You’ve likely heard that having your own website can be a great way to get a leg up in the job hunt. But is it really necessary? After all, with all of your other job search to-dos—perfecting your resume, crafting killer cover letters—creating your own section of the world wide web might not seem so pressing.
Not so fast. In fact, having an awesome web presence might actually be more important than those other job search basics—and even the ticket to your dream job.
Don’t take it from me, though: Take it from these (former) job seekers. I chatted with six people to hear exactly how their sites helped them stand out to hiring managers, make career-changing connections, and ultimately land stellar new jobs.
“I Could Show—Rather Than Tell—My Skills”
While your resume and cover letter are great places to tell hiring managers all about your abilities, the proof is really in the pudding (or the personal website, as it were). In other words, why tell someone what you have to offer, when you can show it—with a site full of links, photos, and work samples giving a much more dynamic sense of what you have to offer?
Mark Scott (@MarkScottPR), now the VP of corporate communications at eVestment, found this aspect of his personal site especially useful. His site includes articles he was able to place for various companies in national and local media outlets, as well as examples of his own thought leadership. “During the initial phone screen interview, I was able to direct the recruiter to the site so they could see the experiences and work examples I had,” he explains. “That went a long way to making me stand out from other candidates who may not have had a handy website and may have been waiting for in-person opportunities to share their work.”
Jillian Youngblood (@JillYoungblood), now the director of communications at Noodle, was making the transition from a political career to a more tech-focused one and found her personal site helpful in showing off her newly learned technical abilities. “The site uses two tools that I hadn't used before: Photoshop (which is how I made that beach photo you see in the first frame) and a plugin that created the scrolling effect. Employers hiring web developers like to see that you’re always learning about new tools and trying them out. It was great that I could say ‘I just learned these two things over the weekend and immediately incorporated them into my personal site.’”
“I Stood Out From Other Applicants”
It’s a fact of today’s job market that competition is stiff. And while you’re one of dozens (or hundreds) of resumes in a pile or candidates coming in for an interview, a sleek personal website might just be the thing that sets you apart from other job seekers.
After getting laid off, Meg Dickey-Kurdziolek (@megak) found that building a personal website and portfolio helped her go from a lot of false starts to actually getting interviews—and offers. “I was applying for technical positions that don’t typically require portfolios in the application process, but I thought the addition of a portfolio could do nothing but help,” she remembers. “I was right. I found that the recruiters and interviewers did look at my website and newly built portfolio. They would also ask me questions about the projects I featured in my portfolio during the interview, which gave me an opportunity to really shine and show off what I’m good at.”
Benjamin Felix (@Benwfelix) had a similar experience when interviewing for a finance job at PWL Capital. “During the interview, the portfolio manager brought up my website. I had not told him about it, and it wasn’t on my resume, but when he searched for me on Google it came up in the results. He told me that he loved the way that I convey information on my site, and he was impressed with my ability to make complex topics easy to understand,” he explains. “We had one more interview after that, and I was hired. My website was a huge differentiating factor for me.”
“I Could Control My Branding”
As anyone who has contemplated shifting career gears knows, your resume is a great way to show off your past experiences, but it doesn’t always portray the future self you want hiring managers to see. On a personal website, however, the brand you put out to the world is totally up to you. You can use it to show who you are, not just what you’ve done.
Youngblood found this especially useful when trying to make her career change. “I was very new to web development, and when talking to people, would always quickly follow up ‘I’m a web developer’ with ‘but I used to have another career in politics,’” she shares. “I decided to focus my site solely on the jobs I wanted. I realized that when a potential employer visited my site, I needed them to see ‘web developer’ rather than ‘interesting person who apparently does some web development work.’”
Additionally, a personal website can be useful to show a little more of your personality and what you’d be like to work with—a great way to get people to really want to bring you on board. “I had a good relationship with the person who hired me, but I still had to prove myself to the rest of the team. My personal website was a concrete way for me to introduce myself to the team. It demonstrated that I had a track record of completing projects plus some design sense, and gave them an idea of who I was as a person—crucial when you're going to be working together closely,” Youngblood explains.
“I Was Able to Build My Network”
On that note, having a person website gives people an easy way to get to know you, helping you connect with like-minded folks near and far.
Allison Jones (@ajlovesya), an editor at Idealist, built her personal website straight out of college as a way to “create her own corner of the internet.” One of the most important parts of her site, she believes, was the inclusion of a blog that she regularly updated with her experiences as a “nonprofit newbie.”
More than just being a place to share her ideas and projects, this blog turned into a huge networking opportunity. By using it to connect with other bloggers and sector leaders, she was able to build a growing community of people who knew her as an expert in the nonprofit world and who could help her find—and land—opportunities. “I've learned about job opportunities, have been asked to present at conferences, and more because of my network,” she explains.
When it comes to her current gig at Idealist, her time spent blogging proved invaluable: “Idealist has such a huge presence in the nonprofit world, so I wrote about it quite a bit in my blog. I ended up developing great relationships with people at the organization, so when a job opened up that matched my skills and interests, it was a great fit, and I felt as if I knew the team already.”
“I Was Easily Found”
Last, but certainly not least, by getting yourself a URL and filling your site with keywords related to your field, you flip job searching on its head. No longer will you just be reaching out to recruiters—there’s a better chance they’ll find you through searches and reach out to you on their own.
After completing a web development program at General Assembly, Youngblood included her final project on her website. Before she knew it, she had an unexpected new connection: “…the head of a development team found my personal site and reached out to ask if I was planning to develop it further… When I responded that I was actually looking for a full-time job, he asked if I wanted to come in for an interview.”
Digital marketing consultant James Brockbank (@BrockbankJames) had a similarly serendipitous experience. He initially built his site simply to help bolster his personal brand, but “fast forward 12 months since launching the site, and I received an almost out of the blue inquiry which turned into a very lucrative consultancy in-house consultancy role, overseeing campaigns for some of the U.K.’s leading brands,” he shares. While this won’t happen every time, having a personal website definitely makes it more likely that recruiters will stumble upon you.
I know: Building and maintaining a personal website isn’t as easy as updating the Word doc version of your resume. It takes work, it takes creativity, and it takes some ongoing elbow grease to keep it fresh. But all that effort can pay off in more ways than one when it comes to landing the job of your dreams.
“There had been times when I would look at my website’s traffic and think that it was a waste of energy to be writing and updating my content,” Felix says. “But I persevered, and getting this job proved to me that it had been a worthwhile activity.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.