Professionalism

This is a big topic, and one I’m really excited to cover, because I think it’s something a lot of people get wrong, either because they’re misinterpreting the advice they’re given, or because they’ve never been given any advice at all.

Growing up, I was taught a very specific way to be a professional. I was taught to have the right handshake, present a professional (safe) appearance, keep my demeanor pleasant, and have a strong, knowledgeable presence. I appreciate the advice and coaching I was given, but as I grew older and held more positions, I found that the conventional wisdom on professionalism wasn’t working for who I am and the industry I’m in—in some ways, it was holding me back. So, while handshakes, appearance, demeanor, and presence are important, I firmly believe there are a number of ways to be professional.

Moreover, I think there are many ways to be unprofessional.

In this series, I want to cover both sides of professionalism. I hope to provide tips that you can mix and match to best benefit your personality and how your industry operates, and to give you concrete examples of how not to behave or present yourself. Of course, there are some tips that won’t work in practice, and some warnings that may not apply to you; but while nothing is going to work 100% of the time I aim to give you the most tried and true tips.

If there are any specific scenarios you would like advice on, please don’t hesitate to send them to me!

Freelancing: What’s in an Invoice?

Invoices are the lifeblood of a freelancer: they’re how you get paid! So what needs to go into one?

What you’ll want to make is a template, that you can re-use as you (hopefully) do more work for the same client, or that you can repurpose for use with a new client. Your invoice should include:

Your name and contact information
Invoices usually go through HR, not your contact (or not only your contact), so you’ll need to make sure you have your name, phone number, and email address. I think these days physical addresses are optional, unless you are getting your checks mailed to you! Make sure you update this if any one of these items changes.

Invoice number
You’ll need to have invoice numbers on your invoices for each client you work for. It’s on you to keep track of these, and to keep the invoice numbers for each client separate. Some employers will have a format they prefer, but if not, I suggest coming up with two letter company codes to go before each of your invoice numbers.

For example, if you were working for Pepsi and Coke, you could keep track as follows:

PE001
CO001
PE002
PE003
CO002

Of course, you’ll be keeping a list of your invoices (see below), so they’ll be separate—I’m just demonstrating here for the example.

Invoice submission date
It’s critical for both you and your client to know when you submitted your invoice, so please include the date under the invoice number. And be honest with your dates!

The personal name to whom the invoice should be addressed, the client’s company name, and the company address
You always want to make sure this information is on your invoice, in case it gets misplaced or misdirected within your client’s organization!

A table for filling in the actual work you did
Using a table will make filling in future invoices much easier. The table should include the following columns:

  • Quantity
  • Project serial number (optional)
    • This is meant for jobs where any assignments you get come with a project number (for example, when I was a freelance proofreader, this would have been for ISBNs).
  • Title of project
  • Hours spent/pay rate quantity
    • The title of this column will vary, but it is meant to indicate the quantity by which your pay is being calculated. For some people, that will be hours spent; others, the pages/images/illustrations completed, etc. Label this in a way that makes sense for you.
  • Pay rate (your total pay per that line item)
  • The final line should have a “total” column, for the total due per the invoice.
  • A notes area
    The value of a notes area will become clear as you start freelancing—this is where you can create stipulations for your work and for payment of the invoice. This is where you’ll want to create and include rules for all the things you do/don’t want to happen in your client relationship. For example, if the client says they pay in 30 days, include a “Net 30” here to make sure your payment should be processed on time.
  • Signature lines for you and your client (optional)
    In our digital age, few invoices are actually truly signed anymore. However, by adding a signature line, you’ll give the expectation that the invoice should be signed, and honestly, it just looks more professional.
  • PROTIP: KEEP A RECORD OF INVOICES YOU’VE SUBMITTED
    After you submit an invoice, make sure you keep a record of the invoice number, amount due, date submitted, and date of expected payment. Keep this document private and secure, but refer back to it at least once a month (I’d advise every two weeks) so you can make sure your invoices are being processed and paid.


