Thought of the Skills Based Approach SM (“SBA”) methodology in 2011 as I was creating a platform for personal websites. Early on, I recognized skills as a critical element of a personal website. In an abstract way, I see much of the content behind a personal website as presenting and validating skills (two stages of SBA). There are other elements. (For them, there is a framework – Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura, and Identity.) I still feel strongly that most individuals should have a personal website for credentials and signaling skills.
SBA is a methodology centered on constantly cycling through four stages with an evolving skill set. Over the years, SBA has garnered a worldwide audience. I have developed SBA as a basic website application. (And I have been waiting patiently to get this up and running as a mobile application. Ideally, students manage learning tasks on their mobile phones using the SBA methodology.)
A personal website is an ideal platform to showcase your personality while trying to get a job. If you have been listening to me for the past four and a half years, you know I think there are many other benefits of a personal website. But here I want to focus on the personality aspect.
Why should you care about how your personality is portrayed to prospective employers? The reason is: many employers are considering it as part of an initial screening process.
They might have you take a ‘personality test’. According to a Wall Street Journal article, “eight of the top 10 U.S. private employers now administer pre-hire tests in their job applications for some positions”.[i]
They might scour your social media profiles. According to a Career Builder survey: “39% of employers dig into candidates on social sites, while 43% said they had found something that made them deep-six a candidate”.[ii]
They will assess a personal website. In a survey I conducted, 77% of the HR respondents acknowledged they would review one in an employment evaluation.[iii]
Since a ‘personality check’ happens so early in an employment evaluation, if you do not pass, you do not get a chance to make a face to face impression in an interview. Does a personality test effectively tell your story? Do social media profiles capture your essence?
Taking a personality test. It varies and depends on the test. Employers will argue they have stats indicating how a candidate answers particular questions predicts future performance; though according to one study: “only 14% of organizations have data to prove the positive business impact of their assessment”.[iv] I think the testing is skewed because of the tremendous amount of pressure a candidate faces trying to impress to get a job. Have you ever taken a personality test for a job?
I took one while trying to land my first job after college. I was applying for a financial advisor position. The test was a minefield of questions on ethics. With many of the questions, I remember thinking over and over again: “how do they want me to answer this question?” I desperately needed a job!
LinkedIn presence (profile, content, and updates). There are a lot of great features of a LinkedIn profile for an employment evaluation. Its strengths include: being indexed by a powerful search algorithm and the representation of connections and endorsements. Do you think it represents your personality, however? Not me. It is too formal and has a uniform style – other than your profile background image. Everyone has the same layout – a boxy table. When I write content for LinkedIn, I write in a ‘professional voice’ (not a ‘creative voice’). Though it is possible to add various forms of media, it does not have the same depth of a personal website. Finally, if you are a student or an early career professional, your LinkedIn profile does not have much content.
Facebook presence (profile, content, and updates). Of course, a Facebook presence is much more a personal reflection than a LinkedIn presence. As an assessment of your personality, it shows everything from all stages in your life. But your personality develops in stages. Moreover, elements of your social life (like ‘referenced drug and alcohol use’) are not strong indicators for how you would perform at a job. It is also much more difficult to control a Facebook presence because you have so many audiences.
A personal website gives you a chance to create a deep persona; it puts everything together, so you have control over the impression. You have a home page. This is where you choose an effective style and layout and carefully crafted content to make a powerful fifteen second first impression – a viewer’s gut reaction. You have a blog. Anyone who reads your posts gets a glimpse into how you think and what you have to say. (On my blog, I share stuff about me such as my love of fishing and Grateful Dead improv.) You have video. Create a powerful message across many dimensions – a script, setting, action, etc. Finally, with a personal website, you have full control of all the content, down to the pixel.
You may have to take a personality test and your social media may be reviewed. Regardless, an employer will review your personal website where you own the impression.
