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How Job Seekers *Should* Blog

August 2nd, 2007

Ryan Smith needs a jobThis is Part III of a three part series, which was initiated when I found Ryan Smith’s blog. I first wrote Ryan Smith’s Blog Sucks (but it’s getting better), then Job Seeker Blogs – Why I Hate Them. Today I’m going to go into what *I* think would be a more appropriate, career-minded solution, whether you are in a job search or not.

I realize that “the problem” is going to be defined differently… for example, those that start out with a job seeker journal will think that they are just pondering, thinking out loud and sharing their personal job search experiences with friends and family. Rob Merrill, veteran tech recruiter shares a really cool story (in the comments yesterday) about how a job seeker put his blog on his resume and blogged about an interview with Rob AND how he was going to use the interview in a negotiation with someone else! Boo hiss! Dumb, stupid! Folks, this is what I’m talking about — even though I consider it to be an extreme, this is the perfect story to support the idea! Be careful!

In fact, don’t even keep an online job search and interview journal. Instead, write that in a journal at home. So what do you write?

Well, I think most of the answer lies in what I look for when I am on the hunt for my personal branding You Get It award. I will share what I think YOU (Ryan, and YOU) should be doing with a blog:

First Impressions

I don’t think that widgets and layouts and all that stuff needs a ton of time, effort and fret. HOWEVER, I think that you need to consider the “first impression” affect. I personally feel that blogger and blogspot is one of the cheesiest platforms. People gravitate towards those because they are Google properties, and perhaps they’ll get better search engine results. But Ryan’s default template is so off-brand for (a) a guy, (b) a professional, (c) a marketing graduate, etc. The colors, the width, etc. It’s just all wrong.

Do I put a lot of weight into the design for the award? No. In fact, Rob Frankel has a horrible website (at least, there are a number of things he can do to make it a lot more pleasing to the eye). The difference is Rob’s value prop that you get overrides the layout and first impressions. He is definitely an exception.

Content

Think about content in two dimensions – Breadth and Depth (see image below — “How much do I know” is the breadth, … the depth would be labeled “how well do I know it”). Your breadth shows how many different things you know or are passionate about. Ryan is a marketing/management major. Perhaps things in the breadth columns could include things like organizational behaviors, statistics, purchasing psychology, advertisement theories, etc.

The depth is how well does he know each of the things. Let’s say Ryan is a real brain with regard to statistics and analysis, as it relates to marketing issues. This would be represented in the blue area below (for an example of a blog like this, check out Adelino de Almeida’s Profitable Marketing!, who won the You Get It award last December).

Breadth and Depth

I think the key here, as you figure out what content to include in your blog, is to recognize what your brand will be. For example, when I started I asked myself, am I Jason the unemployed guy (something that people could relate to) or Jason the wildly successful internet entrepreneur (and, still in touch with unemployment issues)? The content and tone came from answering this question. To get a good idea of the breadth that I’ve defined just look at my blog categories (on the left).

Can you see how a job search journal wouldn’t really have much depth? And really, the breadth might be all over the place… again, I’ve only seen this (the job search journal) done successfully once, by Clint James.

Consistency

I hope I’m not mixing terminology up in my mind (between frequency and consistency). Frequency of post is one thing (I recommend three to five posts a week). When I talk about consistency here I’m talking about consistently staying on brand. Is it okay to go outside of the boundaries in the breadth/depth graph? SURE! It’s cool to share who you are and what you think about with your readers. However, I would not do this all the time… it will lose and confuse people. Respect the people that come to your blog by staying on-topic as much as possible.

Note that I set up an “off topic” category and have a handful of posts in there. Not many. I did, however, set up a personal blog where I rant and rave and blog about stuff that just doesn’t fit in this blog. I think about the Jason Alba brand and try and write stuff that I won’t regret later, although I admit that a few posts there are definitely on the border of what I would recommend to others.

Community

I DO NOT think that you need to have an obvious community in order to develop credibility as a professional. However, as you blog, over the months and years, you will develop a community. If you can figure out how to get others to comment on your blog, or create their own blog posts based off of one of your thought-leading posts, you will be seen as a more central authority within your subject matter.

If I were considering a candidate and found their blog to have rich breadth and depth and NO COMMENTS, I’m totally cool with that. If I can see months of really smart posting which gives me a feel for how they will fit in, I’m sold. However, what if they had a number of comments per post, even from other industry bloggers? That’s almost like seeing letters of recommendation, as I consider each comment an endorsement for the blogger (except the negative, mean comments of course).

Tone/Attitude

Going into the writing style, I’m going to want to be able to read it easily. It doesn’t have to be 100% picture perfect, most bloggers whip things out and don’t review them. So I expect to see spelling and grammar errors – but not too many! In addition, I want to read something that is not going to tax my brain, make me mad, offended, sad, or anything else like that. So watch your tone, make it constructive and uplifting (in a real way, fake is out), and let me focus on the good stuff you have to offer without ruining my day.

