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Coin of the Realm

January 7, 2013

It’s not what you say about you, but what others say about you that makes a difference.

Never has this been more true. The good news is that with the advent of social media, there are more ways then ever for people to share their opinions of you. That’s also the bad news, of course.

Karl Maeser was the first president of what later became Brigham Young University. There’s a story told about Maeser.

I have been asked what I mean by “word of honor.” I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I might be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first.

Before FICA scores and court-backed contracts, many agreements were conducted with a handshake. A person’s word was critical since often their reputation was the only thing you had to base a decision on.

Today, we have the opposite problem. You can find out nearly anything about anyone online. If I told you I’d played bass on Ren Street’s “Good Love” album, it wouldn’t take long to figure out that I was lying. Likewise, if I told you that I’d cowritten “Microsoft Exchange Connectivity Guide,” you could verify it easily.

So, if we can find out so much about each other, why would I say that a reputation is more important today than during Maeser’s day? Before Google and the ubiquitousness of information, repairing a damaged reputation was simply a matter of time and action.

There’s a story told of two brothers who in their young and foolish days stole a sheep. They were caught, and convicted. As punishment, they were forced to have the letters “ST,” for “sheep thief” branded on their forehead. (No it wasn’t in the US. It’s metaphor, just go with it.) The first brother was so devastated by the shame of it that he left his childhood home and wandered from town to town trying to hide his shame. The second brother stayed and worked to build his community. He repaid his debt and spent his life in helping and serving those less fortunate. When he was a very old man a young boy asked his father. “Why does that man have “ST” on his forehead?” His father replied, “I don’t know. I’ve never thought to ask him. But, I think it stands for “Saint.”

I once lived in a neighborhood where the neighbors were famous for helping each other and watching out for one another. After several months, I had the occasion to check the sex offenders registry. I was shocked to realize that a man who had become a good friend was on the registry. His offense had been many years before. As a result of his crimes, he would carry that designation as long as he lived.

Most of us will not need to deal with a past so damaging. But, as we live our lives online, we leave digital footprints for the world to see. Maybe it’s a facebook rant posted in a fit of frustration. Maybe it’s a photo at just the wrong time during a party. Maybe it’s a comment we make in a city council meeting. Maybe it’s an il-thought out blog post.

Virtually all employers and especially prospective employers now check online, and in my field, the IT world, not only do candidates expect employers to check online profiles, employers expect candidates to actually have online profiles.

LinkedIn is sort of like a facebook for business. They allow both recommendations and endorsements. An endorsement is someone saying that you know what you’re talking about. For example, some of the areas in which I’ve been endorsed by colleagues and team members are:

– Team Building
– Change Management
– Program Management
– Training

Recommendations are just what you would expect. It’s a short paragraph recommending people for the work they’ve done.

I no longer put “references” on my resume. I’ll provide specific names when a prospective employer wants it, but for the most part, I assume people are going to go read the recommendations on my LinkedIn page. Those are the same people I’d be pointing people to if they wanted to ask about my work.

So, why is this blog post called, “Coin of the Realm?” Because with the internet, reputation has really become the most precious commodity you have. An online reputation takes years to build and can be destroyed in a moment.

Not only will people know if we step outside Karl Maeser’s circle, people will know about it forever.

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