Gone are the days of getting office gossip around the water cooler. Modern workplaces have many more avenues of communication—and more ways for employees to mess up. Failure to maintain proper workplace etiquette has left many workers and job searchers red-faced—and cost a few their jobs.
So what can you, a graduate on the hunt for your first job (or the one after that), do to make sure you know what you're doing when it comes to emails, texts, and social media? Follow our six easy-to-remember rules.
Rule 1: The internet is forever (a.k.a. the public/private paradox)
Almost everyone has a social media presence, and it's expected by now that employers will peek at your Facebook and Twitter feeds - after all, you put them out there, and it's a great way to get a feel for potential employees. As a result, you are probably aware that you should either keep your profiles private, or make sure what you share shows you in your best light.
But the public/private paradox goes much further than that. Remember this: the internet is forever. Once something is online, you can't take it back.
There is no such thing as a secret on the web—WikiLeaks and the Sony hack are prime examples. And it isn't only major corporations that need to worry about private data going public. The truth is, you never know what someone is going to do with the information you give them. Your private emails, Twitter DMs, Facebook chats or text messages could all end up screenshotted and posted publicly—so when it comes to workplace correspondence, remember it's not necessarily private.
This works both ways. If a co-worker shares something private with you, even over casual chat, keep it to yourself. You don't want to be that guy (or girl).
Rule 2. Keep it professional (a.k.a. small talk over text)
In these modern times of ours, interviews and pre-interview phone calls are often arranged over email or via messaging services like Google Chat or Skype. The rule to remember is that you are speaking to a prospective employer, not a friend, and to keep it professional. This is still small talk, even if it occurs via text.
Which brings us to our next point…
Rule 3. If you wouldn't say it to their face, don't say it at all.
The computer or smartphone screen has the strange effect of making people braver than they are in real life. When it comes to the workplace, the rule is: don't say anything over a messaging platform or social media that you wouldn't be prepared to say in real life. In front of the boss.
There are a few applications for this rule. Firstly, and most importantly, don't ever slate a co-worker (including your boss), an interviewer or a company online. It's not going to end well, even if you don't name names, and you will look childish. People have lost their jobs doing this. Seriously. Don't do it.
Secondly, keep in mind that offices are not very different from playgrounds: word spreads. You don't want to end up the office gossip—or the subject of it! So keep it to yourself.
Rule 4. Respect the confidentiality clauses
Many companies like to keep a soviet-style silence around what they are doing for fear of competitors gaining an edge. Chatting in a public sphere such as Twitter or Facebook about a new project, product or business deal can land you in hot water very quickly. Even a seemingly innocuous workplace selfie posted to Instagram can break a lot of confidentiality rules. If in doubt, consult the company's policy regarding social media and sharing.
Remember, better safe than unemployed!
Rule 6. Be yourself, not a number! (a.k.a. the employee #6079 rule)
By now, you may be thinking that the ideal employee sounds an awful like the GraduateBot 2000—an android devoid of the risk of human error. But the truth is, employers are going to be working with you for a minimum of 40 hours per week, and they want someone they get on with. So don't be afraid to show let your personality shine in correspondence and on your social media feeds - just keep rules one to five in mind, okay?