June 12, 2006


Every now and then I look back and marvel at the fact that there was no Internet (to speak of) when I was in college. Usually my thoughts are along the lines of, "How did I ever do research?" "If I had IM, I'd probably still be friends with everyone from high school," and "Did people really pay for porn?" But apparently there's an upside to having gone through those years offline. At least I never had to worry about future employers knowing what an irresponsible fuck-up I sometimes was.

I'm reacting, of course, to the New York Times article For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Résumé. See, here's the thing. Yes, there is an argument to be made that employers can evaluate an applicant's "judgment" based on the fact that they'd say certain things on MySpace or Facebook — even if they're obviously "posturing." But it's a lame argument.

As I understand it, the kids today treat virtual hangouts much the way they treat all-campus parties. Yes, they are public venues, but they are supposed to be open to only a limited segment of the public, and, more importantly, everyone who shows up really ought to know that one's behavior in such venues can deviate from one's behavior in daily life and should not be held against one forever and ever.

On a practical level, the fact is that companies who find outrageous behavior online are really NOT learning anything about what kind of employee a student will be in an office setting. People who brag about sex, drugs, and rock and roll — and even those who indulge — can be perfectly good corporate drones. Indeed, the executives banning youngsters from their offices based on their MySpace shout outs probably did plenty of stuff in their college years that, like me, they were happy to see erased from the slate after that diploma came.

More disturbing is the long-term implications of saying that young people should know better than to behave this way online. To my mind, that's exactly the kind of thing young people shouldn't know. Youth should be for acting out and being dumb, and with the Internets so integral to socialization now, that includes creating a risqué online persona. To punish kids for doing so because they should have known that someday an employer might catch them is to create a generation that never says or does anything risky because someday it wants to get a job. A generation, in other words, of calculating young Bill Clintons and John Kerrys, shaking hands with everyone in their dorm because they want to be president 30 years later.

Is that really who companies want to hire?

Vaguely related: I'm not too old to hear this, although I do prefer Francis Albert.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Well, honestly, if you're running a company (or a country) would you rather hire the George Bushes of the world?

Not to sound like a grumpy old man, but isn't college supposed to be the place where young people learn the things you say they shouldn't know?

I agree people should do regrettable things in their youth but this willingness (more like a drive) to do them in public is not just The Kids and Their Technology which fogies don't understand. It's part of the corporatizing and commodification of everyday life, the glorification of incontinence (which has far-right political implications), and the perpetuation of adolescence. I'd prefer (I take part in interviews but do not make the final decision) an employee with the instinctive discretion to keep their private life private. Second I'd take one who rejects the tentacles of Big Fun. Lastly I'd grudgingly still hire a bought and sold idiot (because, yeah, he's probably a really good drone) but I have no problem using basic human dignity as a razor between two candidates.

High school and college students know their radio station is public, their school paper is public, and their yearbook is public, if they can't figure out the internet is public what the hell else won't they understand? Sarbanes-Oxley I bet.

The decent ones won't find themselves burdened for long. Besides in sports law, entertainment medicine, and web-hosting, the jobs all The Kids want, no moral shortcoming has ever disqualified anybody from anything.

I hire entry level lawyers from time to time. A few years ago I googled some names on qualified resumes. It turns out to be very difficult to interview a 3L in a conservative suit after I've seen her in a well photographed wet t-shirt contest.

Googling applicants was a youthful indiscretion I have since outgrown.

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