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Online Etiquette - Don’t Sabotage Your Career (or Your Spouse’s)

When it comes to your career – your current one or the one you hope to have in the future – few things can be as helpful as social media. That’s the good news. The bad news? When it comes to that current or future career, few things can be as damaging as social media used unwisely.

Okay, back to the good news. You can make sure things stay in the “helpful” category by following one simple rule: never (or never again) say negative, whiny, snarky things about anyone in any online space.

Being critical of others in an online setting (think LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, a community or base social media site) is guaranteed to do more damage to you and your professional reputation than it will do to the person you’re criticizing. It makes everyone who reads your comments doubt your judgment and maturity, it leaves the impression that you’re a critical, negative person (who no one will want to work with), and in case those two damage factors aren’t bad enough, your comments never go away. (Remember that even if, as a military spouse, you’re not currently working, you can still be laying the foundation for your future career.)

Since one of your goals when creating your career options is to build a strong, positive professional reputation (your professional “brand’), you want to make sure that you’re not demonstrating the exact opposite through your online comments. It’s long been a management best practice that you praise in public and criticize (if necessary) in private. It’s exactly the same with your online communications: social media sites are public environments, and you want to be sure to treat them as such. One, it’s the right thing to do, and two, this will keep potential hiring managers from seeing any sarcastic, snide, or similarly embarrassing comments you might have otherwise made in the heat of the moment.

Here are some basic online etiquette resolutions to make right now:

  • Never criticize online any person by name (or obvious identifiers); it makes you look petty, and gives the impression that you’re a bully (which of course we hope you’re not).
  • Never criticize online any organization with which you or your spouse is affiliated (for example, as an employee, former employee, or, obviously, a military spouse); this will pretty much kill any chance you have of getting positive references from them, and future potential employers will shy away from hiring individuals who vent their anger online.
  • Avoid “flame wars,” the online version of road rage; when someone’s using confrontational language online, disengage and let them make idiots of themselves all by themselves. Protecting your online reputation is way more important than winning an argument or having the last word.
  • Remember when your mom used to say “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?” Amazing how smart she turned out to be! Channel your inner mom and keep your online posts to information or comments that are useful, helpful, supportive, and/or positive.

When in doubt about an online post you’re about to make, ask yourself this question: Will this comment demonstrate to others how mature, professional, and smart I am (for years to come)? If not, you probably want to back away from that keyboard.

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