    When you start working with a new client, make sure you read over their invoicing policies thoroughly, and ask any and all questions you need to in order to make sure you know how it works, and that you and your client are on the same page about how, and when, you’ll get paid. Happy invoicing!

    The Job Search: Your Cover Letter

    Cover letters, I think, are wildly misunderstood. Like the resume, people tend to pack simply too much in, and too much of the wrong information.

    A cover letter should be your elevator pitch.

    It should efficiently communicate why you and you alone are the best fit for the job, and should elaborate on any critical, relevant skills you have that your resume doesn’t touch on or adequately explain. It’s great to talk about your passion a little, but passion itself should not be the sole content of your cover letter.

    My favorite cover letter article is here: The 4 Paragraphs That Make a Killer Cover Letter

    I like the structure it provides, because it gets you out of the “I’m-so-dedicated-and-passionate-about-this-entry-level-receptionist-position” zone (which we know is BS…even the hiring manager, for a lot of these, knows it’s BS) and into the real meat of the letter.

    Whether or not you follow their outline, the important information is pretty simple:

    1. Include who you are and which position you’re applying for.

    This can be as simple as: My name is Lauren Scanlan, and I’m applying for the position of Entry-Level Data Analyst (job #10020). Including the exact job title and applicable job number, if one exists, will help the hiring manager easily find your resume in the miasma that is a corporate hiring database.

    2. Include a quick reference to the company

    This should be short — say why this particular company appeals to you (and though it may be true, “good benefits” is not an appropriate answer here). Have you followed them in the news? Studied their business model? Used their product? Mention your personal connection, and how you think you might be a good fit for the company. It doesn’t matter to them (yet) that the company is a good fit for you, so be sure you’re highlighting how you can help them here.

    3. Why are you the one for this position?

    This section should be the bulk of your letter, though it should be one paragraph at most. Don’t beat around the bush — tell the hiring manager loud and clear why you should be brought in for an interview. Do you have proficiency in Adobe Creative Cloud? Are you an expert in Ruby on Rails? Does your experience as a retail associate in a pet store give you an intimate knowledge of what pet owners are looking for in a dog toy or cat food? Whatever it is, be concrete, and don’t just repeat what’s in your resume: expand and include any information that’s pertinent but not well reflected in your resume. You can expand further in the interview, so keep it short, sweet, and to the very concrete point.

    4. Include how you wish to be contacted.

    Close with mentioning that you’d love to talk about how you’d be a great fit, and include your correct contact information and ways/times in which you prefer to be contacted.

    5. Proofread

    Proof your work! Make sure your grammar is good and you don’t have obvious typos. Have a friend read for you, if grammar and spelling aren’t your strengths. This is, again, a document that you get unlimited amount of time to write (in their perspective) and that represents you, so make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.


    No matter how you structure it, please remember to tailor your cover letter to each job you apply for. I know this is a ton of effort, but hiring managers can pretty easily tell who has put in the individual effort and who hasn’t. And remember to keep these updated right along with your resume!

    The Job Search: Your Resume

    Resumes are the worst.

    Okay, we’ve gotten that out of the way. Great.

    Resumes are necessary, a way for a potential employer to see what you’ve done and make sure you’re employable. Right?

    Close, but not exactly.

    Resumes are for an employer to quickly see if you have the skills for the job they’re hiring for.

    Many employers (and of course, it differs by industry and area of the country/world) won’t care about where you went to school and that you worked for a major tech company, but they will care that you got a degree in computer science and are fluent in multiple coding languages. Employers are inundated with applications from total strangers, and so your cover letter (which we’ll get to!) and resume are the five minutes of their attention span you have to make your case as the right fit for the job.

    So what does that mean for your resume?

    1. Have multiple versions

    Reformatting your resume to match the job or industry is crucial. Someone hiring for a copywriter and someone hiring for a book editor will be looking for different (if similar!) things in their potential employee, so highlighting different skills in your past work will be important.

