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Going off online: 10 ways to sabotage your own career online

Can a person’s online behavior affect his or her on-the-job status and employment security? You bet it can.

Networking is king in today’s career planning, employment advancement, and job hunting. Ask any employment expert or corporate recruiter. A savvy individual can realize considerable career advantages over peers through strategic participation in popular online communities. At the same time, one casual comment can wreak havoc on one’s working status and future employability.

What are the most off-putting posts an intentional careerist should avoid?

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Here are 10 surefire career-sinking bombs often found on online social networking sites.

Quips, casual queries, and thoughtless remarks can prove professionally perilous. Consider these potentially career-sabotaging examples.

1. Off-the-cuff

Knee-jerk responses and emotional remarks may help diffuse immediate frustration, but such public postings can be dangerous. Katie, an accounting manager at a Midwestern insurance agency, learned this firsthand. “My boss is a philandering jerk,” she said on her online dating site profile. “Don’t be like him, if you want a call-back.”

Sure, she used a fake name on her dating page. But someone showed her supervisor a screenshot, and he recognized her photo.

2. Off-the-wall

Who doesn’t chuckle at sarcastic cartoons that bounce around Facebook? From politics to religion, issues to celebrity scandals, these images enjoy plenty of online sharing.

East Coast office manager Marylou tapped out an “LOL” forward on a particularly pointed pre-election poster, forgetting her ideologically opposed boss was on her friends list. She realized her unintentional gaffe during a morning meeting.

3. Off-color

Racy and raunchy jokes or images may seem harmless to some folks, when it comes to online sharing. But reputations may be tarnished by the things we pass along, as Alicia discovered. Fortunately, a wise friend privately alerted the friendly Southwestern Wisconsin bookstore manager to the breadth of her pass-along post, and Alicia deleted it.

4. Off-limits

“TMI” has become a popular acronym for too much information, as social networking has facilitated over-sharing.

Ask Nina, an employee benefits counselor in Ohio. Angry at her ex-husband, Nina posted an excerpt of a dramatic spat in an online forum, assuming the group was private. But it was not, and the repercussions spilled over into the office.

5. Off-base

Professional conflicts can spill professional poison, if shared publicly online. Zeta lost her corporate administrative assistant position in Tucson after Tweeting a rant against a popular manager in her department.

6. Off the top of one’s head

Typographical errors, misspellings, and grammatical goofs may seem acceptable in casual online conversations, but these may also be perceived as sloppiness. Carla, a social studies teacher in Des Moines, was surprised when her principal questioned her grasp of the English language, citing her recent Facebook posts.

Online posts may be casual, but smart careerists keep comments cogent.

7. Off-kilter

Stream-of-consciousness writing comes and goes in literature, but it proves daunting in social networking. Meandering thoughts paint questionable perceptions of mental acuity, particularly if potential bosses or current higher-ups are reading.

“She’s a zombie. She wants to eat my soul,” Lily captioned under a photo of her cat. The following day, the Minneapolis cashier was puzzled to find coworkers eying her curiously.

8. Off-the-record

Investigative reporters may allow strategic sources to speak candidly without fear of exposure, but this is seldom the case with online postings. The internet puts everything on the record. Even deleted comments or photos may be stored somewhere as screenshots.

Paula, a Houston child care provider, put up an exasperated “These kids are driving me nuts” post, but took it off a few minutes later. How could she have guessed one of her charges’ parents was online to see her momentary rant?

9. Off the charts

Everyone loves success, but coworkers may resent those who paint a too-perfect picture. Minnie unwittingly offended colleagues by repeatedly trumpeting her kids’ academic and athletic successes online. “It’s like a daily overdone holiday brag letter,” a fellow Seattle sales clerk confided.

Can exaggerated personal successes block on-the-job advancement? Minnie wondered, when she was skipped for a promotion.

10. Off-line or off-schedule

Social networking can lead to helpful career connections, but it takes consistency. Sporadic hit-and-run posts rarely form strategic relationships.

Worse, prolific posts during working hours is generally a workplace taboo. Imagine trying to ask the boss for a performance raise, only to have him or her ask about all those workday interactions on popular websites. 

Here’s another key concern for online posters.

Inter-site linking may conveniently insert posts simultaneously in multiple sites. It’s easy to forget that a zingy Tweet may also appear on Linked-In, Facebook, blog sidebars, and other spots where existing and potential employers may see it and cringe.

Social networking can be a super strategy for career networking, or it can blow up in one’s own face. It all depends on what one is posting … and who is paying attention.

Wile E Coyote 
vintage cartoon screenshot

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