Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Blogging as professional experience

Blogging takes a lot of time and effort and for some, it becomes almost a second job. But as much as blogging comes from a place of passion, the skills required to be a good blogger are pretty marketable. They're the kinds of skills that schools and employers (and others!) look for. Because so many see blogging as a hobby though, they don't consider what the tangibles of it are, and they don't talk about it as part of their professional experience.

I've been asked before and I'll say it as someone who has been on the hiring side of the table: if you are a blogger and it's something you work at -- something that you invest your time and energy into -- you absolutely should include it on your resume, in job applications, in your cover letters, in your interviews, or in any other capacity where you are discussing your relevant skills. Your blog is probably the biggest portfolio you can show off.

It can be challenging to step back from the act of blogging and translate into words what you're doing and what skills are being employed. Blogging can be intensely personal, so thinking about it as something professional and marketable can be a little tricky. But you can!

Communication

Whether you're blogging by writing or blogging via video, you're communicating your thoughts. You're editing your words into coherent sentences and organizing your ideas into ways that make sense. Blogging is practicing effective communication skills and doing so for a readership outside yourself.

Blogging also enhances your ability to describe and distill complex information. How do you explain what happened in a 300 page book? How do you point out what made the point of the book work or not work? This requires a lot of logic and a lot of higher-level thinking to do. Whether or not you write a good review or a critical review, you're putting a lot of thinking into the content and expression of those thoughts.

In addition to being able to point to the actual writing (or video), those who blog also have an opportunity to talk about communication via readers. You respond to comments and follow up. You also maintain communication with those who you work with, if you're working with publishers or authors on different promotions. These seem like little things when you’re doing them, but they’re evidence of understanding the importance of two-way conversation and engagement.
 

Expertise

Whatever it is you're blogging about, the longer you do it, the more you become knowledgeable about the topic, whether or not it's your actual background. It helps I've got experience as a librarian and my education is in teen services, but that doesn't make someone whose education is something entirely different but who spends free time investing in something like YA lit less knowledgeable on the topic. The expertise is just through a bit of a different lens.

The more work you put into blogging about a topic, the more you're educating yourself. If you're researching post ideas, staying on top of trends and influences in the field, making contacts with people in your interest area and allowing them to share their expertise, attending industry events, you're furthering your knowledge on a topic area.

For book bloggers specifically, expertise is demonstrated through review writing, too. The more you're able to discuss why a book did or didn't succeed, the more you're expressing expertise and knowledge of writing and story telling. If you talk about a book's appeal factors or what similar books in the field are, you're also showing off your understanding of the field.

Expertise sets you apart because it's knowledge that isn't always easily trained, and if it's something you're learning about because you're passionate, then it will show through by virtue of your blogging about it. But more specifically, by being knowledgeable on a specific topic such as YA books (or picture books or middle grade books or adult books -- you get the idea), you're acquiring reader's advisory skills, sales skills, and pitching skills.


Networking

A big aspect of blogging is networking. Good networking skills come through strong and effective communication and they play a huge role in developing expertise. When you attend industry events or make contact with people who are important in your world, you're growing your expertise.

While the notion of networking can feel a little cold, it doesn't have to be. I like to think of it less in the sense of trading business cards in hopes of getting somewhere and more in the sense of getting to know people and establishing actual connections with other people. It's not about acquiring or achieving influence but rather sharing and interacting in meaningful ways that leave you and the other person with something you didn't have before you conversed.

One of the biggest and scariest aspects of blogging -- at least for me -- is reaching out to someone new and communicating with them. It's weird to reach out to someone who you do not know and try to open the lines of conversation, be it because you're interested in interviewing them or because you want to talk with them about their book (even if I love a book, rarely do I ever actually reach out to the writer and tell them that because it is hard to put yourself out there like that!). Fortunately, social networking has made networking much easier in some capacities.

Events at places like BEA and ALA are all about networking and establishing and growing relationships. These are networking events, not “book” events. It's through these you get the chance to practice your networking skills and it's through these that networking can end up paying off for you (and the person you've made a connection with -- remember, networking shouldn't be cold and unfeeling).

However, there's a fine line between networking and name dropping. When talking about networking your focus should be a willingness to reach out and meet new people, to establish connections, and create meaningful partnerships with others. Building relationships with other people is huge -- especially in many service-oriented jobs -- so it's a huge asset. But don't name drop, unless you're asked specifically.

Your network is yours and yours alone, and it can be a huge benefit to you. And if you're doing it right, it benefits the people in your network as much as you.
 

Public Relations and Publicity

If you're doing any sort of blog tour or cover reveal or other publicity-driven promotion on your blog, then you are honing another skill set. But beyond those things, if you're working with publishers or authors or third party marketing/publicity agencies, you're helping out on publicity campaigns. Sometimes this means you have creative control and sometimes it means you're following a specific request.

In either case, you're minding deadlines, following a schedule and routine. But more than that, you're taking part in spreading the word through your blog and through whatever other social mediums you use to publicize your content.

