Why Your Reputation Matters

I am sure that many of you have already heard about the Duke freshman porn star scandal. If not, here is what happened in a nutshell: A Duke University freshman student was outted as porn star Belle Knox by a fellow student and then a media spectacle ensued.

I won’t get into the details of the scandal nor do I want to pass any judgment on the Duke freshman in question—all I am going to say is that I find it sad that she has effectively closed the door on so many great career opportunities by choosing to act in adult films.

And that brings me to the main point of this post: your reputation matters. When you are building your career, you are simultaneously building your own personal brand. You are building a reputation as a smart, qualified, and capable professional. And that personal brand can easily be wrecked with one bad move in your private life. Fairly or unfairly, the kind of person you are outside of work reflects on the person you are at work. You could be the greatest {insert your professional title here} ever, and yet, the fact that you spend your weekends getting trashed at clubs or used to have a drug habit in college could easily negate that.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you can fully separate your personal and work lives. But in this day and age of the Internet and 24/7 social media, you simply cannot. Employers are using social media profiles to vet out candidates, more and more personal information is available via the Internet, and the line between work and real life continues to become fuzzier and fuzzier.

It is becoming increasingly clear that making bad decisions off the clock can often affect how you are perceived at work. Just because your supervisor is not there at the bar to see you get drunk and rowdy doesn’t mean that (a) he/she will never see the photographic evidence of it on one or more social media profiles, or (b) he/she won’t hear about it through the grapevine when your coworker runs into you at said bar.

People talk. It is the way things are. So the best way to avoid being a topic of discussion is to make good choices. It’s fine to be silly, make mistakes, and loosen up. But keep in mind that you never want to make a decision that will haunt you for years to come. As my mother puts it when she’s encouraging me to eat healthier: prevention is ALWAYS better than a cure.

Second, keep private things private (at least as much as you can). Use social media privacy settings to your advantage—don’t leave your profiles open for the entire world. Use the lists on Facebook to keep the content your professional acquaintances see separate from the more personal photos and statuses your friends and family members do. Even if you’re not doing anything ‘wrong,’ there’s no way to know how someone will interpret what might have been an inside joke, a harmless prank, or a sarcastic status.

Outside of social media, don’t advertise private drama face-to-face either. It might be tempting to vent at work about how your ex-BFF was totally flirting with your boyfriend at the club last night, but honestly, unless your coworker is someone you trust, you need to keep that to yourself. It might seem harmless for the people you work with to know a little bit about your personal life, but don’t overshare.

The person who is in charge of whether you get your promotion does NOT need to know you’re going through a difficult break-up, or that you used to have a drinking problem 10 years ago. You want to let the quality of work speak for itself…you don’t want your personal drama overshadowing your competence.

The main point I want to drive home is that your personal life does not always stay personal. Whether it’s through office gossip, social media, or some other venue, there is always the chance that something private might become fodder for conversation at work. And so it’s important to make smart decisions while you’re off the clock, too.

You never know when something from the past will come back to haunt you. Employees represent their company’s brand and reputation. So if you have something unsavory in your background, even if it’s long ago in the past, it could sadly preclude you from some great career opportunities. Employers do not want to be dragged through the mud because one of their employees was involved in a controversial or embarrassing activity—it’s bad for their business and it makes you a liability, not an asset.

It might seem unfair but your reputation outside of work DOES matter—so lock down those social media profiles and think before you act. Remember, you want your work, your intelligence, your skills, and your competence to be front and center when your coworkers, supervisor(s), and professional contacts think about you, not anything else.

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9 thoughts on “Why Your Reputation Matters

  1. I completely agree and I think it’s something more young adults need to be taught. Growing up in a world of social media, people can sometimes forget that boundaries still exist and there are traditional employers who care about how you represent yourself even outside of the office. We’ve all seen how one negative Twitter or Facebook comment can send someone’s hard work quickly down the hole. At my current job they reminded us again and again that everything we do, whether it’s during work or not, is a representation of the company. Then, they told us horror stories of how people’s personal lives basically ruined their careers. You can still have fun and live your life to the fullest. You just need to be aware of your choices and how it may affect you and your career. If it sounds like a bad idea, it probably is.

  2. I gotta say, I’m glad to be self-employed. What a person does “off the clock” should have ZERO bearing on their employment prospects, unless it reveals a tendency toward dishonesty or thievery.

  3. Hopefully Ms. Knox isn’t working toward a legal career.
    The exposure she is currently undergoing shouldn’t be a problem if she decides on a media career; in fact, it may even help.

      • Given the passion with which she writes on the subject, perhaps Belle will end up being a legal advocate for sex workers, who are among the most vulnerable & marginalized segments of the population.

      • Perhaps. Honestly, I am not interested in getting into the details of the Belle Knox scandal (as I mentioned at the beginning of this post). I was simply using her as an example, because she’s been in the news lately, of how someone’s personal life can have a real and lasting negative impact on their career.

        As the title of this blog suggests, I am primarily focused on young professionals pursuing legal careers, as well as other more traditional career paths – and that is the audience my advice and opinions are intended for.

        Thank you for visiting the blog and sharing your thoughts.

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