I hope some of us still physically meet random strangers every now and then. I have to specifically say “physically”, because meeting strangers “online” is not so uncommon nowadays.
Sure, I suppose there are still people on this planet that are not “online” in some sense of that word. But, living in the more-connected-than-not part of the world, it seems like everyone is online. Given this, I just wonder how often we have these completely spontaneous random meetings with people we know nothing about.
Especially in the corporate setting, most meetings tend to be planned. I try not to go to a meeting any more without knowing something about the person or people I’m about to meet. It depends on how much time I have and just how “interesting” the online profile of these people turn out to be as to how much I know about each new person I meet with. But, it is pretty much a given that I will know something within the bounds of what is public information about them. This has proven to be mostly a good thing, but it is not without downsides.
With Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and many more networks we can be part of today, we expose information about our likes, the pictures we like to shoot, friends we hang out with, what brands we shop, where we went last weekend, where we work, what we do in our day jobs and so much more. Despite our efforts to tweak privacy settings, there is a good chance that some or most of this information is publicly accessible. For the motivated consumer that is willing to spend the time putting this information together, a scary level of detail is available. Of course, this can sometimes reveal things we never intended to reveal, but that is not the focus of my post today.
I’m mainly talking about what it means to know someone in the online sense before we meet them. Whether it is meeting interviewers, interviewees, vendors, professors, guest speakers, an audience I’m speaking to, or anyone you can imagine, I do a bit of homework on them. In many of my interviews, for example, it has given me the benefit of being prepared. It helps knowing at what level I should be tackling questions from someone or in many cases even anticipating the nature of the discussion to some extent. In many of the interviewees I’ve come across, it has helped target my own questions better. In some other cases, it helps me understand whether or not I’m talking to a decision maker and appropriately stage my discussions and adjust my expectations. In all this, the positive is that I’m better prepared to face my meetings as these are mostly not unknowns any more.
However, there is a major downside to this as well. At times, we get unduly nervous about meeting someone who is much more accomplished than we are, going by their online profiles. At times, we create a predisposed bias against a candidate we are about to interview. Even if we tell ourselves the information online is just a side channel and we should wait to meet the person before we create our opinions, it is only human to be biased by information! And more often than not, for many of us, these biases are extremely hard to change. Now, all of a sudden, a candidate at an interview table has to work extra hard to impress you than another, potentially equivalent candidate against whom you did not have such a bias!
There are times I wonder if the other side has done the same homework about me and what that means. That sometimes makes me a bit nervous. But, most of the time, I try to not let that thought cross my mind. However, I have not figured out how not to let what I know about the other side affect my state of mind or impressions.
I think it is pretty sad that the online profiles of us lurking around has this unintended consequence. Again, as with anything else, there is a bright side and a dark side to our online profiles.
So, does it help or hurt to have a rich profile? Well, I think the answer is ‘it depends’. It depends on which side of the table we are on. But, we just need to remember – if we are always doing the best we can and we never try to create an image of what we are not, then we can stop worrying about it. More is not always better. This is a place where quality matters more than quantity. So, we don’t need to be obsessive about our online presence – but, as long as we can objectively project our true selves, that is all that matters!