Presenting: Your Web Presence (Part 1 of 3)

The Resume isn’t Dead. But it will be. Get ready by grooming your web presence to get hired, promoted or re-branded in the era of resume decline. It’s time to explore strategies for assessing and improving your own digital footprint.

A strategic, well-reasoned web presence is built around a hub; radiating from it are various kinds of digital content. What content will you present to create the portrayal that favors you best?

Writing for “Recruiter,” a self-described online employment resource, Kazim Ladimeji said two years ago that the technology sector would be the first to use mostly digital presence, not a standalone resume, to rate candidates. Now, with greater speed and in more fields than most recruiters anticipated, candidates find themselves evaluated in large part by their digital media portrait.

You can find jobs on CareerBuilder that specify “resumes not accepted” or “only applicants who communicate using Twitter will be considered.” Enterasys is one such employer. Granted, they are a technology company and therefore in the digital hiring forefront, but it is still striking to see next-gen criteria already employed by human capital professionals in such dramatic terms. An Eterasys hiring executive only gives the resume “a handful of years,” and expects that the new standard will be “something that automatically updates with links back to social media.” We’ll examine a model for your web presence that is consistent with the kind of thinking that Enterasys describes.

Build your web presence using the hub and spoke model.

Build your web presence using the hub and spoke model.

By the way, I started writing this using the expression “digital presence,” which has emerged as a term of the craft, but I changed in mid-stream and decided to use “web presence” instead. I believe that a website is the natural hub for the spokes of other digital delivery channels. It’s the point of origin for all of your content. Think of your website as a welcoming customer service desk.

I reason that websites will remain the chief entry point and means of display for products, services and individuals for some time to come. For that reason, “web presence” works for me.

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Let’s talk about your current web presence.

You may think that if you have a resume online that you are “present” enough.

But if you rely on your resume alone to define who you are online, you’re in danger of being misperceived. It isn’t always possible to control what goes out on the Internet—just ask Sony Pictures Entertainment—but you can take steps to shape your digital identity according to your own objectives and design.

Prez•ent and ready to pre•sent.

Presence is an interesting word. It is the opposite of “absence.” But it is also the root of the word “presentation.” What will you include in a presentation about you? Give some thought about what words and images will describe you when others reach out to find you online. Your self-presentation can speak confidently but quietly. Or it may be brighter and bolder. No matter what your style, keep in mind that “presenting” is inherently about displaying and promoting yourself—to present is to broadcast, “Take a look at me.”

Your presence isn’t private.

In today’s world, there is no reasonable expectation of digital privacy and it’s naive to pretend otherwise. Don’t count on being able to delete those parts of your digital presence that are inaccurate or unflattering.

Not knowing what personal data lurks out in the vast, unprotected digital sea creates anxiety for all of us, but our young people may have the greatest cause to worry.

High-school guidance counselors are cautioning their students. The colleges they’ve applied to will most likely look at a candidate’s social media identity as well as academic performance and extra-curricular interests as they evaluate candidates for admission.

In a recent interview with Helen Andrews, who writes for the Washington Post as “The Reliable Source,” former child television star Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) lamented the way today’s teens, tweens and college-age kids grow up in a digital fishbowl, depriving them of safe opportunities to experiment, fail and adapt. “Part of the growing up process is making mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes,” Fred said. At least his mistakes aren’t preserved for perpetuity in cyberspace.


 Multiple personalities.

Nearly every company, product and government agency has a digital personality, and you do too. In fact, you may have more than one. For instance, your business and career objectives may be best served with one personality—one style, one tone, one flavor of content. Family and friends are best reached by another one. The retro-rock-and-roll band you’ve put together? It definitely needs its own web look, feel and sound. Your various personalities should work well together. After all, they’re members of the same family—yours.

Personal and between us.

I’ll be working on my web presence over the next several months; you might be working on yours at the same time. In charting my progress, I won’t try to tell you how to draw users to your website or describe the pros and cons of using various web page templates. I can’t explain the step-by-step process to add or delete material from your archives page. I don’t know how to write HTML, or what to advise about interacting with a hosting service. A wealth of online resources can help you with things like that.

What I can do is alert you to some aspects of building a web presence that both of us should keep in mind.

I’m struggling with a particularly thorny decision right now. I have to make a choice about which of my identities should be reflected in my new web presence. The first step is to consider whom I’m trying to reach and what behavior I want to elicit from them—as a response to my web presence, what do I want my visitors to do?

Whimsical, austere, or somewhere in between?

My personality includes both a serious, formal side and a more humorous, whimsical side. On the whimsical side, for example, I wonder—to promote myself as a copywriter, should I use a photo illustration of me pushing a giant Sharpie?


Man with Sharpie. Too whimsical?

Man with Sharpie. Too whimsical?

I look at other websites, usually those of independent government contractors who are writers, designers or those who deal with brand identity. Some of their websites are creative, some challenging, others are pretty austere. If I’m serious about doing business in the federal arena, dare I show a bit of whimsy, or do I need to “conventionalize” my somewhat breezy C.V.?

