Internet Advice for Young People, Part 1: Character

Friends know that I don’t agree with most of Barack Obama’s policies, positions and actions. But when he cautioned kids yesterday to be careful of their Facebook activities, he was right. Clearly someone inserted a very wise and enormously valuable dollop of advice in his speech.

Young people hoping for a job: Pay attention, because I’m trying to help you. Call it “tough love”.

It’s one thing to disagree with a stance or disapprove of an opinion. An employer who bases hiring decisions on someone’s political views, legal hobbies, sports favorites, or other irrelevant trivialities, lacks integrity himself, and isn’t worth the luxury of your employment. The same goes for merely being opinionated or unconventional. In fact, employers should welcome, not avoid, “out-of-box” thinkers, to use a horribly hackneyed expression. Shamefully, too many don’t, as you will see if you are an idealist.

Anyone who hires and promotes butt-kissing sycophants also isn’t worthy of your hard work. Diversity is the overused buzzword in hiring these days; yet too often, this hypocritically excludes diversity of ideas as well as uncontrollable and far less relevant factors like race and gender. If an employer doesn’t welcome ideological diversity, avoid them unless desperate.

That said…

CHARACTER MATTERS!

None of us are Jesus. We all mess up. Everyone knows that nobody is perfect. That’s true, but also, a straw man.

Perfection isn’t the issue! Instead, as long as you are solidly competent, the issue is integrity, which can be gained with great effort and lost instantly, and which isn’t synonymous with sainthood. Integrity, simply put, is who you are when (you think) nobody is looking.

Your integrity isn’t something you leave behind when you leave the school or office. If you don’t behave with integrity off-duty, you are nothing more than a faker and a pandering poser on-duty! This will be discovered about you, sometime, somehow, some way, to your shock, dismay and certain disadvantage. Ask John Edwards (no relation), who cheated on his cancer-stricken wife while running for President. Perhaps, in your life, there are less egregious examples of loss of integrity for which you must atone and seek forgiveness, whether with your God, yourself, and/or whomever else demands your accountability. Do so. The short-term risk is worth the long term redemption of your integrity, even if that redemption is slow coming.

It should be obvious that your private actions online will indicate your character, and as such, your worthiness for employment. It’s a terrible idea to post compromising photos or stories of yourself getting drunk or high, prancing around naked or very nearly so, smoking joints, engaging in or even discussing sexual acts, fighting, ranting about wanting to plug that m__f__ who pissed you off last night, etc. There is no way between heaven and hell that I would hire someone about whom I found such material online…period. There’s always someone out there of equal talent with less character risk than that. Jerry Jones, a very wealthy and well-known employer of skilled specialists, and owner of my favorite football team, has had to learn this the hard way, and not just once. Don’t just act like you’re worth hiring, be worth hiring. Avoid bad people and bad situations.

After getting in a few too many childhood fights and bragging about their outcomes, my dad told me, “Watch it son! Somewhere, and you don’t know where, there is someone who can whip your ___. Or if they can’t, they’ll just shoot you.” That was humbling and sobering to hear from someone who was a genuine Texas tough guy. A similar philosophy applies to your job hunt: No matter how talented or skilled you think you are, somewhere — and you don’t know where — is someone who can do your job better than you, and might just put you out of it. Humble yourself to that understanding, and don’t pretend otherwise.

Sure, have fun in life (legally), and enjoy yourself! Work hard, play hard, and sometimes, party! In the process, understand the risks of going too far, and know that what you advertise, in words or pictures, easily may come back to haunt you at a most inconvenient future time. In this context, I got away with some stupid things I did as a teenager (no drugs or alcohol, mind you, but other stuff surely unsuitable for a job interview), simply because there was no Facebook on which to brag about it or post photos. You are not that lucky. Fortunately I’ve built up enough credibility in over 20 years of focused effort for excellence in my profession that some boneheaded teenage antics don’t matter anymore. Again, you’re not so lucky (or old) yet.

Best of all, how about avoiding being stupid in public in the first place? Someone else’s compromising photos or stories of you could get out just as easily! You might be able to pass off embarrassing tales as lies (a lie itself…see “integrity” above), and you might be falsely accused and have to explain it, which sometimes is a necessary evil and risk of hanging with the wrong crowd.

Photos and video are a different story. If you don’t believe this, ask twentysomethings Matt Leinart or Josh Hamilton. Yes, they got away with it after being employed. They’re paid millions and are extremely crucial to their employer’s long-term success. You’re neither, at least not yet. It’s easy simply to not hire you, or to dismiss you in favor of someone else of better ethical and moral repute. Your professionalism at work and your behavior on the town are not entirely separable! They both are part of your character; and ugliness in the latter most definitely screams the potential for problems in the former.

Tomorrow: Writing skills matter!



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