If you want to have a job, you need a portfolio and some compelling cover letters.
…If you want a career, you need to establish a personal brand. And to do that, you need to create some content that demonstrates who you are, and why anyone should hire you.
This sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. You only need three pieces of content to set you apart in the eyes of an employer. I call these three fundamental pieces of content your “WWW Content.””
What does “WWW” stand for? I’ll explain, but bear with me while I explain why it matters.
Look at the most successful individuals in your industry, and you’re going to see one thing in common: they all have branded content around their name.
Why do they bother? They bother because the job market is competative. Anytime you’re interviewed for a job, there are ten other equally-qualified people lined up before and after you.
So, you need to stand out. How? Perhaps the simplest way is to publicly participate in your industry by creating content documenting your work.
While it might not get you a job right away, this type of content will help you in the application process, and it will pay dividends as your career advances.
- How to build three core pieces of content that establish your personal brand and expertise
- How to distribute those pieces of content
- How to leverage your “WWW content” to get interesting, high-paying work
What is WWW Content?
If you’re working in tech or want to break in, you should have three core pieces of content that establish yourself as an expert in your field:
A Who item that establishes who you are and where you come from, a What item that describes your skillset and activities, and a Why item that proves you can drive measurable results with a case study, examples, or similar.
In other words, “WWW content”:
- Who: content that explains your personal story.
- What: content that explains what you do.
- Why: content that explains why your work benefits employers or clients.
WWW is an impactful tool if you want to distinguish yourself in your field.
Anyone can create their baseline WWW content in a weekend and then not add to it for years. Or, you can build on your WWW and create a more robust identity, or even a following. (For an example of someone building an audience in their field, see Tobias Van Schneider) But three is all you need to gather leads and one-up the competition.
Actually, one is all you need — you can combine them into one or two pieces of content, or start with the one that comes easiest to you.
Employers looking for workers will always pick the one who’s engaged with their craft. “Thought leaders” is a bit of a buzzword these days, but unfortunately it’s a buzzword grounded in the truth of the tech job market.
What does your WWW show employers?
Think about the questions a potential employer or investor is going to have in mind when they interview you. They likely go something like this:
- Who are you?
- What do you do, and are you competent at it?
- Why will hiring you generate revenue for their business?
And the question for you: even if you get a chance to answer these questions, are they going to remember who you are and have a favorable impression personally?
Your WWW personal branding content is going to help establish a positive answer to each of these questions.
“Who” Content: Tell Your Story
- How did you enter your field?
- Why is the work exciting to you?
- What challenges did you overcome to pursue your chosen path?
These are all questions you can put into your “who” content. “Who” content is essentially the story of who you are. This piece of content can be very direct: “How I quit my job to start a coding bootcamp,” “How meeting my idol convinced me to pursue the opposite path.” “Why I got into typography.” Etc.
Story content can also be more subtle, woven into your other content as framing material: for example, a designer could write an article about “designing like I’m five,” and talk about the life experiences that convinced them that simple design is always better than complex.
I would encourage you to go direct: if you’re nervous about tooting your own horn, try just putting this piece of content on the “about” page of your website, or the bio of your Medium or similar social media. You can bet that if a potential employer looks at your personal site or social media, the bio tagline is where they look for an understanding of who you are.
When writing “Who” content, don’t be nervous about showing your personality. All the other content in your WWW establishes the nitty gritty of your work. The problem is: you’re in a lineup of twenty other people with equivalent skills. Why should they remember you as being special?
Basically, you need to show that you’re unique, so there’s something they can latch on to. E.g. “he’s the one who was into birdwatching.” “That’s the taco guy” etc. Lots of big names in marketing know this well, and use it to powerful effect in their personal branding. Look at Noah Kagan, for example. You might not like the style of his content — but once you’ve seen it, you don’t need to remember his name, because he’s “the taco marketing guy.”
Weird words. Be weird. If an employer is turned off by your quirks, you’re dodging a bullet.
“What” Content: Demonstrate Your Skillset
“Do you know what you’re talking about?” Answering this question is very important. The easiest way to answer it is by creating a piece of content that walks through a specific tactic, strategy, or technical process relevant to your field.
Telling someone you know your work isn’t convincing. Showing them, on the other hand, is convincing and memorable. This type of content can be extremely short, just a 300 word writeup on your LinkedIn or Medium account is plenty.
