How Much of Yourself Should You Keep to Yourself?

Career columnist Joyce Lain Kennedy has some advice for job-seekers: watch your mouth. And your fingers. When you talk and type about your political and other views, you’re risking a prospective employer not hiring you. I’m not talking about employers
rejecting someone for reasons that could get them sued. I’m talking about
employers rejecting someone because something you said just turned them off.

After all, she says, employers hire people who are like themselves. And the more you say about yourself, the more you risk alienating a potential future employer.

I understand her advice. Sort of.

I understand it, and I buy it, but I’m having trouble stomaching it.

Entry Level or Veep

Matt Lafata gives Kennedy’s advice to his kids. The tireless HRchitect VP tells his children not to ever post anything on Facebook that they wouldn’t like to see on the front page of the newspaper. But Lafata himself, in addition to posting about National Cuddle Day, also posts things like “Thank u Republican Senators 4 opposing this. Shame on u Democrats!”

“I don’t believe in being politically correct,” he says. “If people don’t like what I
have to say, they don’t have to listen. Or they can debate what I say and give
their viewpoints. I will always respect that. Although I like to express my
opinion, I always try to do it in a respectful manner and would hope that
people respect that, whether they agree with it or not.”

Lafata does consider that he could alienate a customer or a prospective one. But he decided that the benefits of speaking his mind outweight the drawbacks. And he figures at
age 41 he has been around a while and has confidence in his position in the job
market.

Similarly, Naomi Bloom will tell a niece to avoid posting anything at all on Facebook even
remotely possible to cause later harm. Then again, she’s openly political herself. She says a “right wing, wing nut clientele won’t be interested” in her, and she won’t be interested in them. She works because she loves it, not because she needs to, and wants to influence and shape the world, not just earn a living. “I’m well past the point where anybody can really hurt me over a political view or the fact I was incarcerated a couple of times
over my politics,” she says.

So what you can get away with may partially depend on how established in your career you are. If you’re your own boss, you are risking alienating a current or potential client, but at least there’s no one there to officially fire you. I often hear the self-employed, or CEOs, or politicians, celebrities, and athletes referred to in the media as “outspoken,” though I
don’t usually find them to be more outspoken than myself or most anyone else I know.
They just have a big megaphone, and a lot of job security that affords them the
opportunity to speak their minds.

Different Companies for Different Folks

What you can get away with may also depend on how far out your views are. Saying that gays should be a federally protected class is controversial, and not popular among some
libertarians and conservatives, but it’s not that controversial. Imagine, on the other hand, a blog post arguing against gay rights if your employer is Apple or another firm generally considered liberal-leaning. Applying for a job at Apple is different than applying for a job at Wal-Mart.

I talked about this whole topic with Jenny DeVaughn. She knows what she’s passionate about (NASCAR, and the American Cancer Society, for example) and doesn’t plan on
hiding it. She hopes job-seekers do the same. DeVaughn doesn’t think job-seekers, including recruiters, should try to be like everyone else. If you’re an anti-establishment type of person, she says, there are plenty of companies for you. And the same is true if you are not.

Bloom says that if she were an observant Jewish person who wants some scheduling flexibility on Fridays and for major holidays (there are quite a few), rather than hiding it in the application process, she’d likely want to find an employer who understood the
lifestyle. “Candidates are not well advised to work at a place where they need
to leave their belief system at the door,” she says.

Your potential employer can probably handle you saying that you like or dislike this senator, that president, or that movie star, but if you say you love David Duke or that suddenly you find yourself more fond of Tiger Woods than ever — well, maybe they can’t stomach that, and maybe they shouldn’t. On many, though by no means all, issues, I find myself where the average American is — in the center to moderate-conservative. (This makes people here in Los Angeles consider me Rush Limbaugh). Maybe for a job-seeker, if you have to open your mouth, being somewhat of a centrist is the next best thing to keeping quiet.

Jerry Albright: “I Am What I Am”

For me, and a lot of us, keeping quiet can be tough. We usually do not do it.

