I Just Work Here
March 11, 2012
A professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management has coined a new term that I believe will soon be on the lips of employees in every workplace in America.
The term is "enclothed cognition," and it suggests that what you wear can influence your behavior, putting a new spin on the concept of dressing for success.
Adam Galinsky, a professor of ethics and decision in management, studied a group of people wearing lab coats. In a pre-test, the subjects said they associated a lab coat with attentiveness and carefulness, attributes that a doctor or scientist would have. Lo and behold, testing found that those who wore the lab coats showed an increased attention span.
Another group wore a similar coat but were told it was a painter's robe. That group showed no increase in attention span. (I'd apologize to painters, but they probably got distracted several sentences ago.)
In his study, Galinsky asks: "Does wearing the robe of a priest or judge make people more ethical? Does putting on an expensive suit make people feel more powerful? Does putting on the uniform of a firefighter or police officer make people act more courageously?"
Let's assume the answer is "yes." And that's how I'll explain it to human resources when I start showing up to work dressed as a wizard: "It enhances my ability to cast levitation spells on my supervisors!"
Of course photos of me dressed as a wizard would likely wind up on the Internet. And then I'd have "a Google problem."
Which leads me to the point of this column. A reader recently emailed because the results are less than flattering when she Googles her name. There are two people of the same name who come up high in the results, one a potty-mouthed blogger and the other a person who has been accused of wrongdoing in a field of work similar to the reader's.
"What to do?" she wrote.
While facing a rather unfortunate set of circumstances, this person is by no means alone in having Google anxiety. It's very likely that anyone seeking employment will wind up getting her or his name run through the Google machine, regardless of the legality of such random searches. And it's just as likely that a boss or co-worker could do a quick scan of your Internet profile and uncover something incriminating.
We all have two sides — one human, one virtual – both of which can get us in trouble.
Dan Bauer is managing director and founder of The MBA Exchange, an admissions and career consulting company that provides, among other things, "social media audits." He said about one-fourth of his company's clients wind up having something on the Internet that raises a red flag.
"And those are people who didn't point that out to us before they started," Bauer said. "They weren't even aware a problem existed."
He said cases in which a person shares a name with someone who has been up to no good are less common but do occur: "We've found some that share the same name as a convicted murderer and others with other legal entanglements. It does happen, and you never know when some case in a distant state that you've never read about might start impacting you."
To directly answer the reader's question, I think it's unlikely any reputable company would bonk a qualified candidate over suspect Internet content without being certain that the subject of the content is, in fact, the candidate. And if you're concerned about that happening, bring it up in an interview and say, "Hey, just in case you Google me, I wanted to give you a heads up ..."
More broadly, there are a number of ways to remedy online problems and prevent future issues.
Bauer's first suggestion is to set up a Google alert for your name (just type "Google alert" into Google to find out how to do this). You'll get an email any time your name comes up online — this allows you to stay on top of anything being said or written about you, or anyone with your name.
The next step is to make a habit of using a middle initial or a location in your online profiles — those details differentiate you from others with the same name. To provide further evidence of your identity, Bauer said it's good to have a photo on your social media profiles, preferably something professional and not that one of you hiking the ganja fields of Jamaica.
If you've written anything inflammatory or posted dodgy photos on your sites, scrub those clean. That doesn't mean it's gone for good, as someone else might have shared it, but it's an important step.
And if you've got negative information on somebody else's website?
"If you have an idea of who posted it, you'd want to encourage them to drop it," Bauer said. "If it's a site that has some past comments that would probably not look good and you can't get them off, putting positive comments on that site would at least push the negative comments down."
Be thorough. Bauer noted that even music playlists can have off-putting titles.
Lindy Kyzer, a social media expert and an editor at ClearanceJobs.com, a site for people with federal security clearance, said that while it's wise to monitor and manage your Internet profile, she thinks it's easy to get "overly paranoid."
"I wouldn't lose sleep or think you're going to lose a job because of someone who shares your name or because of something minor you did in the past," she said. "You want to stay on top of it. But I'd much rather see a job seeker spending time actually improving their skills rather than improving their brand."
She noted the evolving crossover between work and personal time: "Employers did it first by starting to issue people BlackBerries. We've had work encroachment on our personal lives for a long time. And now we have our personal lives encroaching on our work lives through these different Internet sites. Everybody makes mistakes online. We kind of learn and evolve as we go."
And that's how I'll explain the pictures of me in my "sexy wizard" costume: "Oh, that? That was back in my enclothed cognition phase. Nothing to worry about. I was just trying to turn my manager into a newt."
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