Bloggers who have review, contest, or any other policies are also practicing their PR skills. Writing these requires considering what your blog is about, defining your interests and audience, and delineating what you do and do not do (including things like whether or not you respond to all emails you receive, whether or not you participate in blog tours, and so forth).

Sharing your blog's content, even if it's all your own and not a part of a bigger campaign, is still publicity. You're putting your work out there and spreading the word about what you're doing. This is an important skill. You're thinking beyond your own building (your blog) and finding new ways to reach readers.
 

Technology

Something so obvious but easy to overlook is that blogging requires using and learning technology and tech skills. Aside from becoming familiar with the ins and outs of a particular blogging platform, you're learning how to best use the platform to your advantage. You learn how to tag and organize content, how to present it, how to optimize it for search engines. You also learn how to design for a digital platform and keep an eye to the mobile platforms through which people reach your site. If you pay attention to stats, you know how to use analytics, too. Depending on whether you do your own hosting or not or how much you've put into your blog's appearance, you probably have a handle on a number of different web languages, too, including html and css. If you're a vlogger, you've got a wealth of skills relating to using recording tools, editing tools, and you're learning how to produce good quality video for web consumption.

Then there's anything you do to promote your content online. If you use Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest or any other tool, you're learning how to use the tool and how to use it to spread your content (and hopefully communicate beyond that to include networking). If you host contests, you likely use a third party program to use it and depending on how you write or schedule your posts, you may be an expert at cloud services like Google Docs. There are any number of other ways you're using technology or learning new tech skills while blogging.
 

Highlighting These Skills

First and foremost, own what you do. Be proud of the fact you put work into a blog and that you invest not only your time, but also your mind and your heart. Once you are confident in who you are and what you’re doing, you’re more willing to talk about it with other people in a way that’s not self-defeating or belittling of it. It’s easy to consider what you’re doing “just a blog.” It’s not -- it’s much more.

This sounds obvious, but it’s not: share your blog address. You can put it on your applications, on your resume, in your cover letters. How you choose to do it varies, but the key is to have it down so that other people can find your work.

When asked about what you do with your blog, talk about it openly and without shame. For whatever reason, many feel shame and embarrassment about being a blogger, but there’s never a reason to feel that way about something you love doing. Especially if it’s something that provides you legitimate marketable skills.

Use professional language when discussing your blog. The words and concepts are all there. You don’t have to invent anything new for what you’re doing -- instead, think of how what you’re doing fits the skills required for a job, for a scholarship, or for other opportunities.

Highlight your achievements. If you’ve served on a Cybils committee, had your content shared on a big-name platform, started a feature that fills a niche in the blogging world, share that information. It says a lot about you as a person if you’re an active, engaged member of a community -- as much, if not more, than if you’re operating in an echo chamber.
 

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Use your name. If you want to talk about your blog professionally, then look the part.
    • Mind what you say. If you are using your name and talking about your blog professionally, then always think about what you're posting. Never post something you'll regret. Remember that your name is attached to it.
      • Don't be shy. It's easy to hide behind your blog, even if it can be one of the biggest assets in setting you apart. But you do it, and if you're proud of it, show it off. Blogging is a huge undertaking and huge responsibility and it shows a willingness to commit, to engage, and to devote yourself to a passion. 
      • Play fairly. If you don't own something, don't take credit for it. Give credit where it is due and always ask before you simply take. 
        • Sell your skills. I've outlined a ton of things I think about in terms of what blogging brings professionally, but there are plenty more and they can vary by blogger, depending on what you're doing and how you're doing it. Never undersell the knowledge and skills you acquire on your own.
          • Your blog is your portfolio. It is something you can point to, show off, and talk about. It is a tangible product. Make sure you’re producing a quality product. If this is something you want to point to as a professional tool, then make sure your blog works for you and not against you.

            • Believe in yourself. This above all else is what will take you furthest. 
              Make sure you check out the rest of the posts in this week's unconventional blog tour about blogging -- where you'll learn even more about how to be professional with your blog.  

              13 comments:

              1. GREAT post! Sad to say, I've experienced a lot of hesitation and worry from hiring managers re: blogging, especially if they aren't technology or social media savvy. That's changing, but it's a very slow process.

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                Replies
                1. It is a slow process, but the more people talk about it and what it does for them, the more likely change happens. I think I have gotten more professional expertise out of blogging than I did in grad school, at least when it came to YA lit!

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              2. Our blogs are often the anchor of our digital footprint. I think you've highlighted very important points in maintaining and promoting a presence of which we can be proud. I find that the educators and librarians with whom I work are excited about how I use my blog, so it is listed on my resume and business card.

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                Replies
                1. I list it on my resume, and I also have a separate heading in the resume itself and include it (along with WHAT I cover in my blog, my stats, my audience, and my features). I also talk about it in my cover letter. It's important and it's legitimate. If it excites you, you SHOULD mention it.

