Transitions: blogging while on the job market

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgWhile many of you are thinking about issues related to blogging and interviewing, let's take this opportunity to have a more constructive conversation on benefits and pitfalls of blogging while on the job market. Warning: I want the discussion in this thread to be focused on a wide range of experiences, questions, and generalities, and if I see it disintegrating into more rehashing of the specific case a few posts below, I'm going to exercise my moderation super-powers.

Let's say you've got a blog. Maybe its focused on your science, maybe it's more a journal of your life as a scienitst (or engineer, etc.) At first blush, your job application and interview experiences seems like natural blog fodder. It's a major on-going part of your life for months, you're probably slightly obsessed with it, and you could definitely benefit from the wisdom of those who have gone before. But, whether you are pseudonymous or real-name, you're probably concerned about how a potential employer will interpret your writing. Is there a way to blog your job search experiences without jeopardizing your career prospects themselves?

Maybe. Certainly plenty of us, including both Alice and myself, blogged while on the market, even blogged about interviews, and still got great jobs. Did we all just get lucky? Or is there a way to minimize the risks?

Having given this some thought, both in the distant past and more recently, here's what I've come up with. While I generally like to keep things on a positive spin, this mostly ended up as a list of "don'ts."

  • Consider whether your primary objective is to get a job or to let your job search experiences be a lesson for others. For most of us, I'd wager it's the first.
  • Consider your audience. Here at Sb we've got relatively big microphones and there's a far better chance that our blogging will be discovered than in some little blogrolled corner of the sphere. BUT the search committee chair doesn't need to be a regular reader of your blog for news to make it back to him or her. It could be a student in the department, another faculty member, or some random person off the internet. Some people take delight in solving the "mysteries" provided by bloggers, and what you write has a potentially infinite audience. So follow the #1 all-time rule for blogging: Do your best to avoid writing anything that could have negative repercussions for your career or your personal life.
  • If you don't want it to be obvious where you are applying or where the interview is, try to give as few specifics as possible. Geography, field, departmental composition, timing, etc. all can significantly constrain the realm of possibility. Rather than writing "I'm nervous about the job talk I have to give next week in Boston," try to write something more like "I'm nervous about an upcoming talk." Either of those statements can be followed with "I'd like your tips for calming the butterflies in my stomach," but one leaves a lot less to the imagination.
  • After the interview, try not to share too many negatives of the experience, even if you don't want the job. Search committees at other jobs may get wind of the negativity and decide that it is an unfavorable reflection of your personality and not simply a result of a bad experience with a particular university. If it is really important to you to share the negative experience, and even to name names, do so in a way that casts you in the best professional light possible. I did this part way through my search, and I have no regrets.
  • It's not just the tone of your blog posts that counts, but also your comments on your blog and elsewhere in the blogosphere that can also have reprecussions. Rereading my comments in the post linked above, I probably could have taken out a damn here or there and still have gotten my point across.
  • Asking another blogger to post your questions on their blog can be a way to remove the seeking of advice from the rest of your body of writing. Again though, it's not foolproof and see rule #2. Bloggers agreeing to host such questions should consider whether they are willing to deal with any potential fall-out and consider whether someone could construe that the blogger is being disingenuous and asking their own questions in guise of a "hypothetical friend."
  • Closed forums where readership is more tightly constrained and better known seem like a safer bet for candid discussion of job searches. Form a google group with a bunch of current job searchers and maybe some veterans, and have your discussions there. It's still possible that someone could cut-and-paste something out of such a forum and forward it on to a search committee, but if you have trust in fellow forum members that should be a moot issue.
  • A single post-mortem blog post that focuses on why you chose the ultimate job and focuses on the positives of the successful employer, rather than the failings of the unsuccessful ones, should be a fairly safe way to chronicle your experience for others to learn from. And congratulate you. (But it doesn't help with the advice seeking bit.)
  • There's a lot of academic politics that deserves more open discussion so that future faculty know the way the world really works, but the professional and legal risks are just too great. Along those lines a note to grad students/post-docs in a department where a search is being conducted: Be very very careful of describing the search process or commenting on particular candidates. At least one beloved grad student blogger had negative reprecussions in her department for unflattering observations of a candidate. Don't risk turning yourself into the next cautionary tale on the internet.

    If I went on the market again, would I personally blog my search? Definitely not in the way I blogged my previous searches (too many identifying details, etc.) And as a faculty member, it's traditional to keep any search activities under the radar from colleagues, so I probably wouldn't risk blogging it at all until everything said and done. I'd seek advice from people individual over email and in closed forums with known members.

    Now it's your turn. Have you blogged a job search? What did you learn from the process? Any advice for bloggers soon to be or currently on the market? Is there a way to use your blog to help you search, while minimizing the risks?

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While it's important to not reveal too much in your blogging, it's also important not to believe everything that you read. I read too many rumor mills for my field and stressed myself out over every shred of gossip. I googled the CVs of my competitors, freaked out over their awesome achievements, and generally got myself all stressed out.

