Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Keep it to yourself

February 23, 2001

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Despite the fact that companies are trying to become more like a family and less like a cold corporation, it is always best to remember that there are certain aspects of your life that you shouldn’t share with your co-workers or your managers. The stories you tell now may come back to haunt your career in the future.

Too much information

Over the years I have been on the receiving end of many stories I would have rather not known. These include graphic descriptions of drunken nights on the town, sexual adventures and quasi-legal activities. While you might want to share your adventures, your co-workers probably aren’t the best audience.

It is a simple truth in any industry that you are never sure who you might end up working for down the road. Today’s intern might end up running a hit new startup or you could be laid off and end up following a co-worker to a new company. The entertainment industry describes it this way -- whoever you stepped on getting the top will be kicking you all the way down when you fail.

As you can imagine, people can be reluctant to hire someone who has a history of heavy drinking or drug use, no matter how deep the friendship. Your friends could decide that it is too risky to their professional reputation to bring you into their company. They might be afraid that your actions would reflect badly on them. It is possible that you shared a bit too much information about yourself in the past.

While offering up too much information about yourself can have direct results, such as being fired, it is often the more subtle effects that can effect your career the most. Your Monday morning stories about your partying weekend might give people the opinion, no matter how wrong, that you aren’t reliable. Perhaps they might hesitate to send you on business trips or meetings with important clients in fear that your drinking might get out of hand. These opinions have no basis in the actual quality of your work, but are based on the perception that you are too much a "partier" to be trusted with certain tasks.

It is important to remember that these perceptions are often what is discussed when managers get together to discuss promotions, raises and layoffs. You want them to be relating stories of you work successes NOT the stories about your string of sexual conquests.

In some extreme cases, some co-workers might find your stories offensive. This could open you up to charges of sexual harassment. What might have been accepted in the "good-old-boy" offices of the past could land you in court in today’s highly integrated work environment.

Speak no evil

So what are you to do? Are office conversations to be restricted to work, weather and weekend ball games? I don’t think so. We often make close friends of our co-workers. These are the people to share the deeper parts of your life with, much as you would with other non-coworker friends. You need to recognize those with whom you have a deeper bond and those co-workers who are just that, co-workers.

You need not obsess about what you say, but you do need to pay attention to the perception you are building about you as a person and an employee. You can usually feel free to talk about friends, family and other typical parts of your life as long as they are not overly personal. You DO want to avoid the typical party taboos of sex, politics and religion as well as drinking, drugs and money.

One general rule is to avoid discussing anything you wouldn’t want your mother -- or your boss -- to hear. Stories get passed along very quickly within an office. You don’t want to become the office entertainment.

You would like to believe that all your co-workers are your friends and the quality of your work is the only thing that matters, but what you say and do in your personal life can and does effect the perception of those around you. If you want to keep your career moving ahead you might want to consider what perception you are creating in the minds of those around you.


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