Sometime ago, I linked to a recent warning, issued by a pseudonymous Ivan Tribble, to young academics about the perils of blogging, particularly if they are looking for jobs. Several academics have given a fitting reply, pointing out, rightly, that this piece reveals more about the author and his/her obnoxious colleagues than about the bloggers.
Nevertheless, we have to thank Tribble for articulating certain paranoid -- but all too common -- beliefs among recruiters. He talks about at least two such beliefs; I just want to argue that neither of them is unique to academics.
First, during your job search, you try to create a certain image: you know, ..., an image that exudes competence, professionalism, sincerity, likability, and the like. In a blog, sometimes, you tend to just be, well, yourself, not some carefully created image; Tribble warns that your online self, as revealed through your blog, may actually work against you in your job search. So, you'd better leave your conversation with your therapist out of your blog ... ;-)
All this is not new, and nor is it unique to academics; personal interviews, group discussions, and plant visits are meant for this sort of 'assessment about the person', and are routinely used in all industries. Now, recruiters have one more option: your blogs.
The second fear of the recruiter, also explicitly stated by Tribble, is a variation of the first. It is that the blogger may gossip about -- or, rat on -- his/her colleagues and associates. What if he/she starts washing departmental dirty linen in public? Again, I don't see why this should be unique to academics, nor, actually, to blogging. If one wants to badmouth one's colleagues, it can be done in so many ways! And, departmental politics is universal; this is why Dilbert strips strike a chord in all of us -- cubicled or non-cubicled.
[One obnoxious thing about the recruiters' suspicion about the blogger's potential for 'bad behaviour' is the following: "Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum". For saying this, Tribble was, rightly, chewed out by many bloggers; Dan Drezner's response was absolutely great! ]
Now, just as saying bad things about your employer on a TV talk show is likely to get you fired, writing about your colleagues and associates in an inappropriate manner in a public forum will also get you fired. Make no mistake: blogs are a public forum! Your intention to keep your blog private does not make it so; Google will find it, and out it!
There are many examples: a new recruit was fired -- within a month of joining Google -- for writing about his workplace. Several months ago, an adjunct faculty at SMU was fired because her anonymous blog, in which she wrote a lot of unpleasant things about her students and colleagues, somehow got outed. So, anonymity is of no help! The most recent example is that of a journalism professor who was fired for writing some pretty inappropriate things about one of his student in his blog. Another recent example is that of a nanny being fired for things that she had on her blog. Out of these four examples, two have nothing to do with academics.
So, here is the bottomline:
(a) Don't volunteer any information on your blog that you wouldn't in a personal interview; this information may be held against you!
(b) If you knew the room is bugged, you wouldn't say vile things about your colleagues in a conversation in that room, would you? A blog is like a room that is swarming with snoopy bugs.