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The World Is Flat  
5/16/2007 10:33:31 PM

By Peter Weddle -- That’s the name of a 2006 book by The New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. As Friedman sees it, the earth lost its globular quality because the advanced technology developed over the past twenty-five years has “leveled the playing field” among the nations of the world. Now, engineers in New Delhi and programmers in Poland can shoot information back and forth to Boise and Brooklyn as fast as engineers and programmers located right here in the good old U.S. of A..

It’s an interesting perspective, but it misses a key point: When people last thought the world was flat—you know, back when sailing ships plied the oceans—the information they accepted as truth was way off the mark. People were told and believed that the Atlantic Ocean was inhabited by sea monsters and that, at its farthest most limits, it just rolled over and off the face of the earth. Today, of course, we know better. Yet, that experience, it seems to me, offers a cautionary tale for those of us who now navigate the information rich depths of the Internet.

There’s an almost limitless range of content online and a growing segment of it has to do with finding a job and managing your career. You can access information on:

  • resume writing,
  • career planning,
  • negotiating your salary,
  • conducting an interview,
  • networking online and off,
  • dealing with a problem boss,
  • dressing for success when visiting an employer, and
  • just about any other topic related to job search and career self-management.

    The Internet is flat, and that characteristic means there is no barrier to accessing more information than you could ever read. It’s that very accessibility, however, that creates a potential problem. In a flat world, you can find lousy information just as easy as you can find information that is helpful. You can connect with opinions and ideas and suggestions and comments that will serve your interests, and you can connect with other content that won’t. Worse, you can connect with information that can actually harm your job search and undermine your chances of achieving your career goals.

    For example, I’ve seen:

  • guidelines for managing your career written by summer interns who’ve yet to graduate from college (and have a career),
  • resume writing tips that are a thinly veiled come-on for a resume writing company,
  • a set of do’s and don’ts for finding a job online that was written back in 1994 when there were fewer than 25 job boards, and
  • an article that purported to reveal the secrets of networking online that was just plain wrong.

    To succeed in a flat world, therefore, we have to be more discriminating in our use of what we find online. To navigate the Internet effectively—to gain helpful knowledge from the time and effort we invest there—we have to focus on the best information that’s available. In other words, the trick to surviving in a flat world is a well rounded dose of caution. You must be careful to use only the information that will serve you best.

    How do you do that? Here are three tips that can help:

    First, be careful about who creates the information you use. Find out who the author is, by name. An organization, a Web-site or a job board is not an author. Somebody wrote the content you’ve found online, and that person’s name should be available. If it’s not, move on to other information. There’s plenty for you to pick from on the Web.

    Second, be careful about which authors you rely on. Assess their credentials and their track record. Do a browser search and see what else they’ve written and where their articles, papers or comments have appeared. There’s a reason why some authors are widely published and others are not (if they’re published at all); some are simply much better—they’re more insightful, more discerning, more rigorous in their thinking—than others.

    Third, be careful about how much information you acquire from the GAP—the Great American Public. I know this is the era of blogging and free-for-all commentary at newsgroups and other online forums, but such content has its limitations. Some of the information you acquire this way is definitely worth your investment of time, but not all of it is. The danger of blogs and newsgroups is not only that you can access incorrect or marginally useful information about job search and career self-management, but that you can spend so much time doing so that you miss out on the truly helpful information that is available elsewhere.

    A flat world can be a dangerous place, whether it’s on the high seas or in cyberspace. There may not be sea monsters on the Web, but there are definitely mammoths of misinformation and misguided opinion. You need to protect yourself, therefore, and the best way to do that is to be circumspect about the sources you use to acquire information online. Use only those with proven credibility because they, alone, are your sure heading—your true north—to success.