To reiterate, there are many other benefits in having a personal website. Here is a presentation of the main benefits of a personal website:
One clear signal I get from students and professionals is that they want to build a personal website fast. So companies offering these services advertise how quickly you can have it up and running. Let’s say the average time is to have one up in five minutes. My issue with convenience and haste is the cost it might have on your reputation. A personal website significantly impacts your online personal brand (aura and identity in particular), so I advise getting everything right before publishing it. However, I acknowledge most professionals do not want to waste any time.
According to a survey I conducted in early 2014, seventy-one percent of Millennials are ‘not sure a personal website is worth the expense’ (time and money).[i] Considering there are many free services out there, time becomes the big factor.
My business education is tugging at me saying you must meet your customer needs, and my IT designer experience- Steve Jobs inspired – is tugging at me saying you can tell the customer what they need. Believe me, I know you must have a solid relationship with your customer base and listen to their requests.
Nevertheless, I think the best way to think about building a personal website is to consider when taking shortcuts are appropriate. Here are some of the ways companies speed up the process in starting a personal website:
Importing information from a LinkedIn profile. This feature is necessary because it not only saves time, but also reduces errors. As you retype information in a website interface, there is a natural tendency for typos.
Use of stock images for style and layout. It is easy to retrieve stock images (where you pay to use an image someone else created without any direct input from you). This is fast and easy. However, using images you or a you-guided photographer creates is more meaningful. Perhaps use stock images to get your website up, but get your own images in the long-run.
Uploading content. A big component of a personal website is getting your content on the server; this includes photo galleries, documents, presentations, videos, etc. It is helpful if the uploading process is quick and painless. A great feature is to directly link to online storage drives such as DropBox, Google Drive, or Microsoft One Drive.
Using AI to generate style and aesthetics for you. One company has developed AI that automatically generates the style and layout of your website for you – no templates. Albeit an interesting concept, this has dangerous implications. Should you rely on AI to tell your story for you? Should you rely on AI to peg your personal brand? Perhaps this is an added convenience customers want, but personally, I would rather decide how to represent myself and not depend on an algorithm. I compare it to a representation in the physical world – dressing up everyday. Do you want a computer telling you what to wear? (Perhaps?!!)
Integrated with social media. Much of your online presence already exists on your social media accounts, so you want widgets that display related content. Bringing in social media feeds quickly adds substance to your personal website.
To conclude, think about a company building its website. Does it want to put something up as fast as it can? Is it not concerned how every graphic and wording is crafted as a portrayal of the company brand? To some extent, a professional should have similar expectations and care with his or her website. A personal website is the cornerstone of an effective online personal brand.
[i] Ryan Frischmann. Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura, and Identity. (July 2014).
We share an exorbitant amount of information about ourselves online. Some of the information is published content in social media, where sometimes we understand the boundaries of who has access to it. Behind the scenes, we also share information about our behaviors, values and interests. What do we search on in Google? What links do we click on? All of this information is stored by the providers of the service (Google, Facebook, etc.) and many times can be linked directly to you (a reason why these companies want for you to stay logged in).
I experienced the effect of marketers viewing my digital tracks first-hand (like I am sure many of you have). For the past couple months, I have been looking for a television and bike in online stores. So I searched for them in Google and visited some of the sellers’ websites. Now, when I check my Hotmail email, I see ads for these products. I do not mind. From the marketer’s perspective, it was effective because I checked out the prices in the ad. The argument is both sides – the marketer and consumer – benefit from this personalized targeting.
According to a documentary Terms And Conditions May Apply, one such marketer Acxiom claims to have 1500 points of data (eye color, age, etc.) on the average American citizen.
It is understandable companies use these tactics when they offer free web services. If you think about how much time you spend using their services without directly paying for it, then you understand the value of their service. How many times do you search in Google a day without paying a cent? (I probably Google at least 10 times a day). Similarly Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn capture a lot of face time. So users are willing to give up some privacy to get something valuable for free.
Again, I am fine with these tactics; though perhaps, there should be more transparency with tracking and content ownership. I am just trying to make an argument for a paid service. I recently conducted a survey with Millennials, where I asked the sample ‘how much they would be willing to pay for a personal website service’. A large majority of them (65.14 percent) want to have it for free.
