(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.
Thanks everyone for the replies. It's interesting to hear what you have to say. I like the idea that the benefits outweigh the negatives, but also I think, some part of me simply wants to believe that we cannot change as an industry if we do not talk critically about issues that are tearing it apart. I realise that this is perhaps a naive and idealistic view, and I'm happy to be told that I'm wrong. In talking over this topic with a friend last night, his view was that we shouldn't compromise on our values, especially when we are young (and supposedly reckless) because it would be a slippery slope to go down as we move higher up the chain, and have to be more and more careful of what we say.
Kate and Dave - I completely agree that once you are working for an organisation, speaking about a host country or the local situation is potentially perilous. The mission of the organisation is of course more valuable than your own opinion. However, my question is more related to speaking out before you even get the job - would you be negatively viewed for having an opinion and stating it publicly? You raise a good point though Dave - how would you even know?
Grace - I don't think that necessarily makes you jaded - just pragmatic - thanks for your input. Your point about academia is a good one too. In fact the advice I was given was that perhaps I should reconsider working on the program side of things - and go somewhere else like a social change organisation. Again, part of me doesn't want to believe that this is necessary simply for having an opinion and stating it.
Sarah and Andreailcujo - I think you both raise an interesting point, which is, there is a clear distinction between calling out an NGO and criticising their work (which could quite understandably put you in their bad books), and simply stating an opinion which is different to the organisation's own.
J. - I take your point about the disconnect between HR and people who might understand where the blog is coming from better. I'll put some serious thought into changing the content of my CV as you have as well.
I strongly suspect that for most bloggers, the negatives outweigh the positives. Especially if you're early career. I am always telling my careers list subscribers not to blog, and it always makes them really mad. But the internet is not a safe space for making mistakes and learning from them. It's a space where the tiniest error will bring massive hate and be documented forever.
Here's the other thing. Being a really great aid blogger teaches you to be...a really great aid blogger. Not an aid worker. There skills sets are complementary, not identical. Focus too much on your blogging, and it becomes your emotional center rather than your day job.
Alanna and I disagree on the power of blogging as a career boost - I do think it can give you a wider exposure and help raise your profile. I would note her and my bogging as examples 1 and 2.
Exposure and a higher profile aren't much use in global health outside of academia.
I will, however, amend my statement to say that if you blog Wayan's way it will boost your career. (Wayan, can you link to your post on that?) But that requires a level of strategy and self-discipline few of us can achieve. They more often look like this one, sent to me by a student who wants to work in international development when she graduates: www.kaitimossdotcom.wordpress.com (I broke the link on purpose so she won't seee this referral.)
I believe you're referring to: How to Blog for Professional Success in International Development.
That's the one!
That post is my blogging bible.
Thanks for the compliment!
Oh my goodness.
isn't what is really trying to be said here is that it's hiring manager discretion? oi, well if that aint the epitome of corporate life (we can't act like NGOs aren't part of the corporate life).
regardless of whether you blog or don't blog, are good at hoops, or like the right kind of wine... these are preferences (for an aid career that doesn't necessarily require blogging as a prereq) that are chosen based on a hiring manager's discretion. that's why the hr thing doesn't mean shit either.
you find a boss man or boss lady (although working for a women is not my preference -- the candidate's preference matters, too) that is pro blogging, pro smart ass, pro tequila shots... then lucky you, you aid blogger. if not, you are SOL or AMF.
I can't speak to employability, but as a journalist who has covered many fields over several decades I would say the aid and development community is unusually uncomfortable making its disagreements and critiques public. So I would suspect that doing so from within would be dicey in many cases.
This is just my impression, of course. Not sure how I would quantify it.
I say that free speech can land you the right job.
Back in 2004, when I was just entering the international development field, I was looking for a way to make myself known. Both to advance my career and fill my need to blog. I've been blogging since before the term existed (1997 for those who track it) and I wanted to talk about this crazy new field I was entering.
So when I saw a high-profile organization doing something I thought was nuts, I asked a few others I respected if they too thought this approach was foolish. They agreed and so I started OLPC News to pretty much beat OLPC silly on their lack of implementation of what was a good idea, which I thought at the time would lead all of ICT in education into ruin.
From the very beginning, I let my employer know as I was running an ICT4D program that could have blowback. I was lucky in that they were not Internet-savvy and didn't care. Not until 60 Minutes called and asked me to be on the show. Then I found myself in the boss's office explaining what I was doing. To my surprise, they loved that I would be on national TV and gave me the blessing to blog as long as I didn't say that the blog represented the company.
When it came time for a new job, it was interesting to see the reaction of employers to my blogging, which was now extensive and often contentious int he ICT4D space. I was regularly being either vilified or celebrated and depending on the employer, either untouchable or a hero. In the end I was hired by a company that loved I was so outspoken and well known. They didn't always like what I wrote, but they respected my voice and were in awe of my drive. That ability to blog served me well - I am now director of marketing for them (and retired from OLPC News).
And that's the main lesson I took away from the experience. Expressing yourself will get you hired by companies who want staff who can express themselves. If you are a person who has the internal need to blog, by all means do it. It will lead you to happiness with the companies and positions that allow you to flourish.