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Cleaning up your online profile

By Tony Vitalie

When I first started testing in the fire service, not all that long ago, there was no internet; e-mail was not available to the general public, there was no "Reality TV", and the only ones who had cell phones were the flamboyant people, rich enough to hire someone to carry the giant contraption around for them. My how times have changed!

Our ability to communicate and put ourselves out there for all to hear and see is no longer limited to the famous. Today, everyone has a voice and a very large audience. Everyone has a soap box and they don't seem at all shy or afraid to use it. Thanks to technology, mainly social networking sites, we're all celebrities in our own little online world. Our 15- minutes of fame just got bumped up to a whole half hour. What you choose to do with that time slot is the question, and will that choice hurt you, or help you in your career endeavors?

Social networking sites have taken over people's lives and given the average person the ability to reach out to more people, more often. We feel a certain amount of anonymity when we are at home, behind our computer screens, but the reality is just the opposite. This illusion of anonymity makes us bolder, more brazen and less inhibited.

I have had the opportunity to view many online profiles. It seems some people have a hard time having a bowel movement without feeling the need to tell the world about it. This can be a recipe for disaster to the Firefighter candidate who is trying to prove himself as a mature, responsible and dependable future Firefighter.

For the aspiring firefighter candidate, please know that the more you use such mediums and increase your exposure; the microscope that is used to determine your fit for the job and evaluate your character becomes much more powerful. The ways in which candidates can find themselves on the black list can increase as their online social network exposure increases. The fire service can afford to be very selective and that's how it should be.

So, before you post something on your "personal" page or someone else's, I recommend asking yourself this, "Would I want the Fire Chief who's going to be interviewing me to see this or read this"? My advice is play it safe, always exercise good judgment, and keep your private life private. The old rule of thumb used to be simple, "When in doubt, shut your mouth." This rule now has an amendment to it, "When in doubt, shut your mouth and keep it off your profile and off the internet."

Now, more than ever, the fire service is looking for people who will represent their department and their profession in the best possible way through all social mediums. Too many scandals, too many law suits and too much bad publicity has plagued our profession in recent years. I guarantee you that this is of utmost importance to any Chief or organization, and it is not uncommon for them to do a little online research of their own. Chiefs also have their own rule of thumb when selecting candidates, "When in doubt, move down the list to the next candidate."

When I posted this warning on FireRecruit's Facebook page, I got a few people who expressed anger at this invasion of privacy and one candidate even mentioned that it was "his first amendment right." He is right. It is his right to post whatever he wants… and it is the departments right to not choose him for the job. So always exercise your first amendment right wisely. Let someone else be the one that got passed over because they posted pictures of his buddy's bachelor party on Facebook, or expressed how much they love to party and drink. This applies not only to candidates, but to Firefighters as well. Recently, a Firefighter was fired for creating and publicly posting an animated video that his department viewed as inappropriate. Exercising discretion and maintaining a clean profile and online life will help you not only get the job, but help you keep the job, while maintaining respect and credibility within your department and fire service world — and ultimately help you to make the most of your career.

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