    It’s considered passé by some to name your resume files based on the job or industry you’re applying to (for example, Scanlan_copyediting_resume.pdf or Scanlan_PRH_resume.pdf), so instead, organize your reformatted resumes in separate files on your computer, and name them all along the lines of Scanlan_resume_2018.pdf.

    2. Keep it on one page

    There are three people under 35 I have known who have needed multi-page resumes, and the jobs they were applying to were technical and/or sensitive (think security clearances) in ways that required it. If you are applying to a job that will require a two-page resume, you’ll know.

    For the rest of us, one page is plenty. Again, sometimes a hiring manager is only giving a quick glance to each resume before they decide who they interview, and they may have a huge stack of resumes and a short amount of time. In this case, a multi-page resume shows the manager that you don’t know how to highlight and prioritize your own experience, and so may not be good at figuring out and prioritizing what’s important in the role they’re hiring for. One page is perfect.

    And this doesn’t mean messing with font size!

    3. Only include the important jobs

    In the beginning, this won’t be an issue—instead, you might be facing the opposite issue, of not having enough content. If that’s the case, include whatever you have, including coursework, volunteer experiences, and even projects you’ve worked on yourself (have you blogged? That can count! Just make whatever you include on your resume is something you’re okay with a potential employer looking into.)

    As you continue in your career, not all of your jobs will fit on that one page. That’s fine! Your future employer is not necessarily going to care about the summer job you had at the golf course or Bed, Bath, and Beyond…unless you’re going into course management or looking for a job in retail. Include only the jobs relevant to the position, which can include jobs you’ve held in the same industry, or in which you’ve had a similar role. You can explain what you were doing in the other times in your interview, if asked.

    If you’re switching industries or careers, you can get creative. Retail can, after all, teach you a lot about customer service and expectation management, which could translate into being a good counselor. Writing letters for Amnesty International could have taught you how to edit. Find the skills that are transferrable, and include the jobs at which you learned those skills.

    4. Highlight your relevant skills

    If you’re including a job, it’s because it’s relevant, so tell them why. Your tech internship taught you how to code. Your campus job cold-calling alumni taught you how to talk with people who are uninterested in giving you money—perfect for that sales job. There’s no point in listing everything every single job taught you—most employers will assume you’re competent enough at the soft skills every listing asks for: Timely, self-motivated, team player. Each bullet point needs to show your employer that you have the hard or specific skills needed to succeed in the role they’re hiring to fill.

    5. Format it well

    Resume templates can be found for free with a quick Google search. Unless you’re a designer or artist who will benefit by making their own, use a free template. There are plenty, so pick one that matches the feel of the industry and who you are as a person. If you’re going into something super formal (like banking, for example), you’ll want something very structured and traditional. If you’re going for something a little more creative, you might want to choose one with a pop of color (if you’re willing to pay for color printing, that is!) or a unique design. But whichever you do, make sure it is formatted with intention, and looks good.

    6. Proofread

    I have actually declined a potential candidate for an interview for a proofreading/detail-oriented position because her resume was so riddled with typos and formatting errors. Your resume represents you at your best—it’s a document for which you have all the time in the world to create, so any errors are a reflection on you. If you’re not good at proofreading, ask a friend—it’s better to get edits from a trusted source than to lose a potential job from an employer.

    7. Extras?

    Oh, boy. There are so many other things people are doing with resumes these days, I can’t keep track. For a while, a “mission statement” or a summary at the top of your resume was popular, then it dropped off. References were once standard at the bottom, now they’ve gone by the wayside (and so has “References available upon request.”).

    For these things, I’d do a quick Google search for resume trends over the last year, and follow those. Or ignore them, if that seems like too much work. Realistically, none of these extras are going to make or break your resume, unless they make it harder to read or understand. If a summary takes up room you could use to list a critical skill or role, skip it. If you are starting out and want to show potential employers where your interests are, go ahead and include it. As long as your resume has the critical information we’ve already covered, whichever extras you do or do not include don’t really matter.