Last Fall, when viewing CNBC was causing the average person to want to slit their wrists, I wrote in ERE’s Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership that:

Over the last eight years we’ve experienced: no further terrorist attacks on our soil; more people with health insurance; repeated tax cuts; the longest recorded period of uninterrupted job growth; homicides way down in NY and LA and violent crime nationally the lowest ever; and the lowest workplace fatality rate in OSHA history.

Maybe I’m an optimist, or maybe I like pointing out what the media seem to ignore. Some people in LA think that someone’s going to kill them every time they leave Beverly Hills, but the numbers show that crime is down.

I once wrote an op-ed column called “Let Rocker Talk,” arguing that the racist then-major-league pitcher John Rocker should be able to speak his mind, however revolting that mind may be, because his repulsiveness is a reminder that bigotry still exists. Muzzling speech only serves to reinforce that it’s the speech, not the hate,
that is the problem.

At least one co-worker
could barely speak to me for a while afterward, and some readers said they were
done reading anything Workforce
magazine (now called Workforce Management)
published. Letters were being emailed in some large numbers that I could hardly
keep up with publishing them (this was the dark ages when comments didn’t
appear automatically with articles, but were added by hand to the
right side of the page). Margaret Magnus, my boss at the time and the company
CEO, said she hadn’t seen anything like it. She seemed pleased, very pleased.

Jerry Albright isn’t
exactly shy about expressing his opinion in his Tweets. He does, however, think
a lot about how he is perceived. He considers the audience, and how the message
will come across, before he hits “enter” or “update.”

Once in a while, he’ll
alter this Tweet before it goes out as he contemplates the ramifications. On other occasions, though not often, he has deleted
is own Tweets he regretted in hindsight (though they’re probably still alive
somewhere, such as in retweets).

“I am who I am,” he says, “within the scope of
keeping things professional and socially accepted.”

Albright also watches his language. He says he has “watched in complete dismay as many (several rather notable) bloggers and
social media stars use vulgarity with abandon. This not only shocks me —
I find myself being somewhat embarrassed for them. I can throw down
with the best of them at the sports bar or at hunting camp — but not in public!”

While I very much agree with
Albright on the vulgarity thing, and have multiple emails from other recruiters expressing the same
sentiment, it’s a big enough topic that I’ll save more thoughts on it for
another day.

You Are Who You Follow

Job-seekers
ought to watch not just what they say, but what they Tweet on Twitter, retweet,
and post on Facebook.

Normally, when people retweet something or post a link to
something, it’s because they agree with it. They’re advocating a position by
spreading it, even if all they do is post the letters “RT” for “Retweet,” along with a link.

One time, for example, on Facebook, I posted a link to a blog post someone else had put up on ERE. I found the post
interesting and provocative, and thought it would spark a little discussion
amongst a couple of my friends, so I shared it.

My sharing was interpreted as agreeing
with the post, which was an anti-illegal-immigration rant, and anytime you’re
anti-illegal immigration, you run the
risk of being seeing as anti-immigration in general, or simply racist. I didn’t
agree with much of the post, and really regretted linking to it. I learned to
be more careful what I link to, as a link can be interpreted as support.

Naomi Bloom takes it to another level. She’s not only careful
about posting and Tweeting, but watches who she “follows” on Twitter, and how
that’s perceived. Says Bloom: “You are judged by the company you keep. Think before you speak.”

I doubt many job-seekers are thinking a lot about how who
they follow on Twitter will determine how they’re perceived. I hadn’t thought
a lot about it until talking to Naomi.

Decision Factors

Back to Jenny DeVaughn: NASCAR’s not all that controversial,
I told her. At worst, maybe someone finds it boring. If you’re a very active
member of the Church of Scientology and once dropped out of arguably the
nation’s most demanding/rigorous college to temporarily focus on your
Scientology, let’s face it: some potential employers may think you’re odd.

I’m not knocking Scientology. The description above of the
Scientologist is actually a fellow I know and respect immensely. I’m only
describing what some employers feel.

In the end, what I’d tell job-seekers regarding how much of
themselves they should share is that I’d want to know how much they feel they
need to share, want to share, and have a hard time keeping in their closet. I
hate to think you have to hide who you are to get or keep a job. Ultimately it
depends how unusual your views are, how passionate you are about them, and how
badly you need a paycheck.

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