Has being critical or controversial in an online setting negatively affected your employability?

Recently, I've been on the job hunt, and have taken the advice of a few people to spend more time writing pieces online, to try and establish some credibility and be positioned as someone who has something interesting to say. Along the way, I've written one or two pieces that may have been interpreted by certain large NGOs negatively. In fact, I have been called on behalf of one NGO in particular who advised me not to post an article like I had done in the future, if I wanted to be employed by them. The problem was not that I criticised their work, but rather that I advocated for a method which the NGO themselves did not employ. As they put it, "I didn't sound like they sounded".

Generally, when I tell people about this particular situation, they are somewhat surprised that it garnered this reaction, since I was simply stating an idea that was different to an NGO's method of doing things as a talking point. However, more recently, I had a conversation with a seasoned development worker who said that by writing things in the public sphere that were controversial and could possibly be taken as negative by NGOs, I was setting myself up for being difficult to employ. His point was essentially: "It's ok to have an opinion, but as soon as you put it up in the public sphere and attach your name to it, you make yourself an easy target for organisations to say "we don't agree with what you wrote, therefore you're a risk we can't take".

My counter-argument was that an NGO that did not encourage discussion and a wide range of opinions was probably not an enjoyable place to work, but he saw this as being too idealistic. He said it's ok to have discussion as long as it was internal. Once it goes public, and your name is attached to it, that's a few steps too far.

There already is a great discussion about this up on Dave Algoso's blog here: http://findwhatworks.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/would-you-hire-me-if-... but I'm interested to know whether people who have put up critical/controversial stuff in the public sphere have noticed a negative impact on employability. Has it closed more doors than doors opened?

I guess the idealist in me, while acknowledging his points, doesn't want to believe that we live in a world were debate and free speech can be so stifled, simply in order to land a paid job.

Tags: blogs, controversy, employment, jobs, ngos

Views: 2451

Replies to This Discussion

How does "Alice Restaurant" go? :)

Getting more people singing is part of the point of this space... And I'm pleased to see that this is what's starting to happen.

With 4 part harmony and full orchestration:

(and the Wikipedia, for those with internets run by hamsters... or too many life-saving reports for a 25 minute song.)

Very interesting discussion.

I have heard a few stories happening to other people, although it is difficult to know - as someone said - whether their online activity was amongst the real top reasons for being rejected for a post.

I would distinguish between:

1) Displaying publicly an opinion about a country or region
2) Displaying publicly different values from the core values of that organisation
3) Challenging the way some organizations do business, and/or proposing ways to improve without putting in question the values, and without exposing insider information

As some others have put it, 1) may just be off limits for certain countries or regions, because it could hinder access or credibility. And yes, once employed, one does represent its organization 24/7, and it is difficult to make the difference between public and private.

On 2), I share some of the discontent, which was expressed in this forum, about NGOs, who consider themselves the international civil society, are often extremely vocal in critizising governments, UN institutions, other NGOs, but have a hard time in accepting critisism themselves. However, if something someone wrote publicly is clearly indicating a difference in values, which may pose a problem to establish a good collaboration, I consider it a fair point to take into consideration. For example, if one has published a mixed or favorable opinion about the death penalty, I would understand that Amnesty International would not interview that person.

On 3), I do not see why that should harm one's employability. It would be good to address constructive critisism first to the directly concerned (if one has access to them). And using insider information is also definately off for any organization respecting itself. Apart from that, I do not see why a healthy discussion about the way to do business should not take place. After all, it's NGOs, who demand more transparency and accountability.

The digital age evolves in a way that in 10 years from now, most documents and budgets in the aid industry, in as far as they do not put in danger individuals, will have to be accessible to the public at large. If you are a recruiter for an organization, who has a problem with that perspective, better get used to it.

As I said in the beginning, I have heard stories but it hasn't happened to me. However, I was once inverviewed for a very senior position, and while I was making every possible effort to know everything about the organization so I would not look like a complete fool, they did the same.

The face-to-face interview started like this:

"Good day, thank you for coming. We have googled you. Your blog says you want/have a wild and mysterious life. Do you think that is compatible with being in a HQ?".

Fair question, no?

SO.  How DID you answer that question...  and did you get/take the job?  And if it matters, what was the outcome/measurable impact?

Great discussion folks :) Nice to be back online and read this convo. I agree with Wayan that it can help you find the organisation that gives you space and freedom to be yourself. Alanna's point on not putting at risk your ability to do it's also a great advice. But most of all I love the idea of creating a movement (Sarah & J) and the importance that it has in changing things...

Hi All, I wanted to add a quick response here after reading. Material I have posted online - or that has been posted about me - hasn't negatively affected my career to date. The reason is I am really cautious about what I post online and why. I encourage - and participate - and read - online blogs and discussion and have gained a lot personally from being challenged to think critically and review my practice. 

 I also teach online. With elearning I am forever cautioning students to be mindful of what they post and where. I have seen a change in employers and HR use of social media over the previous years and I would not be surprised if openly posting critical material, even if it needed to be said might have a negative impact on employment. I have sat in pre-selection meetings for staff appointments and people have been googled, and then the search results discussed, so it does happen.

*** this is why I value all the anonymous aid bloggers out there who have contributed so much to diffrent debates and issues *** THANKYOU FOLKS!

I can't imagine a future supervisor or HR person not googling their potential employees at this point. As to why I don't blog anonymously (watch out, I'm going to wax philosophical), at the end of the day, all we may ever have, is the way we choose to live our lives. Everything else - money, loved ones, possessions - can disappear in an instant. So what, really, is the bigger risk? To not get that paycheck? Or to stifle your perspective (your soul)? For me, blogging has been a way to live my values. If hypocrisy and conundrum and frustration is an unfortunately accepted and acceptable part of aid work, then the only way for me to reconcile that within myself is to demonstrate to myself that I grapple whole-heartedly with these issues. If there's nothing how-matters.org has taught me, it's that recognizing my own voice enables others to do the same...which is why I do aid work in the first place. That's why for me, my online and professional personas aren't separate. Luckily, thus far, organizations without the potential/commitment to learning and pushing the envelope as part of their mission end up being the ones I haven't needed to work for. And I recognize that that too, could be gone in an instant. 

"all we may ever have, is the way we choose to live our lives." Brilliant!

Cartoon came from here: http://xkcd.com/137/

I think it's perfect.

It is perfect! hehe love it


danah boyd gives and interesting insight into the thinking around fear and Networked Publics.  It seemed like this talk and line of thinking may apply nicely into the fears of organizations, and the role of our networks and voices.


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