    Finally, and most critically…

    8. Always save your resumes as PDFs!

    This makes everyone’s lives easier. Yours, because the formatting will stay the same no matter how the receiving person opens it (just make sure there aren’t any errors when your PDF gets created!), and your potential employer’s, because PDFs are easier to forward/print/shred after.


    Above all, your resume reflects you, so make sure you’re happy with the final product before sending it off. And it’s good practice to update it every 3-6 months—maybe make a habit of updating it when you update LinkedIn. That way, if a new role comes along that you’re perfect for, you won’t have to waste precious time scrambling to remember all your jobs and skills!

    The Job Search: Your Portfolio

    Okay, creatives — this time, I’m looking at you. And I’m not just talking about visual artists, videographers, musicians…no. Anyone who has a body of work that they’ve done creatively, from white papers, lectures, online courses, or infographics, should have a place where their work is featured online.

    I’m talking, of course, about the portfolio.

    There are plenty of ways to format your portfolio, but the baseline is this:

    Feature your best creative work in one, easy-to-use, easy-to search hub.

    The idea is to make it easy for potential employers to find your work and hire you based on what you have featured. It should go to a permanent link that you can include on your resume, digital job applications, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, and in the signature of your emails. The fewer clicks someone has to go through to find it, the better.

    Profile the work that exemplifies the work you want to be doing.

    If you want to be doing sequential work, feature sequential pages you’ve done in the past, in order of how much you like them. If you’re a musician, do the same with your demos. You can always rank your work depending on what you think others will like, but committing to your preference early will help you to get the work you enjoy and work you’re proud of, not just work-for-hire in a style that isn’t yours. By being intentional about the work you want to be doing, you can more easily find the clients who will be interested in that work, too.

    At a bare minimum, your portfolio needs to include the following:

    • Your contact information (and how you prefer to be contacted)
      • Even better: Also include a timeframe in which you will respond to inquiries. This can save you a ton of headaches and emails, and gives you some breathing space when responding to potential jobs.
    • Your brand
      • Use the same avatar/icon you use on other social media, and choose a color scheme that looks good and represents you! This will reassure clients and potential employers that it is, in fact, your site, and they’ve found the portfolio they’re looking for.
    • Your work
      • Duh, right? Make sure it’s:
        • Easy to access
          • This is the most important part of your portfolio, so don’t hide it away! Make sure it’s easy to find and loads quickly.
        • Easy to scroll through
          • You don’t want to make someone click in and out of separate images. Make sure everything follows logically, and is formatted so someone can quickly go from one piece to the next.
        • Working as intended
          • No broken links!! Nothing will send a client away quicker than a site that doesn’t work.
          • Make sure your site isn’t internet-dependent, if you plan on walking around conventions or conferences and need to show it off!
    • Appearances
      • At conventions, conferences, etc — if you’re interested in networking, let people know where you’re going to be!
      • Past appearances: Do you have a talk that’s been recorded? Try and see if you can include a link to it.

    Other things, like rates, can be included, though you can always opt to hide those or make them negotiable if you would rather not have a flat rate.

    And, the biggest tip: Include only your best work. Employers and clients usually have limited time to make a decision, and won’t be scrolling through more than a few of your pieces before they decide whether or not they go further. Make a note on your calendar every 3 months to update your portfolio, and commit to keeping it up-to-date. Not only will the newer work hopefully be a better reflection of your current skill, but it also shows you’ve been continuously working, and are invested in your creative work. Just be careful not to include anything that may break a contract.

    For visual artists, a mobile- and tablet-friendly solution is key. Though there are many sites and apps that are good ways to show your portfolio, comic artist, Hiveworks editor, and most importantly, my friend Sarah Stern suggests Minimal Folio for iOS ($3). It lets you display swipeable images — great for when you’re on the go and want an easy-to-use, sharp solution.

