Balancing Online Resumes with Online Identities

(I was interviewed recently for a social science study about online resumes and identities. My answers are listed below).
1. In your response to the survey questionnaire, you wrote that you have found your linkedin page to be more useful than an independent resume / business site, though you have plans to develop an independent site again with wordpress weblog, multimedia samples, etc. How have you experienced the trade-off between an independent site and a page within a social networking community like linkedin? You mentioned that linkedin provides testimonials, for instance. What other pluses and minuses are there?

I generally don’t try to keep my “marketing info” on social networking sites (if only because of the limitations of the template). The biggest part of being a technical writer is portfolio, and obviously social networking sites have limited ability to allow for that. Linkedin is a special case, because many people in high tech use it. It’s more of a verification service of people’s background (and whom they know) than a way to locate employees. Linkedin Testimonials are a great way to buttress your work experience. Right now, people haven’t caught on yet that these testimonials may not be terribly reliable. Also, there is a lot of reciprocity going on. I scratch your back, and you scratch mine. On the whole though, I think it’s a major plus although I’m unsure whether recruiters use it much.

2. Your old resume site provides several versions of your resume for several career tracks: technical writer, academic / teaching, etc., each in different formats. In the old print world and even in new media forums like linkedin, we tend to see only one resume per person. How do you think your site visitors reacted to seeing such a multiplicity of resumes for various careers?

People have gotten in the habit of writing targeted resumes. That obviously poses problems to the web resume, where you try to write a one-size-fits-all resume. Personally, I viewed it as an information design/architecture challenge (which frankly, is part of what being a technical writer is). How could I demonstrate my method of organizing information and presenting it hierarchically? In my upcoming “facelift” I plan to incorporate “customized views” of the same information (probably using css, etc).

Technical writers are known for versatility of skills, so I think people are tolerant of different kinds of resumes. For me, though, the personal website is critical: not only for showing off my portfolio, but for pushing recruiters/managers towards space I can control. With job boards, the forms just penalize people with more versatile skills and nebulous job titles. (I wrote about this in an essay of mine called the “Must have 5 Years Fallacy“) . Resume databases are all about having applicants quantify their skills in terms of number of years experience. Why? So recruiters can filter the results ! That is bad, really bad. They can create a query of 5+ years experience, and automatically knock a lot of qualified candidates out of the running. Driving future employers to my website allows me to present myself as a package, not just as a job obituary which can be filtered out by years of experience. As long as I can present this package honestly and faithfully without causing readers to suspect I am trying to “trick them,” things will be ok.

The online resume has another advantage: keeping my resume up-to-date. I can add or subtract things if I have second thoughts; I can correct typos or improve things as time goes on. If only for that reason, I really try to refer future employers to the website so they always have my most current version.

3. In your response to the survey questionnaire, you indicated that your Web site has helped you a lot in getting technical communication clientele who have originated primarily through referrals, reputation, networking, etc. In such cases, how has your Web site helped you?

The industry was in a downturn in 2001-2002, so I probably had more time to “market myself for the web.” By the time I did find a job, my technical writing resume got incredibly good results on google (if you searched “technical writer houston” or “technical writer austin”). It was almost hilarious. So I got a few random calls about that. (Btw, I don’t expect this to happen with my new revamped resume –many more people have figured out search engine optimization). This time around, I’ll be applying for more senior positions, so I hope that the stretch of my web tentacles should count as an advantage.

4. Your are an active blogger. Has your blog had any impact on how prospective clients perceive you? If / When you are looking for work again, would you still maintain such a high profile for your blog (e.g., linking to your blog from your linkedin page, etc.) or would you seek to separate business from personal pursuits?

This of course is a critical question! I was being interviewed for a contract assignment a few months ago. The big boss (who had to give his ok before I was hired) said, “I saw your websites….” and then paused. At that moment, a chill went up my spine. What random post of mine did he find objectionable or laden with grammatical errors? “And I like what I saw,” he said.

I realized that the employer had probably just skimmed my bio, my most recent 2 or 3 posts and maybe my list of Best of articles. But employers can use blogs against you. One friend of mine specifically didn’t receive a job because of political opinions expressed on his blog. He changed his blog entirely to one about java programming. Although my political views are pretty out there (if you read my blog for any length of time, it would be apparent). But over the last few years, I have rarely done political blogging, if only because the blogging space is already full of people who stay on top of issues more than I do). My bigger concern is not political views (technical writers are probably more liberal than most), but grammar and typos. I am pretty lousy about proofing my blog. Sometimes I go back and revise/edit; for more important posts, I definitely do editing. For writing I care about, I polish it thoroughly). Also, my blog is ocasionally risque and I worry about that kind of post being on the top of the blog during a time employers might be looking over it.

The ability to create “pages” (not posts) on wordpress blogs lets me create static links pages which direct the reader to the “best of” kind of content. Even that is not ideal. My “best of” would probably include a lot of literary stuff, something of little interest to employers. Also, with linking, there is a lot of “guilt by association.” If I link to a blog with offcolor humor, by implication that means I approve of it. Then again, employers rarely have enough interest to delve deeply enough to notice. I haven’t blogged about my job (occasionally I refer to it afterwards). My attitude thus far has been: eclecticism and diverse interests come with the package. If you can’t accept that part of me, then I probably wouldn’t make a good employee for you anyway. On the other hand, if I grow desperate enough, that attitude might change. The problem with this proud attitude is that you never hear feedback when employers are excluding you. Perhaps some 2002 diatribe you made about George W. Bush or pornography or casual drug use was why the employer won’t be calling you back. You will never know. That to me is scary.

