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Home: The Toast

Email us questions at advice@the-toast.net, subject line “businesslady.” Previous installments can be found here.

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Dear Businesslady,

I have a question about something that (I don’t think) has actually affected me yet, but I fear that it could one day, and I would like some advice.

I have an unusual name. As far as I know, everyone with my last name is at least distantly related to me, including another woman with my exact same name who is around my age and the daughter of my dad’s third cousin or something. The problem is that when you google my/her name, her blog is the first thing that comes up, and it is a bit crazy. There is a huge amount of swearing ([link redacted]), some ridiculous opinions ([link redacted]) and, in general, just a lot of things that I do not want my name associated with.

Unfortunately, there’s no place where she makes it clear that she is not me. We do not live in the same state or work in the same field, but I worry that when I’m applying for jobs, people are googling my name, finding her blog, and not giving me the time of day. Am I being paranoid? Should I reach out to her and ask that she make an About Me pages that makes it clear that I’m not her? (Would reaching out to her be crazy enough to end up on her blog??) I eagerly await your opinion.

Signed,

The Other [name redacted]

Dear The Other _______,

Since I don’t think having your/your doppelganger’s name show up on The Toast is going to help with your situation, I’m going to remove the blog links and rechristen you both Krista McNamerson for the purposes of this column. Hi, Krista!

Now, on to your question, which is a good one. When I’m hiring, I absolutely Google serious candidates, and your name-twin’s blog would raise concerns about the writer’s judgment. While there aren’t any glaring red flags, I understand why you’d want to avoid being confused with her.

Everyone makes their own choices regarding internet anonymity vs. overshare in this brave new world we inhabit, and the barometer for that depends on many things: age, industry, region, on- and offline relationships, and so on. If you’re an aspiring writer, there’s an argument for Being Yourself online as vocally and publicly as possible; if you’re an aspiring spy (to use an extreme, but also awesome, counterexample), you probably shouldn’t even have a Facebook page—or if you do, it should be under a fake name. We’re all figuring out how to balance our IRL selves with our cyber-personas, and it’s complicated even without someone else’s identity shouldering in on your own.

Because here’s the thing: when I search for you, I get her. You do have a LinkedIn page with a photo, which is a good step in the right direction. But the similarity in your ages and family lineage makes you resemble one another quite a bit; if I didn’t know the backstory, I might think “oh, she changed her hair between the LinkedIn picture and the blog one” and not realize that you’re two entirely different people. And even if your visual appearances were obviously distinct, that doesn’t address instances where you’re only identified textually.

Here’s what I recommend: First, set up a Google+ account under your real name, with the same photo as your LinkedIn profile. Google prioritizes its own pages in search results, which should downplay The Other McNamerson’s web presence when people look for you. Mention your industry on Google+ too, so it’s clear that Google-you and LinkedIn-you are one and the same.

For bonus points, add a Twitter account to the mix—especially since Not-You is very active on Twitter—also with the same photo. You don’t have to maintain it rigorously, or even have any posts at all, just so long as what’s there fits with your professional image. If I see two Twitter accounts, both associated with the same name, one of which is clearly the person I’m considering for a job? I won’t think about the other one in the slightest.

That alone might be enough to clear up potential confusion, but if you want to go further—or for anyone who isn’t interested in having a photo of themselves online—another option is to emphatically distinguish yourself via your name. Instead of Krista McNamerson, maybe you become Kris McNamerson, or Krista V. McNamerson, or Krista Victoria McNamerson, or K. Vicky McNamerson, and take pains to ensure this is consistent across your online profiles, resume, and email address. Obviously you don’t want to choose something that you’d feel weird answering to (if you get hired after this “rebranding,” coworkers will inevitably call you by the name on your resume). But there are plenty of people who go by one thing professionally and another in their private life. Anyone who becomes a close friend will be able to deal, and everyone else doesn’t really matter.