    Your portfolio is going to be possibly your best resource for getting new work, so put the time into it that you put into yourself when interviewing and networking. And don’t be afraid to ask friends/industry peers for advice (if it’s someone you know well, or if someone offers), but keep to your own code, too. Not all advice will necessarily work for you!

    Thank you to Sarah Stern for being a resource for me on this post!

    The Job Search: Elements of a Good Online Presence, part 2: Social Media

    Ah, social media. The modern double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be a great tool to get your name and your work out in the world, and can help establish you as an expert in your field. On the other, it can act as a permanent record, and is a window for employers into your personal life, your views on your work and your career, and your views on others.

    Used well, social media can be productively incorporated into a job-hunting and career-building strategy. Below are my tips to create a cohesive social media brand to use professionally. This may not be appropriate for your field, or for how you want to use social media, so take them as guidelines I’ve found to be useful for keeping professional accounts.

    Unify your avatar
    Avatars and photo icons that represent your accounts are the visual window into who you are, and should be treated accordingly. In order to maximize your professional branding, I would use the same photo (preferably the one I advised you to take for LinkedIn in my last post) for your avatar/image across accounts: LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. This builds visible brand recognition, and those who might gloss over your name will remember your face wherever you post.

    That being said, I’m going to take a moment to speak to the creatives, since it’s a bit of a different game for you. Avatars and site images can be a great way to show off your art, but again, I would use the same image across all sites. This can be updated every so often as your art style evolves and changes, but the important point is that it should be a clear example of who you are as a professional and what your style is.

    Whatever the photo or image is, should be memorable (in a good way!) — my professional Twitter account has an image of me fighting a dinosaur, which, when I was pursuing a career in game localization, made me stand out in the community. I was known by high-level professionals in my industry as “the dinosaur girl” — undignified, but useful for branding and breaking the ice at professional networking mixers! I put the same image on my business card for GDC, the premiere U.S.-based game development conference for professionals, and it worked to link my professional work to my Twitter account, where, at the time, I was posting often about game localization. Whichever image you choose to use, make sure it is the same, and working for your branding.

    Post often
    Social media tends to have returns that stack depending on how much you use them. The most successful users on various platforms are those who post often and interact with others. Because of this, it’s best to focus on only a few social media channels, prioritizing the ones you know will work for you. It doesn’t matter how good Instagram is for your field if you hate using it — if you hate using it, you won’t, and there’s no point in worrying about a stagnant account you’ll never go back to. So choose the social media you like to use, and build a brand on that. Most now let you schedule posts, so if you can’t or don’t want to be online all day, you can schedule them in advance.

    Become an expert
    The best posts are ones that have to do with your field, and retweeting or reposting counts as endorsement from you (as long as it’s allowed on the site and you give due credit!). In fact, the general rule of thumb is to post 80% of the time about other’s work and 20% of your own; otherwise, you can risk sounding like a self-promoter (self-promotion in moderation is critical, but in excess may seem like you’re trying too hard/aren’t interested in making genuine connections).

    Many professional conversations are taking place on social media, in Twitter hashtags, on LinkedIn, in blog comment threads, etc. The key point here is to keep your contributions professional: Be polite, inquisitive, and ready to learn. The internet can be a breeding ground for hate and disparagement and it can be tempting to get down and dirty with the worst of them, but using social media professionally should always be treated as a soft interview…because it is. Employers or clients may know you from the reputation for expertise you build on social media, so they may be considering you for potential jobs or partnerships you don’t even know about yet, or that aren’t public. You want to make sure you conduct yourself in a way that you’d be proud for a future employer to see. For me, this means I don’t swear on my professional Twitter — I try to keep it as clean as possible. However, I do retweet articles and discussions promoting women’s rights and gun control, because if someone doesn’t hire me on account of my raging feminism, that’s probably the best for all parties involved. Set out some guidelines for yourself at the start, and try to adhere to them as much as you can.

