I’ve touched on it some in the past, but it’s a question that comes up a lot when we discuss networking at community events, and it’s worth some thought. I start by assuming that any potential employer/client/customer that deals with me directly is going to search for me on the web. I can’t control what they find absolutely, but in general any type of profile or blog will be in the top 10 hits once – and if – they narrow it down to the right person.
So we start at whatever you consider your “main” page. If you had to tell a prospective employer where to find information about you, where would you send them? Typically this is either a profile page (LinkedIn, etc) or a “personal” site. For me it’s my LinkedIn profile, or the blog here – both useful. You can probably discover a lot about me between the two; some work history, what kind of books I read, who my friends are, if I can write coherently, even a good idea of my technical ability. If you look just a little harder you can figure out my attorney and CPA.
I make conscious decisions about almost all of that. I don’t link to any politicians that I like (not that many!), no ‘causes’, no reviews of books about politics, very few rants, and not too many (but some) of my errors. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion on politics, that I don’t read books about it, that I don’t rant a bit more often than you see here, or that I don’t make mistakes. But from a marketing perspective, is that stuff you’d put on your ad in the yellow pages?
I know a few people that totally mix business and personal information online. You can read about a query one day, their dog the next. My friend Steve Jones does this remarkably well in his daily editorial and it works because you get to know him in a way you wouldn’t if it was just technical. But even Steve draws some lines, and I believe rightfully so. Others do not, and it’s not my place to criticize them – just to say that I prefer to take a different approach than they do. It comes down to this; for the space on the web that you control, you’re making a decision to show it to people that might want to hire you and living with the results.
You’ll probably never hear about opportunities missed because of something online, why would they bother to tell you if it bothered them that much? You can see that as a plus, thinking that you always want to work for people that either share or at least tolerate your views. But is that really the criteria you want to apply? I’ve worked on a couple jobs because I just needed work. It didn’t matter if we agreed on much of anything besides me being willing to to a given task in return for a given amount of cash. When jobs are plentiful it’s great to be picky, but when they aren’t – do you really want to filter some of them out?
The thing is, you can’t control how people interpret what you say in person or online. I think most people are reasonably tolerant, but we all have hot buttons that would just generate a “NO”. I certainly share some information about my personal life, and that’s because I don’t want to appear – or be – one dimensional. Even with limited information it’s possible someone won’t hire me because I’m am amateur woodworker and might cut my hand off,or because they don’t like that I’m a fan of the space program, or that I take a somewhat open position on networking. I think that would be rare, but it’s possible, and I’ve made the decision to try to take the chance…consciously.
If you’re new to putting information online, I’d say just go slow. Fill out a profile on LinkedIn or whatever, put some basic information, and then slowly grow from there. If you decide that blogging about family is something you want to link to that, go for it! But test the waters a bit, look at some other peoples work first, maybe even see what your current employer thinks about all of this just to get a view from the other side.