"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Abby's got a point

For years during my formative youth, I would read the Dear Abby advice column from time to time in the newspaper. Never a "regular" reader, I always took her comments with the same grain of salt as one would take opinion from say, a nosy neighbor or dotty but well-meaning aunt, and I frequently made fun of whatever wisdom she doled out. But every once in a while I thought her pithy common-sense advice to some of life's problems, both major and minor, was dead on the mark. Whether one agreed with her commentary or not, she (real name: Pauline Phillips) and her estranged twin sister known as "Ann Landers" were American icons who practically invented, and certainly popularized, the syndicated advice-column format.

Since her daughter Jeanne Phillips officially took over the "Abigail Van Buren" moniker (Pauline suffers from Alzheimers and stopped writing Dear Abby sometime in the 90's), I've been less impressed with the column. The new "Abby" seems to lack some of the empathy and sincerity her mother often displayed, and her replies frequently seem to me to be condescending in tone. What hasn't changed, however, are the occasionally touching and eloquent questions and other remarks sent in by her readers. There's one letter in particular that I plan to reference soon in a future post, but I came across another gem today in the Sunday paper and thought it was worth mentioning. Considering how popular blogs have become among the general public, it raises an interesting point that, as "Abby" points out, I hadn't previously thought much about.
DEAR ABBY: Please warn your readers that their Web pages and blogs could stand in the way of securing a job! Just as employers have learned to read e-mail and blogs, they have learned to screen candidates through their sites. Many people in their 20s and 30s wrongly believe their creations are entertaining and informative. Employers are not seeking political activists, evangelizers, whiners or tattletales. They do not want to find themselves facing a lawsuit or on the front page of a newspaper because a client, patient or parent of a student discovered a comment written by an employee.

The job market is tight, and job seekers must remember their computer skills can either help them land a position or destroy a job prospect. -- CHICAGO EMPLOYER

DEAR EMPLOYER: You have opened up a line of thought I'll bet a lot of job applicants -- and future job applicants -- have never considered. Googling a name isn't difficult, and it could lead to an applicant's blog. Most bloggers write to be read, and invite people to comment. Thank you for the reminder that those who blog should remember that they are open to public scrutiny, and that if they apply for a job, everything about them will be considered -- including their blog. Prospective employers are certainly within their rights to make decisions based upon what they read.
This is not unprecedented. To mention but two recent examples, a Mansfield, Texas elementary school teacher was forced to resign after school officials found her blog chronicling sexual exploits and containing disparaging remarks about her students (see story here). And, at Boston University, a journalism teacher lost his job after making lewd comments about his female students in his blog.

Of course, one obvious thing not mentioned is that the vast majority of people don't blog under their real names, so unless you specifically give someone your web site address (or you're "outed" by a jealous ex-spouse, as was the case with the elementary teacher mentioned above) it's not a given that they're going to stumble across your page should they happen to Google you as part of a job screen. Which in my case is probably a Good Thing: perish the thought that any potential future employer of mine should happen to be a conservative, right-wingnut, Bible-thumping, Republican Bushbot. But if you're reading this, Boss (whoever you may be), I'm only kidding. Ha ha! Really, just ask Abby.

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