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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

Even Smart People Make Stupid Tech Mistakes—Here's How You Can Avoid Them

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You got this tech thing down, right? You type faster on your phone with one thumb than on your laptop with both hands. You express yourself better in 140 characters than in 1,400. And your parents think you’re some kind of genius when it comes to anything involving email attachments.

But don’t let yourself get too comfortable just because this is all second nature to you. People just like you make mistakes online all the time. Fortunately, most screw-ups only result in short-term embarrassment. Unfortunately, others could mean serious long-term damage to your career. One wrong move could easily lead to you becoming a viral “fail of the day” story—yes the public will forget it within the week, but your Google results live on forever.

I’m not saying this to scare you, but just to remind you that it’s not a bad idea to be proactive when it comes to protecting yourself from this stuff. Read on to remind yourself just how easy it is to slip up, as well as ways to stop yourself from being that person.

The Social Media Screw-ups

From the 2013 viral pre-flight tweet about AIDS that resulted in a senior PR professional losing her job to the recent rant on Facebook by a now-unemployed sports analyst, there are countless examples of thoughtless and offensive posts on people’s personal platforms that have gotten them fired. Emphasis on personal—neither of the people above posted on behalf of their companies.

And while you know that bad mouthing your boss or sharing a drunken video from the company happy hour could jeopardize your job, it’s also those seemingly “so what” posts that can also hurt your career. A 2015 survey of over recruiters and HR professionals showed that 25% look down on selfies and a whopping 72% harshly judge spelling and grammar mistakes.

How to Avoid Sabotaging Yourself?

Make it a habit to ask yourself if what you’re planning to share could be misunderstood—even if you’re known for being a sarcastic, funny, or snarky person. If someone stumbled across this and had never met you before, what are all the ways in which he or she could interpret it. Remember: You might be able to talk yourself out of a controversial tweet with your boss, but you won’t have the chance with a hiring manager who rules you out before ever meeting you.

And, if you find it hard to pause before posting because you’re obsessed with social media, you should try signing out of your account each time you finish so that the act of signing in again is a trigger to reconsider. Sure, it’s annoying to type in your password each time, but that 10 seconds could save you a job.

Oh, and if you’re kicking off a job search, it would be in your best interest to cruise back through your public profile and delete anything questionable or misspelled (yes, even if it got over 100 likes).

Not Ready to Hold Back?

Adjust your privacy settings so that only your friends can see what you say. That way your boss (or potential boss) won’t stumble across anything questionable. With that said, you probably have more friends online than actual real-life trustworthy friends—it’s not hard for someone to screenshot what you say and pass it around.

The Email Mess-ups

Seems that Google didn’t think through their April Fool’s prank this year. The joke was a “Mic Drop” button in Gmail. When users clicked it, all replies to their message were muted and a GIF of a Minion dropping a microphone was sent.

Sounds like just a bit of stupid fun until you realize just how many people sent important emails (like job applications or messages of condolence) before realizing what was going on. Stories of lost jobs and damaged relationships poured in. While not the senders’ fault, they still felt the repercussions. And I think we’ve all been there: You click send and then realize you’ve made a huge mistake.

How to Avoid Feeling Click Regret?

If you use Gmail, you should enable the Undo Send feature in your settings. It gives you the chance to cancel a message by clicking a link within the first few seconds after sending. Seriously, do that now.

And no need to give in to stupid mistakes if you’re not a Gmail user. If Outlook is your email program at work and you’re sending to someone else inside your company, you can retract or replace an email. Or you can sign up for a service like that handles your messages through their servers so you can call them back if you need to.

Still Feeling Unsure?

If you don’t have the option to enable any kind of unsend feature, and you’re writing a very important email, or you’re currently heated for related (or unrelated) reasons, you can hack together your own warning system by not putting the address of your recipient until the very end. That way you’ll be stopped by your email program asking you to fill in that field—use that time to do your last-minute proofing.

Accidentally Leaking Classified Information

An Apple employee leaving an iPhone prototype in a bar was surprising enough. But an unreleased device misplaced in a restaurant just a few months later surely got the company’s attention when it came to the physical security of their devices.

How Can You Keep Everything Under Wraps?

Odds are you’re not carrying around the iPhone prototype everyone wants to get their hands on. Nor are you currently walking around with computer files that hold all your company’s secrets. But you still probably have access to some pretty confidential information. It’s not so much that a reporter’s following you around, waiting to crack open a case, but that you want to take precautions because you don’t want to be the person who accidentally attaches the company’s internal reports to a client newsletter.

If you typically do work from your phone, it’s a good idea to use two different inboxes—one for work and one for your personal email. This makes it much harder to CC a friend on a confidential message who shares the same name as your boss. And, when it comes to your computer, you can save important documents as “confidental” in all caps—making it less likely you’ll accidentally attach it to the wrong message. (Of course, when you are ready to send it, you can remove that from the file name.)

And the best way to secure your files or inbox—or at least limit your own liability—is to first use a lock screen for your device. Your “key” can be fingerprint recognition on your phone, a strong password on your laptop, or, to be even more secure two-factor authentication. No matter how optimistic you are about humankind, a little protection is a no-brainer nowadays and might save you when you least expect it and most need it.

Not Willing to Always Be Locked Down?

Since I usually work remotely from home, I know that it can feel ridiculous to enter a password on all your devices when the only other living thing around is the cactus in your kitchen window. In that case, I recommend something like Google’s Smartlock feature that keeps your phone unlocked based on your location or trusted devices nearby, or an app like Knock that unlocks your Mac when your iPhone is around.

You have plenty of savvy and of course the best intentions. But, since things don’t always go as planned, remember these tips so you can avoid these all-too-common fails. After all, you’d hate to be the kind of person who gets mentioned in an article like this.