Once again, this post is way longer than anticipated, and I need to stop. But there is so much more to say! If you want to be impressed, check out the monthly winner award recipients.

Drop a comment and add to this discussion… Ryan, thank you for being a good sport about this! And to those that have commented through this series, thanks a TON for the discussion!!

10 Comments »

10 responses to “How Job Seekers *Should* Blog”

  1. I agree with everything besides Tone/Attitude. For one, I can’t stand when I see grammar mistakes. I think it’s actually highly unprofessional, particularly if you’re writing a professional blog. If you can’t take two minutes to proofread your post, what’s the point? I’m not quite sure why we stand for mediocrity. On that note, if you ever see mistakes from me, let me know!

    Also, you don’t want to read anything that will tax your brain? I think this is bad advice and promotes the apathetic image our generation has. Heaven forbid we think for a bit about something besides our own hedonism.

    Okay, sorry, that’s my rant for the day :)

  2. Jason Alba says:

    @Rebecca – uh oh, from this and other posts I think I’m falling a notch or two on the pedastal chart 😉

    I TOTALLY agree about the typos and grammar and all that – I can’t stand them. But there are two things in the last year that has opened me up a little bit. First, my own mistakes. Upgrading to FireFox 2 has helped since it includes the spell check… but it’s no guarantee that I’ll spell or write correctly. With all the writing I do I can’t edit everything at a professional level. And so I allowed myself to feel like a slacker in this area… I think if you go back to my earlier posts you’ll see more mistakes than I’d like to admit.

    The second thing that happened, I was in a discussion with a veteran blogger and they were talking about this very issue and he said “realize that blogging is a casual medium.” While I don’t totally agree with this, it helps to put blogs in perspective. I am trying to be as careful as I can to… but I am not as critical of bloggers who have minor mistakes (but again, not frequently).

    – jason :)

  3. Jason Alba says:

    While listing my two-part answer, and taking a phone call and answering an e-mail, I neglected to respond to the second issue of brain taxing writing.

    I admit I’m a simple guy. I like to philosphize, sometimes. But my brain just doesn’t work that well, especially in this phase of my career. I’m much more on the practical application side of things. I don’t want to know what the chemical makeup of the BBQ sauce is, I want to know what it goes good with. I don’t want to worry about what will happen to my CDs in 100 years, I figure that they can be transferred in 20, and I’m waiting to see what products are out then.

    Sorry, that’s just me. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t think. But man, if I can’t get through the first paragraph then you’ve lost me.

    I try to write about thought-provoking things, but I try to do it at a level that I think most people will be interested in. If I lose people then I can’t inspire them. If I lose people then I can’t share my story with them, or help them through a very difficult thing. I want to engage people. Very few masters level text books engage people.

    So, by no means am I saying “let’s write dumb stuff.” You can go see a lot of technorati 100 blogs for dumb stuff. You can see a lot of A-list blogs that write about dumb stuff (no offense, all my A-list fans :p). By no means am I advocating that.

    You know what would tax my brain? A blog explaining the intricacies of health insurance, written for HR professionals. Or a blog on philosophy written for philosophy students… or a blog on cold fusion (in physics, not the programming language). That is just too much for me.

    Perhaps I should have said “overly tax my brain,” I don’t know. I hope my point isn’t lost in all this explanation. But if you look at my winners of the You Get It award, I’m guessing you’ll agree that they don’t blog on dumb stuff. (maybe I’m mixing up the level of discussion and the ability to communicate well?)

  4. No falls from any pedestals- I like when people disagree with me :) I hope you don’t mind when I disagree with you. I find I learn more this way.

    I appreciate the clarification on typos. While it is certainly reasonable for you (you own your own company, after all), I think anyone who is using a blog to actually find a job needs their blog to be typo-free. It’s essentially part of their resume and I’m sure you would recommend everyone to review their resume with a fine-tooth comb.

    As far taxing your brain, what you have commented and what you originally wrote are very different. Originally you admonished anything that might bring you a negative feeling, and the clarification focuses more on your personal interests. I think we can both agree that blogs that are written with a concise and meaningful point are better than those that ramble. So yes, it is not what you write about or discuss, but the ability to communicate well. Which we can all constantly improve!

  5. Walter Akana says:

    Hi Jason!

    Thanks for a great series of posts on job seeker blogs. Thanks also to Ryan Smith for being so open to feedback; and finally, thanks to all the contributors for some very astute comments.

    From my vantage point, as a career coach and a personal branding strategist, I believe you really nailed the content/branding dimension. First, as I see it, job search is almost always about starting and enlarging a professional conversation. Second, the best conversations tend to be those where you can demonstrate your knowledge and your passion in a way that is engaging and valuable to another person. What’s more, if you have real insight into your own personal brand, then you can present a much more clear and powerful promise of value.

    Bottom line: I believe that blogs are a waste as a job search tool, but a clear differentiator in career management. Posts about how much you need a job may attract a certain kind of reader, but are short lived and rarely attract the interest of hiring managers. On the other hand, posts that convey knowledge, passion, and value that are relevant to one’s profession have a better chance of helping you stand out – and not get weeded out!

