(The Humanitarian Social Network)
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.
The thing is though, that writing about something is not simply about expression. It's much more than that. It's about making people think about a topic in a different manner. And, if you can get people who don't work in development to think about a development topic in a new way, you can do some incredible good.
A good example of this is Saundra's latest work with dispelling the myth of the low overheads. If you can get that information into the public sphere, then you can make people smarter about donating, and we can actually programs that matter, instead of those that drive overheads down and have little impact.
Knowing all about this doesn't come naturally to people who aren't in and around NGOs. It does to us. Therefore, if we don't speak out about it, aren't we just being complicit in bad practice? Aren't we then missing out on an opportunity to do some greater good?
I have faith that my day job does more greater good than the good done through blogging, so I know which I would pick if I had to.
Also, in my opinion there are plenty of bad aid practices which you can take on without jeopardizing your employability. The overhead example is a good one; employers will love you for being able to talk about that.
Oh let's be clear on my target audience - its my fellow ICT4D practitioners. I don't care much for what goes on outside of that. Yes, i follow the trends and comment here or there (or on this post too often for a proposal day), but that's not my focus. I would not suggest it be yours either. Focus on speaking to your peers (who ever they are or want them to be) and those that they influence or influence them.
If Saundra had a weakness, she was trying to change the minds of those that didn't have the capacity to fund her employment. She didn't focus on her blogging as a career booster but as a moral imperative.
Saundra S is currently working as a forest ranger according to her own blog.
Actually, I'm currently in Utah caring for my mother who is dying of cancer. But yes, I have gone back to my pre-international aid career field to make a living.
When I started blogging my goal was to impact donors and I did not plan to work in international aid again. This freed me up to say a lot of things I wouldn't otherwise have felt free to write. So Wayan is right, it was more of a moral imperative than a career move.
Blogging has brought me some interesting opportunities to expand my reach but is has not brought me regular job opportunities. if I were actually wanting to work for an INGO again, I'd take a very different approach.
I am driven by a moral imperative in my blogging as well. I write without apology as an expression of my values.
For what it's worth, I got a job with the INGO Saundra left and my supervisors have readily revealed that they read my blog. For me, thus far, not having incongruity between my personal and professional selves, seems to be freeing up the conversation.
Aside: Or sometimes the RL actions cause online implications. I wonder if online communication is any different than famous people having public lives -- great power and great responsibility and all that...
i recently heard on a trash radio station outside the US (since non-Americans love to make pitiful examples of the Americans -- which I find hilarious and usually dead on) that US companies have began asking candidates for employment for their actual login info to their email and social networking sites. Smells a bit like a violation of privacy and rights to me.
if you've visible, then you're also criticised. the same person who has a shining blog filled with regular, honest discussion shouldn't also be the enemy. c'mon, corporate America! remember all that bull shit you write in your JD's and American Express Forum articles about being a company that values transparency and seeks employees that are seen as leaders in their spaces?!
on the upside, i suppose it really helps the candidate to narrow their "company pool" of choice. who wants to work for a bunch of douche bags anyway?
I think you and I need to be friends.
Friends it is!
Of course, its like Alice's Restaurant... If One person does it... They might think he's crazy and won't take him... And if everyone walks into the joint, sings a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walks out, they may think its a movement. And its the "we maybe need to do these things a little better movement... "
So what would happen if enough of these people are blogging (or singing) about these issues that we've affected the hiring pool so significantly? I mean, the social change strategy laid out by Donald Watt had the goal of "infiltrate USAID" (PDF 43MB) -- So what happens when its done?