It seems that these opposing forces, one side sober, businesslike and reserved; the other fanciful, creative and extraverted, will forever do battle in my self-perception, influencing any identity I create for online consumption. It’s an ongoing struggle.

Deciding what you want your web presence to be forces you to reflect on the way you want the world to see you.

How much to reveal?

Millennials live in a world where personal and professional identities have merged. Their web and social media presences often cross over. They are comfortable with revealing more of themselves to co-workers, bosses, friends, strangers, and in many cases, the world at large.

It’s hard for me to imagine operating that way. I have a firewall between my personal and professional lives that is fundamental to my functioning in both worlds. Many of my fellow baby boomers are oriented the same way, with “zones” of identity.

Questions about identity touch on weighty matters. When I’m reflecting on my identity and how I want to direct it, I ask myself the following questions:

How do you see yourself?

How would you like to be seen?

How do you think other people see you?

How would you like them to see you?

How likely are you to modify yourself to meet what you think are the expectations of others?

 Be careful of changing your image (on the web and elsewhere) to conform with what you think various audiences want you to be. Politicians are often criticized for posing in different ways to appeal to different special interests in the primaries, only to end up trying to please everybody in the general election and standing for nothing as a result. A candidate with a consistent identity, message, and principles impresses us as having greater integrity—standing by his positions even though he knows that it will make him unpopular with some groups of voters.

Present your product, your service, and yourself in a way that’s honest, authentic and genuine. Anything else won’t ring true. If you’re faking it, you’ll fail. Others won’t be quite sure exactly what it is about your message that they’re bothered by, but they won’t trust an identity that you don’t.

How does it read? How will it look?

 Creating and cultivating your web presence will help you become more effective—and more promotable—at your current job. Using your web presence as a platform, you’ll tell your story with both words and pictures.

Don’t minimize the importance of, or ignore all together, the graphic component of your web presence. How things look has a great deal of bearing on the effectiveness of your communication, starting with whether or not a prospective visitor stops for more than a millisecond to se what you have to say. The visuals can be a transcendent aspect of your web presence, connecting you and the visitor to your site and to shared goals. Misused or badly chosen visuals can decapitate your ideas.

Be judicious in your use of graphics. Don’t use low-quality images just to fill space. A good way to include graphic content even if you don’t have any images is a text call-out. You’ve seen plenty of these in print publications. Find a quote or a small segment of text in your copy and “call it out” by exaggerating its size or using a more daring font.

 Who’s hosting you?

 You’ll need an outside service, a host, to store and maintain the electronic files necessary to operate your website. These hosting services range widely in price, and offer numerous options, a lot like the services offered by your phone or cable provider. You want your website to run reliably, so beware of the five-bucks-a-month hosting services that may crash regularly and are rarely monitored or revived. Check out the options at Verizon, RCN, Comcast, BlueHost, GoDaddy and others.

Your digital portrait is your most important graphic. This is not the place to economize. Any corners you cut will show.

Your digital portrait is your most important graphic. This is not the place to economize. Any corners you cut will show.

The most important graphic.

 You already know which graphic is the most important one, right? It’s your official photo portrait, your headshot. The power of a professional photograph can lend you immediate credibility and establish a business-like tone. Likewise, the cost of displaying a non-professional photo is imposed swiftly and irrevocably. The wrong kind of photo tells viewers in an instant how serious, skilled and sophisticated you aren’t. The difference is so striking—between a professional photograph and a non-professional one—that you can spot the real thing immediately.

A professional photograph must meet two criteria. First, it must be created under controlled conditions with suitable lighting, backdrop, facial position and expression. Second, it must be created by a photographer whose training, experience, and judgment are coupled with the understanding of what kind of image is required to establish parity with others in the commercial marketplace.

It will cost you about a hundred bucks for a session with a professional photographer. Yes, you can get them cheaper. And some charge several times that price. But remember—you are a businessperson engaging a fellow professional and peer for help in packaging a product. Neither of you should come cheap.

I’m often asked, “Can’t you just take a picture with your smart phone? They have such huge pixel memory and sophisticated optics these days.” But the kind of camera and the technology behind it are less important than the training and experience of the photographer who commands them.

For a lower-cost option, both Target and JCPenney offer studio photography in some of their stores.

In Part Two of our exploration of your Web Presence, we’ll examine some of the practical realities that require choices—and a small investment—on your part. I’ll also tell you about my dentist-friend Joel, his web presence and his advice to me. And I’ll bring you up to date on my progress as my personal web presence emerges.

I wish you all the best in the New Year, whether yours is whimsical, practical or both.

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J.T. Kerwin has been writing about information technology since the dawn of the personal computer—starting with ad copy for the first Chicago dealer of the IBM-PC. Later, as a communication strategist with Xerox, he was among the earliest users of the original mouse, icons, Ethernet and e-mail. He has created brand identities for IT spinoff companies, startups and programs within the federal government. J.T. is now a brand strategist for a federal agency that sells security products in a competitive environment. His blog posts reflect his background in creative communication, language and design. J.T. believes that everyone can discover their inherent creativity and develop their own brand personality—contributing more to their federal mission and accelerating their own success.

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