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Don't make the wrong kind of impression


  1. I got drunk as a teenager;
  2. Inhaled (unlike Bill Clinton) and;
  3. Ran naked along the seafront in Bracklesham Bay (actually it may have been Selsey Bill, it’s just that I can’t remember – see points 1 & 2).

Thing is you’ll have to take my word for it. Because no evidence exists. No fuzzy photos. No shaky home movies. Only memories dulled by the passage of time. Unlike the teenagers and twenty-somethings of today, whose every move is captured on mobile phone cameras and posted for posterity to Facebook et al where the images will remain as pin sharp as the day they were taken for ever more (or certainly for a very long time).

Now naturally I didn’t mention points 1, 2 and 3 when I applied for a job as a cub reporter on the Reading Chronicle. Nor did I bring up my murky past when, a few years later, I started working for the BBC. But that’s not the way it works these days. Our reputations precede us like never before.

I was reminded of this by a friend of my son who works in the City. Discussing the potential for blotting our proverbial copybooks by what we post to the social web, he told me that the very first thing he does when presented with a long list of wannabe high-flyers applying for a job at his bank is to search for them on Facebook. If there’s even a hint of excess on their timeline – boozy weekends, recreational drug use, a potentially bone-breaking passion for adventure sports –  they don’t make the short list. “Too much trouble on a Monday morning,” as he put it and added: “Too keen to leave on a Friday night.” And my son’s friend isn’t the only one using the social web as a crude filter. Recruitment agencies do the same thing. A don’t kid yourself they only look at the highly-polished versions of us we post to LinkedIn. Let’s face it we all do something similar with new contacts and old acquaintances. Call it due diligence or stalking. Amounts to the same thing.

So where does all this leave today’s jobseekers? Well, potentially in the mire. I’ve just delivered a series of social media workshops at Lancaster University designed to get students thinking about their online presence and how it could impact – both positively and negatively – on their chances of entering the big, wide world of work. Delegates were a mix of domestic and overseas undergraduates and, whilst the numbers were too small a chunk of the total student population to be representative, I was struck by the difference between the two groups. A social media “audit” revealed that the overseas students were much more careful about what they posted and the privacy settings they used when they posted. And the overseas students remarked at how surprised they’d been as freshers at the relatively laissez faire attitude UK students had to posting. I’m not yet sure whether the “let it all hang out” approach of my fellow Brits is cultural (I suspect it might be) or whether social media awareness is better taught in schools in Europe, the Far East and elsewhere. Or perhaps it has something to do with the bigger investment (and, therefore, greater risk aversion) overseas students have with their even higher student fees.

Whatever the reason we all have something to learn: why weigh ourselves down with unnecessary baggage?  Or as I might have said back in the day but didn’t “what happens in Bracklesham stays in Bracklesham.” I used a clunky visual metaphor to make my point. Loaded two identical rucksacks – one with bouquets, the other with the brickbats below

Social media brickbats - don't weigh yourself down

and asked two equally-qualified students to put them on and make a dash for the “finishing line” (employment, I said it was clunky!). You don’t need me to tell you who won.

I’m not saying avoid doing 1, 2 and 3. After all I didn’t. And people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones. As I did once in a state of undress whilst vaulting the back garden fences of De Beauvoir Road, Reading. But then that’s another story… I’m just saying think about the consequences of posting the evidence.