Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is Controversy Good for Your Career?

I've been writing for newspapers since I was in high school. The reason I point this out is that I've had years (eons) to learn that what you put in print really matters. You've got to think long and hard about what you're writing. If you make a mistake, not only is it embarrassing, but it can haunt you for a long time.

But many bloggers haven't yet learned this lesson. They're making all their messy mistakes in print (online), and it's sticking with them like old gum to their shoe.

Here's a story I did for Gannett/USAToday on why what you write now may impact you for a long time.....

Sometimes it can be frustrating as a job seeker when you're trying to get the attention of an employer.

As one of possibly thousands of people applying for one job, it's easy to get overlooked or outright ignored. So you may begin to consider trying something more quirky to get an employer's attention, such as sending a giant chocolate chip cookie along with your resume.

Then, when that doesn't work, you begin to feel a bit more desperate and consider trying something more radical.

You begin to notice how those behaving outrageously seem to get lots of publicity.

In your research online, you've noted that people with "controversial" reputations often are quite popular. They get lots of "hits" on their blog, have thousands of Twitter followers and are very popular on Facebook. Sometimes national media even interview them.

Maybe, you think, being more controversial could work for your career. Should you start thinking and acting less like June Cleaver and more like Lady Gaga? Would that help not only your job search but enable your career to take off in a big way?

Career expert Alexandra Levit warns against that strategy. Trying to generate publicity like you were aJersey Shore cast member is likely to backfire, she says.

"Reality television has made controversial behavior popular for everyone," she says. "It's sort of the attitude of just letting it all hang out there. But you need to think twice before you do the same."

While being controversial certainly will help you stand out, Levit says it's not the kind of attention that will help your job search or career.

In her book, Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can't Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, (Berkley, $15), she says becoming an online "troll" who stirs up controversy with inflammatory opinions will quickly make you known — but also just as quickly make you irrelevant once the controversy dies down.

She says you can be provocative without totally trashing your reputation or your future, but you still must tread carefully if you decide to go that route.

Being outspoken in your opinions can help you be perceived as confident — or arrogant. Sending a forthright email to a colleague may help you be seen as an authentic voice — or a pushy pain in the behind.

If you're determined to write offbeat blog posts, say outrageous things and post far-from-ordinary tweets, always ask yourself if you think your boss would be OK with what you've said or written, Levit says. If not, you may want to rethink whether your ideas or comments are worth being fired or losing a desirable job now or in the future.

Levit tells a story of a letter she received from a man who was haunted by something he wrote years ago in college that showed him to be less than tolerant of other lifestyles.

He told Levit that the online posting still affects his ability to get a job because employers can easily find the controversial post in an online search.

While the man no longer has the same viewpoints he did in college, he told Levit he can't get away from the long-ago controversy.

That's a lesson that underscores the need to stick to old-fashioned hard work in gaining a good reputation, she says, instead of thinking that spouting off on Twitter can gain you attention faster.

What happens if you do choose a controversial road and come to regret it?

"If whatever you've done comes up as one of the first three things about you on a Google search, then you've got to proactively address it," she says. "You have to own up to it and admit what you did was wrong."

The best approach: Continually add to thoughtful discussions about your industry so your personal brand is one that companies would like to bring on board.

Do you think controversy works in helping your career?


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