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              3. YES! YES! YES!

                Here's just one way blogging has helped me professionally:

                I attend a blogger meet up at ALA. I meet another blogger who's also a Maryland librarian. Later that year, she's helping put together the Maryland Library Association Annual Conference. They want a presentation on teen literature. She remembers me and my blog and invites me to present. It goes really well and it changed everything. There are a ton of opportunities I've had because of that presentation. I never would have thought that I was qualified to give it if no one had pointed it out to me, and they only knew of my expertise because of my blog.

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                1. It's through blogging I met the folks who are my tight professional network and through blogging I have gained enough knowledge TO present on certain topics. Likewise, it has led me to other professional opportunities and I think part of it is because I do think of this as a professional forum (but never do I let that dictate content -- I just consider it when I'm writing my content).

                  Your blog is a huge portfolio. It should be one of the first things that pops when someone Googles you.

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              4. I told you on Twitter this weekend that ever professional opportunity I've had since I started blogging can really be traced to blogging. I was not at all exaggerating.

                -After losing my job in a big round of cuts at the Big Government Agency I worked (that, incidentally, resisted my urging to start a blog, dismissing it as "guys in their mom's basements"), I was hired to teach an intro class in blogging at a local college. This has morphed into a huge chunk of the work I do, as I teach about 10 classes a year at that college, all in digital media/communications.

                -I wrote a popular sewing blog for years. I was eventually hired to managed three blogs for a trade association in that industry--directly because of 1) my blog and 2) my connections to other bloggers in that field.

                -Because of my old blog, I became a regular columnist and feature writer for a magazine in that field.

                -Because of my old blog and the above two experiences, I still freelance in that area (even though that blog is retired) because people perceive me as having "expert" level knowledge in that field.

                -I run a (very) small consulting business focused on web/digital communications. 80% of my business is blogging related, from blog plans, to critiques, to design, the bulk of my work is focused on that medium. (Interestingly, most of the other communications people in my community eschew blogging in their business focus, instead choosing to put their efforts toward social media, which commands higher fees in our market.) I see this as a culmination of all of those other experiences blogging afforded me.

                I'm not saying this pay myself on the back, instead, I want to emphasize how blogging can really be a springboard into other opportunities, should you want it to be.

                Here's another story, just to illustrate that my experience isn't isolated: I had a student in my intro web design class last term who was a recent college grad, and while she was brilliant and experienced and skilled, she was struggling to find work (our economy is terrible in Portland). She took my class because she felt like she needed better web skills to give her an advantage in her job search. Her project (each of my students have to produce a website of some sort) was a blog about running. She went to her next interview (at a technology manufacturer) and mentioned that she's taking my class and that she had started a blog. They hired her. And after she was hired, they told her that the factor that tipped the committee in her favor (there were hundred of applicants and four rounds of interviews) was that she was blogging--that to them that meant she understood how the web worked, how to communicate, how to interact online, etc, etc. She was hired over more experienced candidates because of the blogging!

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                Replies
                1. And by "pay myself on the back," I mean "pat myself on the back." I believe "pay myself on my back," means something entirely different. ;)

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                2. Thanks so much for sharing your examples. I agree with you 100% -- blogging can be such a huge springboard. I speak for both Kim and myself when I say our blog here has given us a unique and really exciting freelance opportunity, too (which we don't talk about openly). We were discovered via our blog and through no other means. Putting in the work can pay off in big ways!

                  The story about your student gets to the heart of what I hoped to get across, too: you sometimes stand out because of your blog and the work you put in there (cognizant of it or not). You have a huge amount of practical, trackable experience that many others who may be more credentialed simply do not.

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              5. "For whatever reason, many feel shame and embarrassment about being a blogger" really hit me, because except in among my kid lit peeps, I do feel that way. I'm not sure why really, unless it's that people don't understand what it means to have a blog. I tend to tell people that I run a website, which isn't as accurate but feels closer to their understanding of all the skills that you've gone over here in your post.

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                1. You know, you're not the first person to say that. I do think there's still a bit of a stigma/lack of understanding of what "blog" means, and I don't think it delegitimizes it if you call it a website. But I think blogging is becoming more recognized and understood and (I hope) because it does offer these skills.

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              6. Love this post Kelly! Many of these reasons are part of why I started blogging. I'm a recent MLIS graduate, and as you know, the job search is rough, especially when you don't have the option of mobility. I looked at blogging as an opportunity to hone many of these skills that I feel could help to make me an asset in a professional environment, and demonstrate those skills to potential employers in a format visible as something more than a few lines on a resume. I have, however, been unsure about adding my blog to my resume. After this, I know I will!

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              7. I'm coming to this post more than a year after you wrote it through a complicated chain of googling 'should I put blogging on my resume?'. This is a GREAT post, thank you so much for putting it up. I heartily agree that blogging can show so much more than just something you do for fun- so why shouldn't your future employers see that?
                Thanks again!

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