If I had a chance for a rebuttal, I would have told them why I think they should pay for it. If you have a personal website, I think you should have full ownership of the content and the provider should do what they can to protect your copyright privileges. In addition, there is no ‘mining’ of personal information to third-party marketers. This ownership of an identity is a key characteristic of an effective personal website.
Is it better to have a single device or application that performs many functions well, or multiple devices or applications that do a particular function best? In other words, you can have an IPhone OR a cell phone, digital camera, calculator, MP3 player, and GPS device. I got to contemplating how a similar phenomenon plays out on a personal website and more broadly with your personal branding efforts. Is a personal website enough? How do you decide which social media profiles to participate in? When should content overlap?
With a personal website, there are some clear advantages in using already established web services. Here are two examples. YouTube does an exceptional job handling video. It verifies copyright privilege, distinguishes content for a mature audience, and manages a variety of different video file types. In fact, w3schools.com (the best HTML reference) suggests using their video tags in HTML5. (Also worth considering, if you get enough traffic, you get paid for the number of hits to your video.) Google analytics is a powerful tool to understand website traffic. It is a simple, yet robust platform.
The benefits in using specialized applications are twofold: they are the best thing out there and will be continually updated to remain the best thing out there (by incorporating the latest technologies and adding new functionality). As a developer, it is refreshing to not worry about continually updating something that is not the focal point of the service. For example, it is possible to feed a script to Google Maps and rely on Google to provide the best possible mapping interface.
It becomes tricky as you decide what platforms to use and how you choose to use them. No matter how efficient you are collectively, there will be overlaps. Referring to the example above, say a personal website acts like the IPhone – a single platform with your multi-dimensional resume, photo galleries, a blog, etc.This substitutes the need for Instagram or Flickr and WordPress or Tumblr accounts and supplements a LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook profile.There are benefits in having your content and functionality ‘all under one hood’.
Content is altogether. It is easier for viewers to find.
Content is integrated. This adds dimensions/layers and makes it searchable.
Content is managed and administered in one central console.
A single service might cost less than multiple services.
The way I use a personal website with my social media profiles is to take advantage of what the social media application does best and wherever possible, link back to my personal website. For LinkedIn, I publish a barebone resume, mission statement, and list of skills. There is a link to my personal website, which I really want a recruiter, colleague, or client to click on when viewing the profile. I also publish my skill set in Facebook and Google+. Why? Because skills are highly searchable, I want to provide the right keywords for effective searches on each of the networks; skill sets are one of your most valuable commodities. Regarding the use of many applications, I prefer having everything in one place, though, see the attractiveness of mobile applications – they are quick and direct (surprisingly, managing applications that perform particular tasks seems to save time). Going forward, mobile applications should integrate with your personal website.
There are a few reasons why graduating high school seniors should consider having their own personal website. First, if they are applying to colleges, it can infuse aspects of their personality to a standard college application (by using other forms of media such as a video essay). Second, it is a platform for career development and planning – they are forced to show vision with their career. Third, it “starts the ball rolling” with personal branding – something that takes a long time to develop; they begin making connections and impacting how others perceive them.
Some colleges that have added an optional video essay to their application include Tufts University, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, George Mason University, and the College of William and Mary. The idea is to give a chance for applicants to show originality. Tovia Smith of NPR says:
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then you’ve got to figure a video would be worth way more than your average college essay.
I spoke with ten college admission counselors about their undergraduate application process. I wanted to understand whether colleges look at video essays and/or personal websites. Here is what I learned:
None of the colleges require them. A college cannot be sure all applicants have the resources to create a video or personal website.
Most selective colleges will review them (though consider them as supplemental). You should provide as much content as possible with a college application, so use a video essay to show ingenuity. There are two ways to submit the content as a hyperlink: in the supplemental section of an online application or an email to the college admissions office.
Field of study demands a demonstration. If you are applying to art school, you might provide a portfolio of artwork. If you are applying to a highly technical program, you might share a project you worked on. And there are many other examples where the best way to establish credibility is by demonstrating with a sample of work.
