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Career Advisor

Stories You Don’t Want to Read

By Rebekah Hanley
Assistant Dean for Career Planning and Professional Development

Published in the November 1, 2011, Advisor

Did you see the headline recently about the Google engineer who inadvertently posted an internal – and critical – memo to his public Google+ page? Oops.

What about the slightly older story about the new lawyer who sent an email declining a job offer and berating the would-be employer for not appreciating how much the new lawyer deserved to be paid? Shocked, the employer forwarded the email to a few friends, who in turn forwarded the email again. Before long, lawyers around the country had received the email from multiple colleagues, all equally astounded by the author’s sense of entitlement and lack of professionalism. Major oops.

The convenience of the internet allows ordinarily careful people to make serious blunders in their personal and professional lives with the touch of a key. Learn from the mistakes of others so that you do not repeat them yourself. That will help you protect your reputation – and your employability.

I cannot repeat this often enough: Don’t post anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see. I have heard professors, judges, and lawyers tell law students that Facebook is an electronic resume that students submit to all prospective employers, whether they intend to or not. Yet I continue to see eye-opening, judgment-questioning, deal-breaking posts on students’ pages.

Consider, for example, the true story of the law student who ridiculed a professor’s outfit on Facebook in the middle of class. Keep in mind that many students like this one are “friends” with professors and administrators, who, in turn, are friends with graduates and other lawyers. All of those people could see the student’s alarming fashion critique, along with the reactions it prompted. What do you suppose employers thought about the other students who commented on that post while they should have been engaged in class? Privacy settings cannot immunize students from the effect of poor judgment like that; remember, today’s peers are often tomorrow’s professional references and employers.

Indeed, this fall I heard from a law firm that it declined to extend offers to some student job candidates because of alcohol-related photos and comments on Facebook. This makes sense from the employer’s perspective. Many students are vying for a single position – a position that requires the successful candidate to represent the employer in front of clients and courts. An employer cannot afford to assume the reputational risk of hiring a candidate with poor electronic hygiene and judgment that’s even worse.

Also, as you choose and electronically publicize your activities, you should consider how your use of time reflects on your priorities and thus affects your marketability. Organizing a fundraiser for a charitable organization can help you demonstrate your commitment to the cause and the community; similarly, planning a conference can show your dedication to a practice area. Hosting a loud party that disturbs neighbors, on the other hand, might suggest that you are less focused on your professional development than are the other applicants who want the job. We are as happy to help you polish your online presence as we are to assist you with your resume, cover letter, and other job search materials.

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