Internet Advice for Young People, Part 2: Communication

If you made it through my last entry on internet advice for young people, congratulations! This means you care, at least a little, about the way you behave online, in which case you’re already well ahead of most of your peers.

Most of that advice probably makes sense. How can anyone reasonably argue that it would be advantageous for a current or future employer to see the prospective hire in some compromising photo? What good would it do if a vengeful former “friend” or ex-lover sends your boss or client some screen-captures of what happened in Vegas?

Fact: What you type everywhere online (including blogs, personal websites, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) may become available to future employers. It all is fair game, and will be for as long as the web exists. Although I strongly hold that it should be illegal, some schools and employers already demand access to students’ and employees’ personal logins as conditions of being there. Even if that is challenged (as it should be), it probably will take years of court appeals up the chain to get a final ruling in our favor.

Aside from that, there still is anything you may post that is freely available to the public via Google or other look-up software. Don’t ignore the ever-present and never-ending threats posed by adversaries, competitors and snitches, either. It’s bad enough if your enemies make stuff up; it’s much worse if they don’t have to!

You get the point by now, I hope.

Now comes something that is at least as important for any well-paying employer, and which might surprise you: clear, sharp writing ability.

WRITING SKILLS MATTER!

This, more than ever, is the age of communication. Text, whatever the medium, is writing! Communications pipelines like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to look and act far dumber than you are. Mastery of the language commands instant respect in any medium, whether crafting a twenty-page business proposal or tweeting about the lunch entree you just consumed. Who is reading? Who will read it five years from now? Don’t assume that you know the answer.

Far too many online posts, no matter the medium or forum, read as if they were composed by slobbering idiots. Do you think it doesn’t matter? Are you under some delusion that nobody but a target audience will see what you post? Think twice.

You absolutely, positively do need to show writing skills worthy of a job interview, anytime and everywhere. Prospective employers aren’t entirely morons. Reputable, well-paying employers should and sometimes will look up your posts online, for as many years back as they appear, under any alias with which you could be associated. I would if I were hiring.

Why? Simple: I would seek a top-notch work ethic, in highly motivated and extraordinarily talented people who are genuine, creative, smart, undeterred by adversity. I want critical thinkers driven by a passionate, unbridled ethic of excellence that is extraordinarily rare to find in this world of spoiled slackers. Written communications skills in all settings (not just formal) go far in revealing those traits, or lack thereof. Lazy writing reveals a careless, corner-cutting aspect to your character, and what employer wants to hire that?

Nobody reasonable will expect perfection. An occasional typo or misspelling is forgivable. True, very few of us hold Ph.D. degrees in literature from Oxford. True, many very well-educated people can’t spell well. True, many high-paying executives, engineers, scientists and even professors exhibit poor grammar and usage. True, even Presidents mangle the language. True, I sometimes make writing errors, as I have somewhere in this post. I’ve heard all those lame rationalizations and more when critiquing others’ composition, often at their own invitation. All such excuses are irrelevant garbage, and do not absolve your own written stupidity.

Consistently showing a fundamental lack of understanding of basic spelling, punctuation, usage and capitalization makes you seem to be a moron. So does a limited vocabulary consisting mainly of small words. Such ignorance and inattention to detail could earn you nothing more ambitious than sweeping the loading dock at the local lumberyard, or resentfully hacking loogies into the mushroom burgers you’re cooking in a dead-end job at the grease pit. Moreover, failing to compose your thoughts as if it is a “job interview” is a lazy approach. Intellect, if it exists, shouldn’t take a vacation just because the discussion medium is a social networking site or online forum.

You’re smart; so be yourself and be smart! There is no shame in acting as intelligent as you are. If you’re reading this and understand it, God gave you enough of a brain to succeed. Use it! Practice skillful, creative composition in all media, understanding that anything you type can and perhaps will be used against you in a job interview.

Think about how you would respond when your desired employer slaps some of your online posts from a few years before onto the desk before you, to your astonishment, and says, “I found these, and they’re yours. I am not impressed. Convince me you’re better than this in the next five minutes, or I’ll have you on the next bus back where you came from.”

How would you react then? What would you say?

That’s reality, kids (and far too many adults). Welcome to it.



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