5 lessons for job seekers from the Israel Folau situation
For those of you who don’t know, Israel Folau is an Aussie rugby player who has been sacked for some things he posted on social media. There’s obviously a bit more to it than that, but for the purpose of this exercise let’s not go into the details here, and just keep it that simple.
The takeouts though are pretty clear. And here goes:
1. Talent isn’t everything
He is one of the most talented rugby players in Australia, but he got the sack anyway. Not because he didn’t do the main part of his job properly, but because of something else he did. Talent isn’t everything. I’ve written about this before because it’s actually good news if you’re not the most talented person on the planet. You can still get a job. The flipside, of course, is if you are one of the most talented people on the planet, you can still lose your job. Or maybe not get the job in the first place. It’s an important lesson.
2. Keep it about work
Especially when you’re starting out, just shut up. Seriously. If it’s to do with work, talk about it. If you’re asked a question, answer it. But only if it’s to do with work. If you think there’s even a 1% chance your personal opinions on tricky subjects (think politics, religion etc) may be even 1% different to someone else, then just shut up. Don’t go there. Just take a pass. Say “Oh man, that’s a can of worms I’d rather just stick to talking about work” and move on. Trust me, it’s much safer that way.
3. Know when and when not to speak
If you’re at a meeting or a networking event, refer to Lesson 2. Shut up about tricky stuff. If you’re going for a job as a shock jock on radio, then maybe you can let loose and go for it. For every other job, shut up.
I was at a networking event at my old school this week, and two of the kids expressed very controversial views about politics and gender equality. I will never, ever hire either of those people. Ever. In a million years. Even if they’re amazing at what they do. They should have just shut up. If that’s discrimination, sue me. Actually, please don’t. But the cultural fit is critical in my company, and those people wouldn’t have fit. (NOTE: If I’d hired them, they’d proved themselves, and then I found out they believed some of these things, I wouldn’t have fired them, but saying stuff about tricky things before you’ve got the job, before you’ve proven yourself, can put a barrier between where you are now, and where you want to be. So don’t do it.)
4. Know your organisations social media policy
If you do manage to land a job, be super, extra, ultra clear on what their social media policy is. Then stick to it.
Even if you’re the most junior, you still represent the brand of the company you work for. Find out if they have any rules about social media. Can you post pics of you partying? Can you post stuff that could be considered discriminatory? Find out before you break a rule you don’t even know about.
Although a word of caution, don’t ask “Hey is it OK if I post stuff about…” and launch with a controversial subject. Refer to Lesson 2. Just ask what the rules are. The last thing you want to do is bust your butt to get a job, and then lose it cause you did the wrong thing without even knowing it. And if when you’re posting you have even a little bit f doubt as to whether or not it’s within the rules, just don’t do it.
5. Cleanse your social media
If you’ve already posted anything at all that a potential employer could see if they Facebook-stalk you, take it down. Hide it. Delete it. Even deactivate your entire account for a while. People like me totally do this when we’re looking at candidates.
And actually, even as a senior freelance creative, I’ve deactivated my own account when I’ve been pitching for big projects in case the client looks me up on social media. Don’t get me wrong, my social media is literally 100% full of stuff that is likely to offend someone somewhere and mostly I’m fine with whatever price I might pay for that, but from time to time even I censor myself. And I’m one of the most loud mouthed, opinionated people on the planet. So if I can do it, so can you.
Please know, I’m a fan of freedom of speech. So this isn’t about that. Like Folau, you’re totally able to say whatever you want about whatever subject you want. Just don’t kid yourself that at times there aren’t consequences.
If what I’m saying sounds Draconian or old fashioned or unfair or like I’m not OK with people expressing their opinions, then you’re missing the point. This isn’t about what you or I believe is or isn’t OK, it’s just how the world works. You can fight to change it. Or you can know the rules and play the game. It’s totally up to you.
If it’s something you feel strongly about, then go your hardest. Just know that sometimes your opinions can hold you back. So decide just how much you want to express those opinions, and if there’s maybe a better time and place to do it.
(By the way, me not giving my own personal opinion on the Israel Folau situation here is a great example of choosing your time and place! Totally not interested in opening that can of worms today.)