After reviewing a promising resume’ from an applicant we shall call “Henry”, the hiring manager moves on to reading the accompanying cover-letter. At the end of the letter, Henry included a link to his facebook personal page. When the hiring manager eventually looked at the page, he found a picture showing Henry in a less than flatering pose during a fraternity party.
The applicant, may never know how close he came to getting a job. Paradoxically, he may never realize that he is reducing his chances of finding employment. The hiring manager still wonders how Henry, so bright in many ways, can be so clueless about professional etiquette.
Leaked emails and under-cover videos which eventually found their way to the public have cost some people their job and sometimes entire careers. Politicians and public figures have painfully come to terms with the fact that, even when the cameras are off, they are at the mercy of a mobile phone recording their most candid moments. Likewise, any joke sent via internal email to a few colleagues is one click away from the reaching clients and embarrasing an entire organization.
What links all these instances however, is that these people did not intend their comments or actions to become public. In Henry’s case however, he intended his picture to be seen. We may never know if he thought it could actually increase his chances of getting into the Sales Associate position he coveted.
From parents to career councillors, there is no shortage of advice for graduating students, now known as the millenials or generation-y. With the advent of the internet, all will agree on one thing though: students have to clean-up their online footprint. Too many students have pictures of themselves in compromising situations, as well as having posted comments that will come back to haunt them.
Take Facebook for instance. Like many social networks, it allows anyone to post pictures, videos and connect with friends, family and even complete strangers. Also on Facebook, is the ability to join common causes and groups. Some groups such as “earthquake in china-we can help it!”, and “vox humanitatis” are laudable and might reflect a positive caring side. Some like “Bobby Fisher Forever” might be borderline acceptable though one could conceiveably claim being a chess afficionado and not care about politics. Some others like “All girls on facebook should be required to have a picture in a bikini” can lead into serious trouble.
Millenials know their pictures will be seen by strangers. What they do not fully grasp, are the consequences. “This gen has a cognitive dissonance when it comes to the web –We say they are technologically savvy but not necessarily emotionally mature. They know that what they post will be seen but they don’t fully comprehend the gravity what might happen if someone “important” might see it” says Gary Rudman president of GTR consulting.
An unspoken social contract.
For the 30 and older generation, publicizing one’s basest traits is an unforgiveable faux-pas. In the words of the hiring manager after reading Henry’s application: “I can’t send this guy in front of my clients”. However perfect everything else was in Henry’s application, his fate is sealed to that picture on his personal webpage, at least until it is taken off the web.
People born in the mid-seventies and before, have unconsciouly forged a social contract governing the broad rules in which our society ought to function. We, (I was born in 1970) have collectively agreed that some behaviors, if public, will be frown-upon. For instance, you may be forgiven if you curse after tripping on a banana skin, but not if you regularly curse at work. Likewise, freedom of expression allows anyone to make jokes, even if they denigrate one group of people. Utter one of these jokes in front of cameras while in office and the repercussions might be substantial. Trent Lott and to a lesser degree Vice President Dick Cheney at the National Press Club have been painfully reminded about the different rules governing private and public life.
However, we do know that everybody sooner or later will curse. We all have moments in which we let our baser instincts go unchecked. In fact we cordoned-off specific times and places to let some steam off: sporting events and comedy-clubd come to mind. Furthermore, we expect others to have political and religious opinions and feel particularly strongly about a sports team.
Don’t ask don’t tell.
Yes this arrangement is a bit hypocritical. We all know we have less than glorious moments; whether you are a CEO, running for president or the head of a PR firm. Do we sincerely believe that the people who run our world never cursed, told a bad joke or got drunk? Does everyone in a company support the same team or political candidate? This is highly unlikely.
As a voter during an election or while interviewing a potential hire, there is an implicit agreement going on. The former wont ask about certain behaviors (“so how often do you swear? What do you think of Obama’s chances?) and the later will not express political opinions nor swear.
Enter the Facebook generation.
My generation and those that preceeded it are used to consuming media: from newspapers, to radio to television. What these media had in common though, is that our consumption was passive. Notwithstanding talk-radio or letters to the editor the communication was a one way stream; from the source to the masses.
By genuinely mediating between broadcaster and recipient the internet is a truer media, a mediator between two or more entities, than radio or television could ever be.
Indeed, an internet user switches between being a broadcaster and an audience. You can read an online movie review one moment and post your own review the next after a chat with your buddies.
People aged 30 or older can be avid users of social networking sites and use them as expertly and frantically as any college student. However, these new technologies have not resulted, in the minds of this group, in a change in the social contract mentioned earlier.
Even if you are born in the 1970’s you are still bound by the governing paradigm instilled by your parents and grand-parents. It is your default point of reference.
Current college students and teenagers meantime, have grown with the internet. They have grown with no particular mind-restriction when using the internet. Parents who feel they can control their children’s behavior online with time restrictions and parental-software are in for a shock. It is not what their children do: it is about how they think about doing it.
If technology allows it, millenials will do what the technology allows them to do without the intellectual self-censorship baby-boomers experience. The internet enables any idea to be broadcast the moment it germinates in a young-person’s mind.
“I feel terrible this morning, had a hangover”. A teenager will let his friends, friends of friends and anybody who stumbles upon his profile know; and why not let them know? Millenials use technology to put an idealized version of themselves (the person they would like to be or how they would like to be seen). This is motivated by the desire for attention combined with the fear of being left-out by peers.
When the Facebook generation takes over.
While recruiters and voters have so far penalized the “tell all about me” behavior, there will come a point when the gen-xers will come to power. It is just a matter of generational replacement. The question is, what will happen, when people like Henry move on to grab the key levers of the economy?
It may be that the resume’s will become outdated because it is partial and unreliable. Henry’s generation will be accustomed to knowing a lot more about complete strangers than we do and they are fine with that.
Indeed, the noun “friend” has become the verb “to friend” in teenage language. It used to take a while before two people call themselves friends after cultivating their relationship through diners and long walks. Now, this complex, subtle and long procedure is abstracted and sinthesized into a transaction which requires that two people simply press a button thus formalizing a relationship for the world to see.
As is done today, the Facebook generation will search people’s names and build a comprehensive portrait of a potential hire. Videos, blogs (or their future incarnation), pictures, writtings will all be evaluated. The difference might be that, as a supreme irony, the less information on one person, the less trustworthy this person will look to voters and employers.
The paradigm will be turned on its head when the mantra will become: If there are no pictures of you having fun as well as your political and religious affiliations, then there is something wrong with you.