Bad online and cell-phone habits can hurt your career

Could bad cell-phone and online habits be damaging your ability to get a job or a promotion?

From e-mail to what the Web says about you, there are more ways to make career mistakes than ever, experts say. And in today’s persistently tight job market, there’s little room for error.

Social networking

Facebook is the biggest Achilles’ heel of many young job applicants, said job coach Jodi Schneider, who is also editor of the DC Works website. That’s because recent graduates have spent years posting party photos, never thinking that the revealing costumes, hangover comments and photos of “Medical marijuana sold here” signs could raise red flags for potential employers.

Managers will almost always search the Web to see what information they can find on a prospective job candidate, Schneider said. The postings might have been done in fun, but anything that doesn’t present a professional image could diminish your chance of getting a job.

If you’re applying for work, the first thing you need to do is scrub your Facebook page by removing profane comments and photos of you acting badly. Also, reset your privacy controls to ensure that only specific friends can see your wall, where you and others post personal messages, said Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010).

Even after you’re employed, you may need to be cautious about what you post on Facebook. Stories about people being fired because of their “I hate my job/boss/company” comments are legion. Also common—but harder to quantify—are employees who get passed over for promotions because their bosses or co-workers noticed multiple Farmville posts during work hours or were left unimpressed by the status “Calling in sick today—sick of work.”

Cell-phone sins

Another way to leave a bad first impression is to provide a cell-phone contact number that’s going to force a potential employer to listen to your favorite Eminem song or your clever “Hello? Helloooooo? I can’t hear you!” message.

Unless you’re applying for the type of job that would make an imaginative message a marketing tool (and it would be a good idea to make it more imaginative than the above examples), record an outgoing message that’s simple and to the point, at least for as long as you’re looking for work. Don’t even be flip, Schneider advised.

“When I hear ‘You know what to do,’ I do know what to do,” she said. “I hang up.”

You may think a flip recording is a silly reason to nix a job candidate, she added. But when there are dozens of qualified people applying for the same position, employers can be picky. They’re looking for the slightest reason to pick one candidate over another. Don’t provide an excuse to put your résumé at the bottom of the stack.

Also be sure to turn off your cell phone before an in-person interview, Oliver said. We’re all accustomed to multitasking, like when we respond to texts and e-mail while having lunch with friends, she said. But when the lunch is with your boss—or your prospective boss—he or she is going to be about as impressed as your grandmother was when you sat texting at her birthday dinner.

It’s best to turn off your phone so you can focus on what’s being said and not be distracted by the buzzing in your pocket.

E-mail mistakes

Schneider was about to contact a promising job candidate when she realized the person’s e-mail address spelled out “I hate Republicans.” It was a journalism position, which would require dealing with people of all parties. She tossed the résumé.

If you’re applying for a job, get an e-mail address that’s simply your name@e-mail-provider-of-your-choice. Accounts are free at major providers such as Yahoo and Google. You can keep your old address for your friends and reserve the new address for work.

E-mailing a thank-you note for an in-person interview can also be a great marketing tool, Oliver said. It gives your prospective boss an easy way to contact you and maintain a dialogue. Address the e-mail like you would a formal letter, she suggested.

If the boss responds more casually, you can follow suit. But forgo abbreviations, profanity and misspellings. In other words, keep all communication professional. Give your prospective employer every reason to believe that you’d be an asset to the team, regardless of whether you’re communicating with co-workers or clients.

When on the job, be careful about sidebar electronic conversations, Oliver said. It can be tempting to flame the boss in a private e-mail between you and your best friend/co-worker while listening in on an endless conference call from your respective offices. But it’s easy to accidentally hit the “reply to all” button, which could get you fired.

Additionally, if that friend isn’t as close to you as you think, he or she could forward the message. There’s no denying or equivocating about written communication, so e-mail only what you wouldn’t mind sharing publicly, Oliver said. If you must say something critical, walk down the hall and do it in person where you can be sure the conversation is private.

“There is so much competition for jobs that the hurdles to getting in and moving up are a lot higher,” Schneider said. “If you really want to be considered for a job or a promotion, you have to seem like a serious professional in every public aspect of your life.”

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