I would not suggest contacting your doppelganger and asking her to differentiate herself from you, mainly because I don’t know how she’d accomplish that even if she desperately wanted to help. I mean, she already has a photo up, as well as her own professional presence; a statement saying “by the way, I’m not this Krista McNamerson [link]” could, paradoxically, end up provoking curiosity about a possible connection between you and her. Additionally (as you pointed out), it could easily turn into fodder for a “listen to this weird request” blog post, which would be equally counterproductive.

So. Just beef up your own online presence, with or without a distinguishing adjustment in your public name, and you should be able to eliminate any chance of people conflating the two of you. And that’s definitely worth doing! It’s bad enough having to worry about your own internet activity biting you in the ass professionally; the last thing you need is the threat of negative judgment based on someone else’s behavior.

—Businesslady

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Dear Businesslady,

My office just reorganized so I’m now reporting to a new boss, who is herself somewhat new to the company. Thus far it’s working out really well.

Here’s my question: my coworkers and I are all convinced she’s a lesbian, but she hasn’t said anything officially confirming or denying it one way or another. Would it be appropriate to ask? We’re a very gay-friendly company so I don’t know why she wouldn’t be out — if anything, it would only make her seem cooler. It’s just driving me crazy not knowing! Plus I really like her and want her to mentor me, so I’m trying to become closer to her on a personal level and I think this would help.

— The curiosity is killing me

Dear Curiosity,

Strip away all the extraneous detail, and your question boils down to “is it okay to ask about my boss’s sexual orientation?” And however good your intentions may be, the answer to that question is “no.”

The one exception to this would possibly be “I myself am gay and could use my boss’s advice in negotiating a straight-dominated workplace.” Since you didn’t mention that angle I’m assuming it’s not the case here, but if it were, I would still advise against out-and-out (heh) asking; the better tactic would be to make reference to your own situation and see if your boss took that as a chance to build camaraderie. (Keep in mind too that if you’re working somewhere that’s actually anti-gay, your boss might prioritize self-preservation over the chance to bond with you about your shared marginalization.)

When you picture asking your boss about her sexuality, how do you imagine that going? A foot-in-mouth “hey, are you a lesbian?” probably isn’t going to get you in trouble, but it’s almost definitely going to be awkward; your best outcome here is “um…yes?” (or “um…no?”) accompanied by a strange look. Because that’s not something you just ask people, particularly people who aren’t actually your friends and who may have reasons for keeping that aspect of their lives private. You could ask if she’s in a relationship and then fish around for details that would reveal that person’s gender, but that’s also not okay because…she’s your boss. Are you planning on setting her up with someone? No, because she’s your boss. So don’t randomly bring up Kristen Stewart and then scrutinize her reaction.

It’s great that you see her as a mentor, and you’re right to feel that developing a personal connection will help facilitate that. But you also want to build that relationship organically: by talking about your own life in measured, work-appropriate doses and then allowing her to share whatever she feels comfortable sharing in response. You may learn more about her romantic life in the fullness of time, or she may forever keep that aspect of herself under lock and key, but either way you don’t need to know about it in order to have a warm and friendly relationship.  And if there’s any subtext of “…are you gay? Because you’d be even cooler if you were gay,” to your interactions, then you’re all but guaranteeing she’ll remain circumspect on that front; while I’m straight myself, I’m pretty sure that “please don’t reduce my entire persona to this one characteristic and then fetishize it” is universal.

A boss who feels uncomfortable around you is not a boss who’s going to mentor you, so try to put this out of your mind for now and focus on things that are more relevant to your actual job.

—Businesslady

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Businesslady is in her early 30s and somehow managed to find a rewarding career despite her allegedly useless degree in the humanities. Her job history includes everything from food service to retail to corporate nonsense, but she currently does writing and editing for a nonprofit, and devotes the rest of her life to playing video games, patronizing bars, and spending way too much time on the internet.

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