  6. Pete Johnson says:

    Hey Jason,

    Essentially, I think you’re saying that a job seeking blog is an extension of your resume. Show the breadth and depth of your knowledge and think of it as an ongoing writing sample. Some of the other suggestions (first impressions, consistency, etc.) I think are true of any blog.

    Let me throw this curve at this discussion that maybe isn’t interesting enough for somebody to swing at. What you’ve described is a job seeking blog that helps you get a job. On Part 2, you suggested that nobody wants to read about your job search process and there are problems with transparency if you aren’t careful. I waited to see if you’d address that today, but I actually think a diary of your job search process is useful, it just isn’t as useful to you as it is to someone else.

    Let me explain.

    I have a few relatives who have undergone long medical treatments and the official line from the doctors in the pre-procedure literature didn’t offer much depth into what the experience is actually like. Finding a blog that chronicles the steps and what someone was feeling during the different parts of the process gave a window into what would happen that doctors just couldn’t provide. It let the person experiencing it express themselves and left a nice record for someone else to learn from.

    I realize I’m reaching here a bit, but the same is true of a job seeking journal. As long as you keep your eye on the transparency and avoid injuring your chances on certain opportunities, I think it can be therapeutic for you and beneficial to someone else later.

    Pete Johnson
    HP.com Chief Architect
    Personal blog: http://nerdguru.net

  7. Maggie says:

    Ugh … so now my blog is cheesy (blogspot) … yikes! Oh well, convenience is king (I’m a Google Gal!) …

    As for Ryan Smith’s blog … kudos to Ryan for opening himself up to feedback like this. That in and of itself requires some guts and ambition! :-)

    That said … you’re right, Jason. The blog is in some serious need of help. As a hiring manager, if I saw that blog my immediate assumption would be that Ryan was straight out of college, based on his tone, presentation and writing skills. It’s a rough read. I think that Seth Godin makes a very good point in one of his blog posts on this, when he points out that there HAS to be some kind of relevance to another in order for it to be interesting (“nobody finds your life as fascinating as you”). Nobody wants to read about what turn Ryan took to get to work, if he got there five minutes late or what his girlfriend had for lunch on their way there.

    However, he COULD have put a humorous twist on his story, a la Scott Adams in the Dilbert Blog, and it would have put a whole other spin on the story. Ryan, consider making your job search a funny story?

    My ten cents … thanks again for good discussion, Jason!

  8. Just an old fogeys spin on things. Whatever happened to networking as a tool in the job search?
    No, not the phony passing out business cards, etc. Networking as I mean it, is to do SOMETHING FOR SOMEBODY!

    The job journal thing can be a therapeutic tool to help the job seeker either get or remain on track.

    The tone of the original article was, to me, too much of me & more me.

    Doesn’t anyone read: What Color Is Your Parachute? any more? Dick Bolles has had this book in print for over 25 years & it still works! I ought to know as I have used his techniques over & over to help clients find success. Fogeys still know a lot!

  9. Jason Alba says:

    Maggie, I love your idea about making it a FUNNY thing… you are right and I’d LOVE to see someone that can put something like that together. I really think it would stand out.

    Pete, I had to chew on your comment for a while. I see what you are saying and, in general, agree that it can be a good idea and helpful to others (the job search blog). In fact, a lot of blogs are of this nature… I homeschool, learn as I learn; I am suffering through this, learn as I learn, etc.

    I think a huge difference, even a deal-breaker, for job seekers is that this is a time to SHINE. If you can do a job journal and SHINE then go for it. I have only found one person who has been able to do it. But it’s weird to step into this transparent world AND be really careful about what you write or don’t write.

    Anyway, food for thought. This was a fun series and I appreciate you guys watching it and contributing to the discussion!

  10. Jason Alba says:

    Marilyn, there is nothing wrong with networking as a tool in the job search. I am a strong advocate of networking, and blog about it frequently. I am a huge fan of Never Eat Alone and Some Assembly Required. I even write a monthly column for The National Networker, as the career editor.

    I think if people are going to write a job journal for therapeutic reasons, they should be very, very careful if they do it online, or keep it offline.

    If you are saying that the original article (meaning this blog post) was too much about me (Jason Alba), sorry about that. I am trying to convey a message here, I didn’t want to rip into Ryan more, but wanted to get some points across, and used me and some personal examples and preferences. I can do that because, well, this is my blog. And, there is a HUGE difference between articles and blog posts. I would have written this differently if it were an article, for sure.

    I have the current edition of What Color Is Your Parachute. The reason I’ve been blogging since last year about this stuff is because I think it’s too long/hard to read (as opposed to a blog post, that you can sit down and read in just a few minutes a day) and is not completely thorough. In fact, looking at the index I see no mention of blog, personal branding, or using your own website in a job search.

    No one is disputing that “fogeys” don’t know anything… this is just another tactic, or tool. And it’s definitely caught on, and isn’t going away.