5 Tips to Avoid Job-Jeopardizing Online Blunders

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I still remember when my old boss friended me on Facebook. I hesitated to accept but worried that declining might offend her.

After deliberating for half a week, I friended her but established privacy settings to prevent her from seeing every update I made. According to Robert Half International, I did the right thing – but many employees don’t.

The 63-year-old specialized staffing firm recently polled 650 HR managers about the negative effects of online blunders that employees make via social media sites like Facebook, professional networking sites like LinkedIn, and even email.

Every HR manager was asked this key question:

“To what extent, if any, can technology etiquette breaches – for example, sending e-mail messages to unintended recipients, checking e-mail on a BlackBerry during meetings, etc. – adversely affect a person’s career prospects?”

A whopping 76 percent said “greatly” or “somewhat.”

“Etiquette breaches, such as paying more attention to your smartphone than the people you’re meeting with, can make others feel less important and cause you to miss information,” said Brett Good, a president at RHI. “Other mistakes, such as sending a confidential e-mail to the wrong person or impulsively posting an offensive comment on Facebook or Twitter, can have more serious, career-impacting consequences.”

To help employees avoid making them, RHI grouped these e-mistakes into five types of “technology etiquette breachers” and offered this advice to each:

  1. The Venter. This indiscreet individual never misses an opportunity to document a bad work situation. Job-related gripes and groans get splashed across Facebook, Twitter and her personal blog. E-mail, too, takes a decidedly negative tone. Advice: Look on the bright side. To avoid this label, keep the information that you post positive. Sticky or unpleasant situations are best discussed offline and in private.
  2. The Noise Polluter. This person’s phone seems to lack a silent mode or an off button. Whether in a meeting or at a colleague’s desk, he freely takes and makes calls, oblivious to his surroundings. Between noisy ring tones and loud public broadcasts of personal conversations, it’s impossible to concentrate when he’s nearby. Advice: To keep office noise at a minimum, set your phone to silent mode at the office, and hold personal conversations behind closed doors.
  3. The Cryptic Communicator. This person relies on texting shorthand for every type of correspondence. Odd or informal abbreviations, poor punctuation, and spelling and grammatical goofs leave people shaking their heads – and pleading for clarification. Advice: Slow down, and take it easy on the abbreviations. Spending a little more time on your communications can make them easier to decipher.
  4. The Pop-Up Artist. While you’re trying to complete assignments, this chat fanatic insists on sending you a flurry of instant messages. Throughout the day, you’re subjected to the pings and pops of incoming IMs: RUTHERE? CYE [check your e-mail]! Advice: IMs are fine for quick volleys of conversations, but don’t go overboard. And don’t expect that everyone will want to “chat” with you. For many, e-mail is immediate enough.
  5. The Conference Call Con. This multitasker pretends to pay attention during teleconferences but is so busy checking e-mail he has no clue what’s being discussed. It’s not an unusual problem: 45 percent of executives confessed to frequently doing other things while in these meetings, according to another Robert Half survey. Advice: Although we all multitask from time to time, pay attention to relevant conversations when on conference calls. It can help to turn away from your monitor so you’re not distracted by e-mail.

If you’re still worried about losing your job over an online gaffe, you may also want to check out RHI’s new book, Business Etiquette: The New Rules in a Digital Age – it’s a free download.

If online gaffes have already cost you your job – or if you’re currently job-searching for any other reason – be sure to check out How Not to Land a Job: 18 Interview No-Nos.

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