Say Goodbye to the Résumé
There was a time not long ago when a résumé was the way one secured a technical job. We’d spend hours polishing a document summarizing our experience and education, send it to as many employers as possible, and wait and hope to be contacted. This synchronous method of applying for jobs was time-consuming and often opaque, but it was the way things usually worked.
Finding a job through résumé distribution became more challenging in the digital age, which enabled job seekers to send out dozens or even hundreds of résumés for the cost of just a few mouse clicks. Further complicating this legacy job search process is the more recent surge toward a gig economy, in which the traditional full-time job gives way to more transient project work. Given these developments, the value of the technical résumé is a fraction of what it was a few decades ago.
So if the age of the technical résumé is coming to an end, what succeeds it?
The digital profile is the new résumé. Your digital profile is the body of work you build online through the course of your career. It includes mainstream self-marketing services such as LinkedIn, social media vehicles like Twitter and Facebook, millennial outlets including Snapchat and Instagram, and professional blogs. This digital presence can also include published electronic articles or case studies, videos of one engaging in or teaching about their craft, or evidence of recognition by one’s peers.
Don’t ditch that résumé entirely; it still serves a purpose. You should plan to keep this document around, and be sure it is relatively fresh. My friend Steve Jones runs a blog called The Modern Resume, and he recommends that you touch your résumé at least once a quarter to keep it up to date. There are still plenty of potential employers and clients who will ask for this professional summary document, so it is not completely irrelevant. However, the résumé should be only one part of a digital branding strategy rather than the sole focus.
There are many ways to build your professional online profile. A few of the more common and effective ways are included below.
LinkedIn is one of the most widely-used and recognizable professional networking platforms. Sometimes referred to as “Facebook for work”, LinkedIn is the de facto standard for individuals establishing a professional presence on social media. Most companies use LinkedIn to find and/or screen potential employees or contractors, and many use it to stay visible and in touch even when they are not looking to hire or be hired. LinkedIn is easy to use, relatively safe, and is useful for most individuals and companies regardless of their job search status.
I mentioned LinkedIn first in this list for a reason. Even if you choose not to use any of the other tools in this list (and that’s OK if so), you should at least have a profile on LinkedIn. There are few if any downsides to establishing a LinkedIn presence, and many potential benefits to doing so. You can share as much or as little information as you want, and mark yourself as “not on the market” to reduce the recruiter contacts if you’re not looking for a gig.
Traditional Social Media: Facebook and Twitter
Many technical folks have found success using Facebook and/or Twitter to help build a professional brand. These two services are among the most mature in the relatively new social media space, and are well-equipped to support professional branding.
I am a fan of these two avenues because of their ubiquity and maturity. Through my twitter account, I publicize recent blogs and articles I’ve written, share tech- and data-related news items, and chat with others on Twitter about professional (and sometimes personal) topics. On my professional Facebook page, I share some of the same information, though I tend to focus most of my effort on Twitter because I’ve found that I have more meaningful conversations with peers and potential clients over there.
If you use Facebook or Twitter for branding, be sure you are aware of their analytical capabilities. On Facebook, and even more so on Twitter, there are built-in analytics that help you analyze your audience and the popularity of the content you share. Also, look into automation tools such as Buffer and IFTTT, which can take some of the work out of sharing content.
Branding on social media can be valuable, but it’s not for everyone. I’ve heard from a few people that social media just isn’t for them for one reason or another, and for them using Facebook or Twitter would be a chore that would be hard to sustain. Also, for those who vocalize strong opinions on topics that can be polarizing – including politics, religion, or the Oxford comma – using social media as a professional branding platform could turn into an uncomfortable mix of personal and professional topics.
Millennial Social Media: Snapchat, Pinterest, and The Next Big Thing
For those of us in purely technical roles, more modern and millennial-friendly social media platforms such as Snapchat and Pinterest are likely to be more useful as personal than professional platforms. However, for certain audiences or market segments, these services can be useful. If you’re in the creative media space, or if your target market for employers or clients focuses on that space, adding these to your digital presence may help further your brand.
Website / Blog
If you want to stand out among your peers, create a professional website or a blog. A surprisingly small number of technical professionals has their own dedicated web presence, and even fewer regularly blog. Therefore, this is a great opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd to showcase what you have done.
One of the most profound moments I’ve ever had during a job search occurred several years back while I was interviewing as a consultant. I had been blogging off-and-on for several years at that point, and my blog reflected the evolution of focus and technical depth I had gone through during that time. During an interview, one of my hosts commented that I was the only candidate who had a blog, and that my blog helped the interviews understand my skills and experience. I ended up getting that job; it wasn’t just because I had been blogging, but my blog did help set me stand out in a pool of similarly-qualified candidates.
Just like with social media, blogging isn’t for everyone. Good writing takes a lot of effort, especially when you’re first starting out. It helps if you already enjoy writing! On my blog, I average 40-50 posts per year, or roughly one per week. However, you don’t have to blog at that frequency to add value to your digital profile. If you only blog once a month, or even once a quarter, that’s still 4-12 more posts per year than most of your peers are writing.
If you’re keen on the effort to maintain a blog, I recommend setting up a professional website anyway. Even if it’s as simple as a one-page “about me” professional website, there is some value in having that presence that many of your peers don’t. This will also be a placeholder for any future content you share, or a landing page if you choose to freelance.
Setting up a blog need not be technically difficult or expensive. I’ve had great results with WordPress, a popular GUI-based website platform that is very easy to use. You can get a free site at WordPress, or buy get hosted with your own custom domain name (which I highly recommend) for about $40 a year.
Are you into sharing what you know through video? If so, recording talks or training sessions and posting them to video sites such as YouTube or Vimeo can be a great way to build a brand and an audience. I mentioned that very few technical professionals are blogging, and only a fraction of those are regularly producing videos. This makes for a green-field opportunity to showcase what you know to a potential employer or client.
Here’s the caveat: creating and producing video requires a lot of time and effort. For technical videos, the effort to record, edit, and produce an hour of video can take 6-12 hours or more – sometimes MUCH more if you’re doing a lot of demos or you’re going the extra mile to create a polished professional video. Now don’t let me talk you out of doing videos if you think you’ll enjoy it, because there is a tremendous opportunity to use video to set yourself apart from the crowd. However, be sure you know what you’re getting into first.
Public Development Projects
Taking part in a visible development project is a great way to raise your profile. Platforms such as Codeplex, GitHub, and others offer individual contributors the opportunity to contribute to an existing development project or create one of their own.
Most everyone working in a technical role has browsed through technical forums to find answers or ask questions. This presents an opportunity to help others as well as show what you know by answering questions in your subject area. Some platforms even allow rating of users and answers to help build credibility scores for those who provide good and helpful advice.
The most important factor in building your digital professional profile is to find an approach that works for you. Most people (including me) won’t do everything I listed above, instead picking out a subset of these platforms on which they can create a professional branding strategy that is sustainable.
The conventional résumé, while valuable, is no longer practical as a single-tool approach for finding technical jobs or gigs. The digital profile we create is a more effective means for communicating what we have done and what value we will add for employers and clients.