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Kim Doirty

You Said What Online?

The great thing about starting a new year is that you can resolve to change all sorts of bad behaviors – you know, things like downing four glazed donuts every morning or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey every Friday night, spending way too much money on that online gambling site, or waiting until the last minute to get started on your course assignments.

Right. We all know that probably most of those resolutions will be toast by, oh, mid-February at the latest. However, there is one resolution you need to make – and can probably keep – right now. It will not only make this year better for you, but in terms of your career future, it will likely keep potential employers from deciding you don’t quite have the professional maturity they were looking for.

What resolution is that? Simple: you resolve not to ever again say negative, whiny, snarky things about anyone in any online venue. Being critical of others in an online setting (think LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, a school social media site) is guaranteed to do more damage to you and your professional reputation than it will do to the person you’re criticizing. It makes everyone who reads your comments doubt your professional judgment (remember, as a student, you’re laying the foundation for your career), it leaves the impression that you’re a critical, negative person (who no one will want to work with), and in case those two damage factors aren’t bad enough, your comments never go away. 

Since one of your goals when creating your career options is to build a strong, positive professional reputation (your professional “brand’), you want to make sure that you’re not demonstrating the exact opposite through your online comments. It’s long been a management best practice that you praise in public and criticize (if necessary) in private. It’s exactly the same with your online communications: social media sites are public environments, and you want to be sure to treat them as such. One, it’s the right thing to do, and two, this will keep potential hiring managers from seeing any sarcastic, snide, or otherwise embarrassing comments you might have otherwise made in the heat of the moment.

Here are some basic student social media etiquette resolutions to make right now:

  • Never criticize online any person by name (or obvious identifiers); it makes you look petty, and gives the impression that you’re a bully (which of course we hope you’re not).
  • Never criticize online any organization with which you’re affiliated (for example, as an employee, former employee, student, or alumni); this will pretty much kill any chance you have of getting positive references from them, and future potential employers will shy away from hiring someone who vents their anger online.
  • Avoid “flame wars,” the online version of road rage; when someone’s using confrontational language online, disengage and let them make idiots of themselves all by themselves. Protecting your online reputation is way more important than winning an argument or having the last word.
  • Remember when your mom used to say “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?” Amazing how smart she turned out to be! Channel your inner mom and keep your online posts to information or comments that are useful, helpful, supportive, and/or positive.

When in doubt about an online post you’re about to make, ask yourself this question: Will this comment demonstrate to others how mature, professional, and smart I am (for years to come)? If not, you probably want to back away from that keyboard.

About the Author

Acclaimed Career Coach, Kim Dority is a frequent presenter for Bryant & Stratton College Online. Dority is an information specialist, consultant, career coach, published author and adjunct professor at the University of Denver in Colorado. She has written extensively on career development for students and new graduates and is a frequent presenter, lecturer and panelist on career-related topics. Kim’s areas of expertise include professional branding, career transitions and career sustainability.


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