Some colleges have a heavy load of applications. One admissions counselor said his school receives sixty-five thousand applications so it is difficult to allocate any more time to review an application. Moreover, it is only fair to make “apple to apple” comparisons among applicants.
Call the admissions office before filling out an application and ask about their policy for accepting a video essay and/or personal website.
Graduating high school seniors should have a personal website because it forces them to start planning and developing their career. While developing their personal website, they must formulate short-term career objectives. They identify what skills they need and how they plan to build an expertise with them (as proposed in the planning stage of a skills-based approach). A personal website starts small (perhaps only a video), and grows incrementally as a professional matures.
Online personal branding is a long-term objective, something professionals develop throughout their career. The earlier they start, the faster their personal brand resembles how they want to be perceived. It takes years to establish an effective personal brand. Here are some key points:
Create a personal brand for the future. Students should take the time in college to work on their personal brand, so after graduation, they are prepared for the job market. They should learn personal branding techniques, conduct peer reviews on how others perceive them, and employ trial and error to get the perception right. Having already established a personal brand when graduating college is a huge advantage for job seeking.
Manage published content. I understand most high school seniors want to be social and do not consider the nuances of a professional reputation. It makes sense to have personal content in social media (just nothing unsavory or unlawful). So early in a career, a personal website serves as a primary professional reference (an identity).
Create connections. An important part of personal branding is connecting with others. High school seniors are probably already well versed in Facebook but will have to learn to make professional connections in LinkedIn. A personal website becomes a landing page for social media services.
Developing a personal website is sophisticated. There are many dimensions to a personal website: style, appearance, demonstration, content, communication, and personality. Building a personal website is time-consuming; the more time you spend on it, the better it becomes.
Most individuals of a working age would benefit from having a professional website; this means anyone who is becoming educated in their field of interest up to those who are getting ready to retire from their career – in other words anyone aged between 17 and 65. And if someone is retiring but has left behind a “body of work” or wants to continue consulting or has left behind a valuable legacy may want to keep their professional website running after they retire.
Often times I respond to individuals who say they do not need a professional website. Here are some of their comments and my responses:
I do not use a computer often. Whether or not you use a computer does not necessarily mean you cannot or should not have a professional website. It just means the interface you build one with must make sense and be easy to use.
I work in a profession where I am with people all day (such as a social worker or teacher). Many professions require specific education degrees and certifications, which you can share on a professional website. Let’s say you are a fourth grade teacher. A professional website could help you reach out to the parents of your students and share your credentials – such as your educational background and certifications. This can be very reassuring to a parent.
I am mid-career professional and in a long-term position, so I do not expect to make any career moves. There are many features of a professional website that make it useful when you are not seeking employment (read previous blog Employed, Why Have a Professional Website). Let’s say you are a project manager for a small-sized IT firm. There are two types of people that can use your professional website to get valuable information about you. The team of workers you manage and your current clients benefit by knowing your skill set and what technologies you are familiar with. Finally, with a professional website, you can help promote your company.
I do not have the time to create a professional website. Actually, it does not take much time to create a professional website. You can have the basic structure and content up in about 10 to 15 minutes. Yes, there is a learning curve to learn all the features (partly because of all the functionality), but it is possible to work on your professional website incrementally.
I am not sure how to write the content of a professional website. Writing content for a professional website (or resume) is a difficult process for anyone. You need to write succinct, results-oriented statements. Fortunately, you can use features to help you get feedback on what you have written (see blog GroupShare, Resume Review) and much of the content structure is already done for you.
I am not gainfully employed and have not been so for a long time. In this scenario, you may not want to share certain sections of your professional website that show you have not worked in awhile. However, if you plan to get back to work, you will need to have something to share with a potential employer – keep up a blog which demonstrates you have something to say. In addition, you can get valuable counseling to help you develop an action plan to get back to work (see blog GroupShare, Counsel Review). Otherwise, if you do not plan to get back to work, maintaining a blog might be a positive way to express yourself.
There are of course a few exceptions of individuals who may not need a professional website; for example, your work may require a security clearance and you cannot share details related to the nature of your work. However, for most individuals and professions, it is beneficial to have a professional website.