How to become a leader / How to get the job

How to ruin your career in under 3 minutes

Last Sunday, armed with nothing more than a webcam, a pushup bra, and two minutes fifty-two seconds of too much free time, UCLA student Alexandra Wallace committed professional suicide. She went on YouTube and posted a racist video attacking the “hordes of Asian people” in the library who bother her by using their cellphones to check on family members impacted by “the tsunami thing” while she’s trying to study.

She quickly took down the video, but not before it had been reposted by others and gone viral. By now, it’s been seen by millions. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block condemned her statements in his own video. Other response videos followed. I like this hip hop remix, which takes the sting out of the original. Alexandra has since apologized but her reputation is dead. Her actions of last Sunday will live online forever.

Don’t be Alexandra Wallace

Not one of you would ever consider doing anything this this disrespectful or just plain stupid. Still, I have noticed some of you posting status updates on Facebook, Renren and SINA and other social media which give me pause.

Assume that any single thing you post online could be the one thing that your employer of choice will see when deciding whether to interview you.

By now you’ve heard all the advice to avoid posting drunken photos of yourself at frat parties. Doesn’t impact you since most of you don’t hang out at frat parties getting wasted. But your list of social-media strategy “don’ts” should go way beyond that.

Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want an employer to see

I’m familiar with a colleague of yours, a Chinese student I’ll call Alexander, who wants to be an investment banker. Recently, he posted this status update on Facebook:

“Shit, I just FLUNKED my finance exam!!!!!”

Alexander: Really? Now you might be saying that you’ve tightened down your privacy settings so that only your Facebook friends see your status updates, and that you never add employers as Facebook friends. But I’m a recruiter. Why’d you add me?

Besides, given how often Facebook goes around changing its privacy policies, does anyone really know what their privacy settings are and what they actually mean?

Let’s give Alexander the benefit of the doubt and assume that (other than me), he only adds non-employers as Facebook friends. And that he totally trusts all of them not to tell any employers what he’s saying on Facebook.

He’s still got a problem.

Everything you post online is being read by your professional network

As I’ve blogged earlier, 80% of jobs that people successfully get are not from recruiters like me, or from their closest friends and family, but from “weak ties,” as in, their acquaintances. In other words, your professional network is composed of your Facebook friends, your Renren friends, your SINA friends, your Twitter followers, etc.

So if you’re Alexander, and you’re hoping that people in your network will refer you to awesome i-banking internships offered by people in their networks, should you really be broadcasting that you’ve just flunked your finance exam?

Keep it positive

Think about all the qualities that, if you were an employer, you’d want in an employee. To start with, someone who with a positive outlook, who gets things done, who doesn’t flunk at her job, and who doesn’t sit around in the lunchroom complaining about her life.

With that in mind, use your online presence to your advantage and do not let it hinder your job search.

So if you’ve just flunked an exam, or you’re feeling depressed, or you’re mad at your girlfriend, pick up the phone and call a friend.

Assume that any single thing you post online could be the one thing that your employer of choice will see when deciding whether to interview you.

Time to go back and scrub your Facebook profile?

Hey Alexander: You listening? Time to get busy.

For the rest of you:  Don’t be Alexandra Wallace, but don’t be Alexander either.

Your online presence is your image.

Southern California Networking Opportunity: My good friend Dennis Lee, President of the Hong Kong Association of Southern California (HKASC), has graciously invited all of you to their Orange County Spring Networking Mixer. HKASC is a 600-member organization composed of companies who do business between the United States and China. March 24 in Irvine at 6:00p. $15 for students. Details and registration here.


I welcome your comments, in Chinese or English, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.