    Know your limits
    At some point, social media can start to detract from your professional life, especially after you’re hired and at a job which doesn’t involve being on social media. It can feel like you need to be posting to maintain your street cred, your “influence,” your follower count, etc. This can make you less productive at your job, and may make you look unprofessional, if you’re always on Twitter/Discord/Facebook/whatever when you should be on the clock.

    Well, here’s a strong opinion from me: Social media is a constructed space, and as such, your performance within it can be structured as well. Take time off when you need to. Close accounts entirely, if it isn’t working for you. Be conscious of how much time you’re spending each day on social media, and ask yourself if that time could be spent on other, more important aspects of your life. Social media was created with seduction in mind (remember, these apps profit because of their large user base — they’re designed to keep you on them!) so you’ll have to define your own limits on what serves you and what does not.


    As I said, social media is a double-edged sword, but if you set out with self-imposed guidelines, you’ll be able to use it (most of the time) to your advantage. And if it doesn’t serve you, don’t use it at all — your time should be spent in ways that benefit you, not just your reputation.

    Best Practices: Your LinkedIn Profile

    Now that I’ve talked a little bit about LinkedIn, I want to go into what makes a good profile:

    Your photo
    Have a photo. This is, in my opinion, a non-negotiable. Show people what you look like, unless there are legal reasons why you should not (or if your professional identity is intentionally divorced from your image and/or real name). The practice of getting professional headshots done seems to have fallen by the wayside, but I think they can make your profile stand out, especially as a job seeker — it shows you put effort into yourself, and by association, into your professional reputation. That being said, if you can’t afford a professional headshot, ask a photographer friend, or even ask a friend to take some decent photos of you, even on a phone — photos for which you’ve dressed up, as these will be your first impression to potential employers and those with whom you’ll be networking. I don’t think you necessarily need to wear a suit, unless you’re in an industry in which the suit is the standard dress code, but you will want to look the part for your job, in a way that makes you feel (and by association, look!) comfortable and confident.

    Want more tips? A quick Google search yields plenty of articles, but this post by Lydia Abbot about photo tips is a good place to start.

    Headline
    The headline is a feature that may strike some as odd, but can be a useful tool, especially for job searching. Of course, you can just fill it with your current role, but if you’re searching for a job, this is a great area to write a short elevator pitch about who you are, what you do, and (if you aren’t worried about alerting a current employer to your job-searching status) what you’d like to do in your next role. Someone looking for job in character art for online games might write:

    3-D Character Artist with four years of experience looking to crush a role in online games.

    It’s punchy, fun (which is often appropriate for games), and shows drive, while also including a concrete goal and keywords. These keywords are searchable, so including them here is a great way for potential employers to find you.

    Keep your contact info updated
    A great tip, and one this article from Cision.com goes a little more in-depth on. If employers can’t get in touch with you, you’ll miss out on all the opportunities you’ve worked so hard to develop. This is especially important if you’ve moved, changed your email or your number, or have recently left your job.

    Fill out your job and education history
    This is crucial. Depending on where you are in your career, I don’t think you need to include every job, volunteer experience, award, or skill, but having at least two or three fleshed-out job histories from your most recent and most relevant jobs is huge, along with at least one school (high school, college, or graduate school, whichever shows your most current level of education). If you’re newer in your career history, it’s okay to use some padding — do complete those Classes or Volunteering sections.

    There’s some discussion on how these areas should look, whether they should be in first or third person, and whether they should be paragraphs or bullet points. I’m not sure I have a particular preference, although I think bullet points (or a combination!) can be easier on the eye for someone who is reading profile upon profile, and first person is more engaging than third. Just make sure each bullet point is fleshed out, and your tone doesn’t get too conversational — though online, this is still a professional setting.

    Here are two examples — both in first person:

    1.

    As a receptionist at Stark Industries, I was responsible for many crucial tasks, such as keeping track of appointments, coordinating security checks for high-risk visitors, and finding ways to keep The Hulk busy until Dr. Banner was able to collect himself for his lab hours with Mr. Stark.