Of course, I wound up getting the job I wanted, some of my competitors turned out to be less impressive than I thought, and some people turned out to not even be on the job market. A good friend of mine gave a seminar talk during February, and so it was assumed by the rumor mill folks that he must be interviewing (especially since he was a postdoc at the time).

So don't reveal everything online, but don't believe everything you read either. Every shred of gossip that I collected said that I shouldn't have the job that I have right now, but here I am, grading a big stack of finals. (If any of my old competitors would like to switch places, contact me via a rumor mill chat board. Offer expires when the grading is done...)

Confessions of a Community College Dean is a blog with great advice about community college searches. I think you can also send him questions that are answered by the chorus of commenters that are regular readers - most of the advice is pretty good.

I only used my LJ blog when I was job hunting, and before starting the search I locked every single entry on the blog so that only good friends could read it. And almost all of them are college friends in different fields (mostly non-scientists). I also not only protected my Facebook profile from everyone not on my friend list, but I made special groups to put certain "friends" into where they couldn't see anything sensitive. In other words, I was really paranoid about it.

Since then I've started a blog, and someday in the future I imagine I might go on the market again. (I love my job but my long-term plans are a bit unsure.) I'd probably reveal that I'm doing a search, and my blog reveals my field of study (and someone who was trying hard could figure out who I am - I'm only sort of pseudonymous), but I'd never share details. The most someone would learn from my blog is what I study, my political and social interests (which are not very shocking), and maybe a few small details about my life. I think I would be willing to blog something like, "I got an interview!" or "I have to make a decision about jobs for next year! It's hard!" but no more than that.

Heck, it's bad enough that you can google my name and find an ancient website belonging to old college friends with evidence of me acting silly. (And no, they can't access it anymore to remove my name.) Oh well!

On the other side, on my blog I did reveal that my department is doing a search. I'd be willing to reveal that I have to do some work associated with the search, or that being on a search committee right after doing my own job applications is really educational and a great experience. But no more than that.

By volcanista (not verified) on 12 Dec 2008 #permalink

Could you not also use your blog to use your readership as a network? "Hey readers, I am entering the job market because of XYZ, and I am looking for something along the lines of ABC. If you know of a position that would be of interest, send me an email!" Chances are, your readers, not unlike acquaintances, are going to know more about the tone of job openings in their organization than the advertisement and search committee suggests.

I see there is such a thing as Rate My Employer for Canada, but not one for the US. Honestly, I wish there was such a thing. And I wish that AWIS and similar professional organizations would make a list of Lousy Organizations for people to avoid. There are those "best places to work" lists, but I see oodles of them are rated by, basically, the HR department's official statement. Sure, a company might have an affirmative action policy and a Diversity Team and generous family leave policies--but are those opportunities offered to everyone, or to certain classes of employees? If an organization's 50% of employees, all female, work in HR/nursing/pink collar jobs, or if family leave is only made available to high-level female executives who have the wherewithal to demand such things (and are relatively few in number), then that doesn't mean much in a practical sense.

So how ARE you going to find out the dirt on a bad employer, whether the negative aspects come from discrimination or from plain old lousy work conditions? My due diligence largely comes from the number of DoL instances on the dockets, which I consider a rough index of their relative crappy-ness, in that if they were good managers they would not have these instances at all, even though they may eventually win the final judgment. Also, if their lower-level employees recently unionized at any site, that's another index of how bad the management is: It's very difficult to organize a union, people have to be ragin' angry to do it, so that's an indicator that management lets conditions deteriorate quite far before taking action. Lots of contract employees vs. permanent hires, another bad sign; can sometimes be found by scanning temp agency ads. Regulatory actions compared across the industry are another indicator.

My reasons for not blogging specific leads are entirely superstitious; I don't want to jinx myself.

Another stretegy is to blog as you go, but post-date all the entries by a year so that it publishes long after the fact.

Never put anything on the internet that you wouldn't want the entire segment of your acquaintance to know in 10, 30, 50 years time. Everything is redundant enough now on the internet that it could be archived forever. As the previous incident showed, a few telling details is all it takes for the right person to connect the dots. And whether they connect it now or in 10 years, it could be the same level of blowback.

Very good advice ... I agree with all of it. I think it's possible to blog about "personal" stuff w/out actually being personal. Like you said, generalize it and emphasize the positives rather than the negatives. And when lessons learned are shared in a general way, they are potentially more valuable to a bigger/broader audience.

I've chosen the "blog when it's over" approach because I am in a very small field. So few places are hiring this year that people will be likely to guess where a place is if I say anything. I'd rather not tip my hand as to who else is interested in me (or not). Anything I would feel safe saying would be so very vague as to be uninteresting.

I never miss a good chance to shut up. There are some things about which I will not blog. Ongoing litigation is one of them. A job search is another.

By WilliamtheCoroner (not verified) on 22 Jan 2009 #permalink