“Why” Content: Impact and Case Studies
This is where you put all the pieces together and demonstrate how everything in the previous pieces adds up to real world results.
Employers don’t hire a CSS expert because they care about flex grids vs floats. They care about moving the needle on their revenue, and having a site that looks nice and works properly helps them move that needle. Show them why your skills matter: describe a project in detail, using the following structure:
- The client’s problem
- your solution
- The implementation of your solution
- The impact of your solution
- Beat the dead horse and reiterate how your skillset == revenue gain
It might seem like you should wait until later in your career to start sharing your experience and insight.
The traditional thinking is: “no one reads an article about design and then hires that designer. Just concentrate on your portfolio and cover letter when you’re in the first few years of your career.”
It’s true that no one reads an article and then offers the writer a job. Unfortunately, it’s also true that if you're interviewing against a candidate with the same skillset who blogs all the time about their craft... the blogger has a big edge.
WWW Personal Brand Content Case Studies: tech industry success stories using personal branding content
WWW Content Case Study: Preethi Kasireddy, Engineer
Preethi Kasireddy is an excellent example of how creating content around your work puts networking on autopilot. Plenty of people leave their job to take a coding bootcamp — very few write about their experience doing so.
Preethi was able to build a huge audience around her Medium articles that helped her land jobs, raise money for a startup, and build a community around her work and products.
- Who: Why I Left the Best Job in the World. This piece of content establishes how she followed a non-traditional path into software engineering.
- Why: What I wish I knew about fundraising as a first-time founder. This piece of content explores her process of raising money for her startup as a case study for other startup owners.
WWW Content Case Study: Gregory Ciotti, Marketer
In his own words, Gregory Ciotti is a content marketing lead who helps businesses build customer-driven publications. He’s also extremely good at communicating who he is, what he does, and what kind of results he gets for his employers.
As a result, his career path is a straight shot from a smaller, respected startup (HelpScout) to a large industry-leading company (Shopify), in about five years. I learned of his work from his writing online, which is widely shared by tech industry leaders like Jason Fried of Basecamp, author of Rework.
- Who: About Page. He explains his career path and why he cares about the role. Clearly, you don’t have to get gushy or personal to do this well.
- What: Business Writing Tips. An exploration of a tactic he can teach as a content marketing expert.
- Why: One Page One Term. A case study of how applying his skillset drove tons of traffic to a specific page on his employer’s website.
Actually Writing your WWW content
If you feel overwhelmed at the idea of writing, there are a few approaches that help:
- Copycat: Identify a peer with similar positioning as you who publishes about their work — even if it’s just videos on LinkedIn.
- Hire help: If writing is too far outside your wheelhouse, look into hiring a good freelance writer to help you turn a topic you care about into an article. Ghostwriting gets a bad rap; it can be very effective if the writer essentially interviews you on a topic and handles the legwork of communicating the ideas you explain in real time.
- Email-first approach: I’ve found that people who feel intimidated by writing are often perfectly comfortable writing an email. If you want to write about your approach to, say, designing a website, emailing a description of the project to a friend for feedback is a great place to start. Once the writing is on the page, editing is much easier.
Where to publish your WWW content
This can get complex and varies by industry, but generally the best place is on a personal website or Medium account. Publishing on LinkedIn is also perfectly viable, especially if you feel weird about blasting out work-focused content to the world.
Most people can only do one platform really well. If you’re more comfortable with video, publishing your WWW content as LinkedIn videos and building on that within the platform is a solid plan. Writers might want to put their WWW content on Medium, and use other social networks for sharing smaller tips and commentary on their industry. Whatever you do, decide what your “core” platform is, whether it’s a personal website, Medium, or even Instagram. Look to your peers for examples of what appropriate and effective platforms are in your industry.
The nice thing about the WWW approach is you aren’t commiting to constantly posting things every day or week or even month. Don’t commit to daily posting type regimes on a platform you don’t actually enjoy using. E.g. don’t post on twitter every day if you’re using Hootsuite to force it. Be natural, everyone’s tired of that crap.
You don’t have to be prolific. Even one piece of content around your work can be enough to establish your WWW.
Creator of Afield, a publisher of insightful guides about the future of work and navigating the tech industry.