The hiring manager flipped her Mac around and slid it toward me, asking for my thoughts on an analytics dashboard she had pulled up. I nodded and started looking at the stats—but then I noticed my personal website was open in another tab.
“I recognize that URL,” I said with a smile.
She smiled back and responded, “Honestly, your site blew me away! It’s beautiful, which is even more impressive considering you don’t have a design background.”
I ended up getting the job, and while I can’t say for sure how much my site contributed, several other people from the company brought it up during our one-on-ones, too. Not bad for something that took me less than a week to pull together!
But I left wondering: Was my site a bonus, or did it actually affect the hiring manager’s decision? And what can other job seekers do to make sure their site makes the best impression possible?
To find out, I reached out to several hiring managers—and most of them said they’d “absolutely” hired someone because they’d had a great personal site. They also had some great insights into what they’re looking for when they see a candidate’s online hub (and what they’re not). Use their answers to build a website that’ll get you hired.
Your Intro Is Most Important
It can be tempting to put most of your time and effort into making your site look amazing. And while aesthetics are important (more on that later), if you focus on one thing, it should be making your personal intro awesome. Almost every hiring manager I talked to said they zero in on this section.
And what are they looking for when they get there? “A great two- to five-line bio that sums up who you are and what your value proposition is,” says Deniz Gültekin, who heads up employment and culture branding for Eventbrite.
Or it could be something a little bit longer, like Cap Watkins’, which delves into some of the places he’s been employed as well as the philosophy behind the work he does:
No matter what route you take, make sure to keep it succinct (as in, no more than a few short paragraphs)—hiring managers don’t want to spend all day reading about you. And if you aren’t sure where to start, stick to the basics. Kelli Dragovich, SVP of People at Hired, says you should describe your current role or profession as clearly as possible, because “that’s probably the first item the hiring manager will focus on to gauge if you’re a good fit.”
If you’re in school, you can still use this strategy—just add “aspiring” or “future” to the title. Think: “Hello there! I’m Erika Townsend, finance major at Boston College and aspiring investment banker.”
If you’re still stressed about it, check out some of our tips for how to write a bio!
Your Projects and Process Matter
After hiring managers get a high-level sense of who you are and what you do, they search for proof you do those things well. You probably already knew that—a portfolio is a common feature of a personal website—but what you might not have known is that, to employers, it’s not all about the end result.
Ed Fry, General Manager of Inbound.org, explains: “I love to see a list of projects, along with explanations as to what those projects were about. What was the idea and objective? How did you go about making decisions? What was the outcome?”
Learning how candidates work—plus what results they got—determines how confident Fry feels about making a recommendation to hire them. Joel Klettke, owner of Business Casual Copywriting, agrees that getting a feel for someone’s process is “so key, but so overlooked.”
“I’ll feel much more comfortable contacting someone when I know how you think and what I can expect from working with you,” he explains.
Hopefully, you have a couple awesome projects from current or previous jobs, internships, classes, or even side projects. But if you don’t, hiring managers say it’s okay to share something you’re proud of—even if it’s something you just did for yourself. Eventbrite’s Gültekin shares, “We hired an intern a few years ago who had linked to his blog post where he showed a project where he had redesigned the outdated concert ticket and walked through his thought process.” Even though the project was never put into action by an employer, it still shows off his impressive abilities.
Oh, and what if you don’t have those jaw-droppingly impressive projects to show off? Fry says even a flop can make for great material. “One of the folks on our team had a personal website showcasing a failed project (among others),” he says. “That was the thing we ended up discussing most and made us most confident they were a great hire.”
Your Site Needs Some Personality
When you apply for a job, you submit your resume—so simply throwing up the same material in a slightly different form won’t cut it for your web presence. Showing personality is crucial: Hiring manager after hiring manager told me they look for insight into what candidates would be like as colleagues.
“A personal site should be personal,” Gültekin emphasizes. “Provide links or examples that show what’s important to you and what you’re proud of. Have fun with it and be authentic!”
If your website doesn’t feel like a genuine reflection of who you are, ReviewTracker’s Head of Content Marketing Brian Sparker says hiring managers might get turned off. “If there’s a lack of personalization, I’d worry that the person isn’t creative,” he explains.
But don’t take this advice to the extreme. Ty Magnin, Director of Marketing for Appcues recommends keeping everything targeted to the jobs you’re applying to. “For instance, if a candidate included a link to her personal site in her job application, and the personal site is focused on being an independent musician, I'm immediately less excited about her,” he says. Your personal site shouldn’t “make a hiring manager think your heart won’t be in the role.”
Finding the balance is tough, but there are plenty of ways to let your personality shine without seeming less professional. You can use colors or imagery that reflect your personal brand. (I chose bright yellow, because I’m pretty peppy!) You can share links to a few “random” side projects you’re proud of (bonus points if they also show off some of your professional abilities). Even just making sure to write the copy like you speak can infuse some personality throughout.
David Ly Khim does a nice job of adding some punch to his site, espcially in the following section underneath his bio.
It’s easily skimmable and gives you a quick snapshot into other aspects of who he is, but doesn’t overshadow his professional experience since it comes after the primary bio.
There’s No Excuse for Poor Design
I recently stumbled across my first website, and let’s be honest—it’s not pretty.
So I was curious to know: Would hiring managers rather see this site than no site at all?
According to Magnin, “personal sites don’t have to be gorgeous, unless the candidate is a web designer”—what matters more is a candidate’s ability to tell his or her story. However, there is a caveat. “If a candidate has a terrible-looking website, it may be an indicator that they are out of touch,” he adds. “With services like Wordpress or Squarespace, there really isn't a good excuse for poor design.”
Gültekin agrees, saying that with the resources out there, “you don't need to know how to code or be a designer to set a site up, browse through the free templates, and take some time to create something you're proud of.”
A personal site can definitely help you stand out among other applicants, but you want to put some time and thought into it to make sure you’re standing out for the right reasons. Focus on explaining your value and experience clearly, showing off a few impressive examples of what you can do, and making sure your site looks nice (using website builders like Squarespace to help you out)—and I bet you’ll have hiring managers bringing it up during the interview in no time.