Thursday, August 6, 2009

Social Media & Academic Careers

I read an interesting blog entry this evening on Inside Higher Ed, in which the blogger - a community college dean - responded to a reader-sent question of the potential impact of social networking & social media on one's career, specifically for the over-40 crowd. I'm a couple of years off from being 40, and I came to college late anyway so in being ensconced in teacher training the classmates with whom I've been studying have generally been under 25 (except in grad school, where the average age ranged much more). The anonymous blogger notes that he hasn't actually seen social media be as much of an issue, and not for anyone in mid-career (which I can rather see the point of).

Yet I got to thinking.

About five years ago, when I was in the middle of my undergraduate degree but beginning my teacher education courses, my Methods I professor had "The Talk" with us: We needed to be careful how we presented ourselves online because it was feasible that employers would Google us. This was not news to me - I was in my late 20s and had worked full-time prior to going back to college - but it was a surprise to many of my classmates, who were not yet used to thinking of themselves professionally. This was not altogether surprising, since many of my classmates were a number of years younger than I. We had several discussions on what was suitable, right down to e-mail addresses and the impression we might make by having one that is inappropriate.

But it's not just for the under 22 crowd that runs into this problem: One of my aspiring writer friends - a woman with whom I've been friends for more than 10 years - was surprised, at least momentarily, when I pointed out to her that since she was publishing some of her creative writing on a blog, she might want to clean up her grammatics lest a potential publisher come to the conclusion that she is unable to edit effectively. It simply hadn't occurred to her that there would be any of this type of reaction, which struck me as odd because I thought one of the reasons she published her stories on a blog was to gain exposure.

I feel like applied to millions of jobs, but I'm very aware of how I present myself online. I have a Web site (which has sample lesson plans and two versions of my CV); a number of blogs; profiles on FaceBook, MySpace, and LinkedIn; and accounts on multiple other sites (FriendFeed, Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, etc.). Even though potential employers may not Google me, I take care to at least write well enough to be thought of as someone who can spell (I'm pretty sure I'm not being judged for occasional typos, although one can only hope); I voice opinions and express frustrations on the subject of topics I care about, but I do not lampoon anyone. In other words, I keep it clean. I don't want to be thought of as an idiot.

It matters less personally than professionally, perhaps; I don't really care if someone disagrees with an opinion I voice, but I don't want a principal or chair of an English department thinking that I might not be a good person to interview because I can't express myself well. (Someone please tell me if I'm not expressing myself well!)

From the viewpoint of an employee, it may be easy for many to overlook the Internet as being global if one isn't thinking in those terms, but if hiring committees aren't considering the electronic trail many of us keep, it may be easy for the employee to overlook that perception.

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