    2.

    In my role as receptionist at Stark Industries, I:

    • Kept track of appointments with top-of-the-line proprietary software
    • Coordinated security checks for high-risk visitors
    • Used my customer service skills to relax The Hulk so that Dr. Banner could make his appointments

    Goofy examples, I know, but I hope it shows you the merits of either version. Whichever you choose, remember to keep it consistent throughout your entire profile.

    By keeping your education and job history neat and up-to-date, you’ll be able to easily remember when you did what, and employers will be able to see your roles and responsibilities.

    Skills
    This can seem like a throwaway area, but there’s no reason not to fill it out. Just keep an eye on it – others can endorse and influence these skills, and while it can be very flattering for someone to think you’re better at something than you are, that doesn’t actually help you or your potential employer. So make sure your skills are ranked and appear according to your preference. If you’re having trouble figuring out what to include, look at the profiles of others in your industry, and curate your own accordingly.

    Recommendations
    Recommendations are one of those things that feels very difficult to ask for, but at least in my experience, people are usually willing to write them, especially if you reciprocate. It also doesn’t matter as much what they say in your recommendations (though you do only want to include the positive ones!), but the fact that you have written recommendations from others you’ve worked with is a vote of confidence in and of itself, as your coworkers or others in your network have staked their own reputation on endorsing yours. So get a couple on there! The best come from current or past managers or reports, though colleagues, clients, and others can be great, too. If you are just starting out, professors and fellow club members (really, anyone with whom you’ve worked in a professional setting!) are fine, too. Just update once you’ve got some work experience under your belt.

    Network
    As with all social media, LinkedIn is as useful as the work you put into it. However, the strength of LinkedIn is networks — it capitalizes on information and connections created through your weak ties. If you’re just starting out, send out invites to your friends, family, and colleagues to form your base relationships. From there, remember to add people you trust when you meet them in the future, through jobs or networking events. Adding people just for the sake of numbers is not particularly helpful. Instead, treat your network like an online directory of people with whom you’d like to keep in touch, and with whom you may want to work someday. Pop on to LinkedIn every so often and drop lines to people with whom you’d especially like to keep in touch, or even just casually like and congratulate others on their status updates to keep your name fresh in their minds. If you see an opportunity someone you know may like, send it to them — even if it doesn’t pan out, people remember favors, and will appreciate the thought (just don’t go overboard).


    LinkedIn profiles aren’t easy, and need to be updated and curated every so often (4~6 months), but are a great online landing pad for your professional experience. A little work (and a little proofreading!) can go a long way, so start now, and develop your profile along with your career.

    Have a different experience? Absolutely let me know!

    The Job Search: Elements of a Good Online Presence, part 1: Where to Be

    In the age of ubiquitous social media, the great majority of job seekers (certainly urban millennial job seekers) have, at the very least, some online presence and a passing familiarity with how digital social networks work. This change is continually affecting how the job search is evolving, and conventional wisdom is being thrown out the door in favor of innovation, bold chances, and/or best practices.

    What do I mean by all of that? Well, ten years ago, it would have been impossible to find Instagrammers with brand sponsorships, as Instagram itself didn’t exist. Or take Nina Mufleh, who in 2015 successfully created her resume in the style of an AirBnb listing in order to get herself noticed by the company. Her bold choice may not have been appreciated at a more traditional company, but was perfect for the tech-savvy, branding-oriented AirBnb. And though when I was growing up, I was taught never to post things online that I would be ashamed for an employer to see (still not bad advice, in my book), many now are growing up without that advice, and social media accounts, while searchable, may not be the end-all to a job or career (unless something distasteful goes viral…always think before you post publicly!). In fact, in certain artistic careers (especially for writers, artists, designers, actors, and video game folks), having a more personally-oriented Twitter or Instagram feed may create a larger, more invested follower base.

