Does My Reputation Precede Me?

At our Kansas Library Association conference presentation, an attendee asked a very good question: with all of this social networking on the internet, where the personal and the professional often blurs, what happens if a potential employer does an internet search on you and finds things that could be taken badly out of context or just outright makes them not want to hire you?

This has actually happened, hasn’t it? A potential employer finds your Facebook or MySpace page, or old blog posts, or Flickr photos, or what have you, and discovers that you’re a recovering alcoholic or a Fundamentalist Christian or a homosexual or an enthusiastic Doctor Who fan or a swinger or…well, pick something that’s perfectly legal but potentially off-putting or downright offensive to someone somewhere. And this hypothetical employer decides not to hire hypothetical you on the basis of this dug-up information. Should you do everything you can to make your online persona as professionally inoffensive as possible, to make sure this doesn’t happen? Should you lock anything potentially iffy away behind secure, friends-only barriers?

I really don’t have the right answer for you. I have what I think is the right answer for me.

So, I’ll come clean and out myself to the world. On something of a dare, I casually threw the phrase “hookers and blow” into our presentation at Computers in Libraries. And if you listen carefully during the video of the Computers in Libraries Pecha Kucha session, you can hear me yell it out from the audience. It also shows up in the caption of a picture taken of me at the conference. The phrase came from a joke I’d started in Twitter a few days before the conference, although it actually started as a joke between my wife and me. At any rate, by the end of the conference, I was joking that my professional career was over, thanks to my liberal use of the phrase at inappropriate times.

But here’s the thing: if a potential employer does an internet search and finds my professional name associated with the phrase “hookers and blow” and doesn’t bother to find out more of the context…I don’t want to work for them. If a potential employer does know the context and still doesn’t find it the least bit amusing…we won’t work well together, and it’s probably for the best if you don’t hire me.

In my life, I’ve done things I’m not proud of, things I’d do differently if I could. But I’m not going to hide who I am, I’m not going to censor my online expression, just to make sure I don’t put off any and all potential employers. There are people in this world I wouldn’t want to work with or associate with, and I’m not going to waste my time worrying about what they could find out about me that they wouldn’t like. I’ve got bigger yaks to fry.