One option is just to take your blog offline while searching for work. That sounds nice, but ultimately it’s impractical. Obviously employers can read your site after they hire you. Also, it’s funny how much I depend on my blog to keep track of information. (Yes, I use delicious, but I still forget). I often end up digging into my archives to find something, or –even better–sending someone a URL rather than give a complete answer via email. That’s one reason I started a list of books/movies I’ve been consuming. By doing that, I no longer need to repeat things in email; I can simply send people URL’s. To tell the truth, I keep this list also to remind myself of what I have read or watched. I am a forgetful person!

I used to do online dating for a few years and that made me think a lot about what potential dates would think of me on the basis of my websites. I used to actually go to the trouble to mail them URLs, but later I backtracked; if they wanted to google me, they could do that (starting with my blog). Generally, I think the existence of my blog hasn’t helped me in online dating–it gives future dates a reason to filter me out. I’m guessing few of these prospects bothered to look at my websites before going out on a date (which is hardly surprising, given that neither my family or friends look at this blog either). For the record, I didn’t have any success with the online dating; who knows if it had anything to do with my web visibility! On the other hand, maybe some hot chick will stumble upon this website and make my acquaintance (that is my fantasy anyway). As I once mentioned, web visibility ensures that my email will always be full and my weekend social life will always be empty.

Another thing. Photos (this has to do more with dating than job search). Do you make it easy to find or not? Photos reveal a lot about you, your family, your interests, your leisure time activities. I have 1000s of photos on my flickr account, going back all the way to my childhood. Ultimately I decided that if they are enough of a voyeur to look over my stuff, they probably would feel comfortable working with me.

Forum postings. I also post on many forums and newsgroups. Mostly they are technical topics; still they indicate my level of knowledge on certain areas. (For a while, I even linked to a list of all my newsgroup postings on my resume site). It will be rather easy for employers to find this information..if they knew what to look for. On the other hand, these search results are undigested. Unless people are googling a specific knowledge area such as xml or plone or instructional technology, employers wouldn’t know what to look for.

I write fiction and publish all of it online UNDER A PSEUDONYM. Several psuedonyms. I wouldn’t want employers/dates to have easy access to my creative writing. They might resort to stereotyping or interpret something the wrong way. (This happened when novelist James Webb ran for US Senate). I occasionally link to my fiction on my blog (without identifying it). Eventually my personas will be linked together (A wikipedia page could cause these things to be put in one central location beyond my control). But I am enjoying the fact this has not happened yet.

I debated putting my entire weblog under a pseudonym. One writer I admire (Michael Blowhard) doesn’t hide his identity; on the other hand, he never advertises it anywhere. The problem about pseudonyms is that they are hard to maintain for any length of time; (I’ve written about that before). You forget which pseudonym you used to disclose which information; you naturally want to use one blog for the sheer convenience of it. I remember Jason Kottke’s discussion of “secret sites” and why people used them. Ironically, the best and easiest way to hide your online identity is to offer a public face that looks comprehensive, but it is anything but that.

5. If you have other insights or experiences that could help me understand your business Web site, please describe them below.

Generally, I’ve been struck by how little effort employers have taken to read over my online writings. On the other hand, my participation in many online communities has resulted in more emails/requests for help and that sort of thing. In my opinion, that is a good thing.

I’m going to be moving to fairly soon. I actually have a more substantial portfolio than I had several years ago, so now it’s finally possible for me to construct a 100% professional online identity. I’ll link to certain personal pages; however, I would expect employers/contacts to spend no time looking outside the portfolio site.

My blogging probably makes little difference for employers (except to prove I write frequently and have been around for a while). On the other hand, there is a very small percentage of people whom I will call “loyal readers.” These are people who start out reading my blog, and if they live in my city or state, might think of me when a freelance gig becomes available. I’ve received some interesting propositions via email sometimes. Not necessarily job-related, but opportunity-related.

Recently I’ve become aware of free reputation management services like naymz . Using such services and taking control of your online identity seem like sensible advice, especially for those who don’t do much online. Frankly people start blogs for various reasons; only a small percentage of them use it for self-expression (as I do). For those who don’t, it can be hard to understand why putting your brain in the public eye would seem so appealing. It is a rare event when you meet someone who actually reads your blog. I don’t seriously expect fame of any kind from it. However, there is appeal to the idea of withstanding public scrutiny, to knowing that you’ve put your brain online without causing a torrent of criticism to be unleashed.

Update: Here’s the survey results/commentary about technical writers and resumes.



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One response to “Balancing Online Resumes with Online Identities”

  1. How to Write a resume Avatar

    Thanks for your article. My site was created on same theme How to Write a Resume, however now from you I have received a lot of the new information. Whether I can use something at myself, quote you (referring to a source, sure)?

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