On January 14, 2014, a Twitter user by the name of DJ PU$$ PU$$ made a critical error in judgment. While completing her application for admission to the HBA program at the Ivey Business School, she tweeted: “this ivey application makes me want to projectile vomit into the head of admission’s mouth”.

Of course, the tweet came to the attention of the folks at Ivey, who immediately responded: “Duly noted.” The following day, Ivey issued a caution to other potential applicants, as follows: “To all our AEO applicants: think before you tweet! Remember that your social media profile is a part of your reputation! #besmart”.

When reading about this situation, my mind immediately turned to the similarities between applying to school and applying for a job, and to the lessons that all employees can learn from this unfortunate mistake:

  1. Be strategic when establishing an online identity, and update your identity at critical points in your life. While there may very well have been a time and a place for a Twitter name like DJ PU$$ PU$$ (or, perhaps, an e-mail address like hotpants75@hotmail.com), that time is not when applying for a new opportunity (business or academic) and that place is not anywhere in the public domain. It is important to consider your actual audience and your potential audience, to ensure that you maintain control of how people develop their first impression of you.
  2. Think before you speak…or tweet. You will lose control of the information that you post in public places online as soon as you hit ‘Enter’. For example, DJ PU$$ PU$$ appears to have deleted her Twitter account, or at least changed her name, but her comments are now circulating widely across the internet. Similarly, your comments may eventually reach a broader audience than that for which they were originally intended (including potential employers and educational institutions), which may influence your future success.
  3. Control your privacy settings. If you can’t live without your online alter-ego, or if you can’t help yourself from making inappropriate comments from time-to-time, adjust your privacy settings so that only those who know you can access that information. Think of sharing information as a triangle: only allow people who have just met you to access basic information about you, increasing their access to information about you as you become more familiar with them.
  4. Understand that potential employers will use the internet to gather information about you. In 2014, this should not be a surprise. You should not expect an employer to develop an opinion about you solely on the basis of the information you have chosen to share with them. When conducting their due diligence, employers will (and are legally entitled to) consider any publicly available information about you, provided that it does not lead to human rights discrimination in the decision-making process.

By observing these few lessons, employees can avoid situations where we receive reminders from potential employers about our past conduct online. And remember: if a job application makes you feel ill, excuse yourself from your computer. #besmart