only perpetrators? Is it illegal, yep, but that doesn’t stop it from happening and you are na├»ve if you think those tools are not, or will not be used. One obvious use against an employee I can think of relates to bonuses. I know of organizations looking for reasons not to pay out bonus money due an employee – especially someone who is leaving their employer for another job. They look for an excuse such as misuse of company equipment and non-work related online activity, especially activity related to looking for a new job or sending resumes. Most companies have rules about personal use of company equipment and, later, people act surprised when the rules are actually enforced. Furthermore, when a person leaves their job a company routinely scans laptops when they are turned in; what will they find on yours? I’m not suggesting you should never use a company computer or email account for anything personal, but use your head and consider what-if? 

Another consideration is the reference check to which I referred. It’s just so easy to express oneself that we don’t even think about it. The same technologies that give us freedom of expression can also chain you to what you’ve posted. Run a Google search and let’s say you are on Facebook, most people are, unless your profile is set to private you’ve left the door wide open. If you haven’t posted anything you’d be worried people might see, so be it. But some people provide way too much information for whatever reason. Here’s an example; I know a guy, and he’s a nice person, and whatever mood he’s in he shares with everyone he knows. For instance: 

“…now i dont have jack s**t. A crappy 32 hr a week job (supposed to be full time) goofy hours (couldnt even have a life if i had money to) almost 4 bucks an hour less pay. dont have money to even buy a decent set of shoes. trying hard to not get the utilities shut off. bustin my a** on side jobs just to pay rent. i wonder why i even bother anymore. give up on life.. go on welfare.. start drinking and smoking pot and just numb myself till it doesnt matter anymore.” 

I cleaned it up a little bit with the asterisks because, after all, this is a family blog. Sadly, the poster of the comment / rant is an intelligent, clever and talented individual. My reaction is, “what is he thinking?” I know someone might say “Hey, Michael, I will say what I want, when I want and it’s nobody’s business!” Well, yes it is, and you willfully chose to make it that way. Ironically, lots of people post stuff like this without a second thought and I can find 10 more like it with little effort. Perhaps the individual who authored those comments would not be happy I’m re-posting it on my blog but, too late, they’ve already been hung out there for all to see and it’s now public information, in a public domain.  

Okay, so let me ask you, if you are considering hiring an applicant and during a reference check, find the passage I noted above along with other similar entries demonstrating a pattern, would you hire this person? Furthermore, even if you were a friend and you wanted to help this person, would you be willing to recommend this person? Further yet, if it is someone who is going through a difficult time and frustrated that they can’t find a better job or someone to hire them, are they not self-inflicting damage to their efforts? And lastly, what happens if his current employer reads it? Even if later his mood shifts and he’s the happiest person around, will it matter if his past self-expression is noted by a company that might have chosen to hire him? 

I’m not telling anyone how they should behave and I am also active on Facebook and other social media. However, I haven’t an ounce of pity for anybody who would sabotage themselves and then complain about how unfair the world is. The extent of how little personal privacy we have, considering all the technology at our fingertips, is an ongoing debate. However, you cannot complain if you hand someone reasons to disqualify you as a job applicant – or affect your own current employment status. Think before you click - on this subject a little paranoia is good common sense. 

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