Professionalism in college: A line you must draw in the sand

In many ways, college is a halfway point between childhood and adulthood. Everyone is here to learn, and it's ok -- almost expected -- for a college student to make mistakes a tested professional would never commit. If you go into college perfect and fully-trained to go into your given field, there is no point for you to go to college other than getting an arbitrary piece of paper validating your qualifications. 

That being said, there is also an assumed level of professionalism a college student must have. It is not uncommon for college students to find internships and entry level positions in their field during and immediately after college, and as such, the type of content that they post can affect their job prospects in the immediate future. 

To some extent, the internet is still a very new thing for employers, especially considering that there is a workforce of millennials that have their lives documented for everyone to see, going back to their childhood. It brings up some questions that weren't relevant before, such as: Should an employer hold something a candidate posted years ago as a child against their current application? In many cases, they might, depending on what the post is (i.e. it might have been 12 years ago and is in no way indicative of any behaviors in the present-day employee, but it's the first result when you Google their name). 

Turning this around, especially with writers and entertainers, anyone can also track the progress and improvements of individuals. Take any YouTuber, for instance. Chances are, if you go back to the earliest days of their channel, you will find some not-very successful attempts, where that creator was learning the format, what works and what doesn't work, as well as their style. This same principle applies in a big way for writers. People will often be able to track the novelists of the future to their early days on fanfic.net and tumblr, which can work both negatively and positively towards the creator. It just means that there's more information present than ever before, and like anyone, potential employers can see this stuff. 

A good rule of thumb is if you don't think you should post it online, or feel that you need to hide behind an anonymous account to post it, don't post it. The advent of the anon was novel at first, and boasts ultimate protection, but those accounts are only as good as the tech of the time, and the human beings that own those accounts. 

One thing every young professional should know is that there is no such thing as a private account. It's very common for people to have Fintsa ("Fake" private Instagrams), private twitters, and private Facebooks, but these accounts are often abused to post offensive remarks and inappropriate content. Snapchat is rampant with this type of content, which, while in the moment might feel riske and freeing, only serve to be professional bombs sitting behind a thinly-veiled film of privacy, that is easily broken by friending the wrong person on these accounts, or getting into a conflict with one of your private followers who can, at any moment, share your "private" content to the rest of the world. 

There are legitimate reasons for having private accounts, especially private Facebooks, which often serve as a good means to communicate highly personal matters to your immediate friends and family, who are otherwise separated by miles and miles of travel, but they should not serve as someone's diary or rant space. Remember, just because social media is a digital platform, it doesn't mean that it is not, at its basis, publishing. And that's not to say you shouldn't be afraid to write to your heart's content and try to take a stab creatively at what drives you.

Nobody is going to hold that shitty fanfic you wrote at age 14 against you if you've established yourself as a proficient author at age 30 (or at least, nobody should). Nobody should hold an opinion piece you wrote against you in which you were wrong -- people are wrong all the time -- especially if you've established yourself as a great critic (many would argue even Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were wrong at times). And there is never any shame in learning a form and actively improving off of it. Companies that hire people on the assumption that they are perfect and have never done anything wrong or had anything to learn in their lives should not be managing employees, because things go wrong in the workplace all the time. What matters is how you handle things when they go wrong (this is something too many companies and institutions do not understand --  no one will hold something that goes wrong against you unless you try to cover it up or fail to solve the issue -- crisis, from a PR standpoint, is an opportunity to earn the respect of your constituents by doing the right thing). 

Of course, with all this being said, that doesn't mean you can't have fun on social media. You are a college student, enjoy your four years here. But you have to draw a line in the sand, and never cross it, because what you do today can have reverberations on your future.