    So, in light of all that, I want to talk about what goes into making a good online presence, starting with the where. Which social media networks and other online tools should you be using? How can you maximize the returns of any effort you spend online?

    This post is mostly geared toward the “traditional” job seeker; I’ll be covering other tools geared specifically toward creatives in future posts.

    For job seekers, these are what I think to be the most useful ones, ranked and explained. Am I missing some? Please let me know!:

    Critical

    LinkedIn: Love it or hate it, find it useful for your industry or no, LinkedIn is the online portal for professional networking and recruitment. You can use it as a hub to keep and update all of your relevant education and career history, keep in contact with your professional network, and search for others based on past education or companies you both share. I like LinkedIn because it lets me connect with people in a setting we all understand to be professional, especially as I keep Facebook just for close friends and family. LinkedIn has features built in that, if you allow it, will alert your network anytime you update your profile, and can show that you’re available to recruitment and hiring managers. Also, many hiring sites will allow you to import a LinkedIn profile, making the job search that much easier (though it may require some reformatting once imported!).

    Useful

    Personal website: A personal website can act as a hub for all your social media, and can function as a combination resume/portfolio. For creatives, a separate portfolio may be more useful (and we’ll get into what goes into a good professional portfolio in coming weeks), but for most people, a personal website should function as a one-stop shop for you. However, personal websites can be difficult to maintain, and do come with a monetary cost (unless you have a free website). It can be a tradeoff, but for certain industries, having a personal website can be a great way for potential employers to get to know you.

    Published work: I was initially going to call this category a “blog,” but that’s too narrow. Having your work online, in a portfolio or as part of your LinkedIn profile is great, but what I’m getting at here is having work you’ve done in your field “published” in an official way, even self-published on your own blog, can lend you credibility, and can give potential employers a low-stakes insight into your thought process and values. Blogging takes extended time and effort, and the rewards can take a while to show, so if you aren’t interested in blogging, see if you can guest blog somewhere, or post (hopefully sell!) an article on another site. This goes for other media too — illustration, video, etc. The idea is to have searchable work that leads back to your name.

    Depends

    Twitter: Twitter can be extremely useful as a networking tool, but it comes at the cost of time and effort. I like using Twitter primarily as a tool to keep track of goings on and information about my industries—because Twitter is a short-form platform which is able to quickly disseminate targeted information, it’s easy for people to tweet and retweet events, news articles, and other important information. By building dedicated lists, you can keep a targeted eye on the hashtags and news accounts relative to what you’re looking for. It can also be a way to connect informally with important people within the industry, through engaging with them in discussion. Just remember: keep everything polite and professional, and don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in front of a hiring manager, boss, or colleague. Twitter interactions are just as real as face-to-face, and the reputation you build on Twitter can have a lasting impact on your professional reputation.

    Instagram: Instagram, for job searching? Well, even if you aren’t looking to become a professional Instagrammer, Instagram can be used to showcase your visual skills. It’s a great, informal portfolio for artists, fashion and interior designers, creative designers, videographers, and others whose skill can be demonstrated in photo or image. By posting often, and posting things you’ve put care and time into (or even sketches and quick clips!), you can gain the attention of others in your field, or find a fan base for your work that you can use as leverage for getting your next gig.

    A word on social media: Social media is as useful as you make it. For some, it will never be useful or enjoyable, and that’s totally fine. It is! Honestly! The best returns on social media come when you post original content frequently on the same channels, and spend time interacting with others on the site. Because of that, find just a few that you like, and stick to those. Or don’t! Social media can be a time sink and can be very emotionally draining, so figure out what level of engagement works for you.

    In Conclusion

    You only have a limited amount of time, money, and mental energy, so concentrate on LinkedIn to start. The other options can be useful if they interest you, but if not, that’s fine! Take a day to really flesh out your LinkedIn profile as robustly as you can, and if you feel LinkedIn doesn’t offer you enough, then move on to other sites.

    Have I forgotten something? Have you built your brand on a different site? Let me know!