Your About Page
I recently attended an academic conference to present a paper, listen to panel discussions, and network with my colleagues. I saw same familiar faces and met some professors and graduate students - both new to the field and to the conference. As you would expect, I had many excellent conversations and began to accrue quite a list of folks that I'd like to keep up with professionally. This should be easy in the digital age.
Yet, I found many handed me old-fashioned business cards —a staple of the print age. Now, there's nothing wrong with the idea of the business card, but keeping up with dozens of little paper cards runs contrary to every reason I carry a smart phone. Yes, you could open your address book app and enter your new acquaintance's name - hardly practical and a bit socially awkward.
In his short story “Deep Eddy,” Bruce Sterling had a cool solution. Most of the citizens in this near-future world wore Google Glass-like devices called “spex.” The germane characteristic of spex is that they transmitted a digital business card to others’ spex, so anyone looking in anyone else’s direction would see her pertinent information. Why can't my iPhone do this? (OK, now it sort of can with About.me’s new Intro app. Still, how likely will its adoption be —especially by those I network with most: academics?)
Until such a time —I’m sure it will be here soon—we need an intermediary step: something that acts like a business card for the digital age. Enter the “About Page”: a simple URL is easier to enter into your smartphone. It should act as a hub for your digital life, containing an introduction to your public face or professional persona. Think of your About Page as a combination of a business card and cover letter: since it’s digital, it can contain more than what a paper business card does—like a photo, an introductory narrative, a way of contacting you, and pertinent links to social media. It might even have your Google Voice number, business address, or other public information.
Your about page is your digital first impression. It should be the suit you wear to an interview - not a sweat pants you wear to Wal-Mart. While it may contain some personal information—like a hobby, interests, or a link to your Instagram account - you should consider your about page as a professional document that you would be confident to hand to Tim Cook if you met him in an elevator. Think: interesting, but professional.
This not a bio for OK Cupid or Facebook, but for a professional community - one to which you would like to belong. Fill in the blank: My About Page defines me as a ________________ professional. If you’re a student, consider the future professional or expert you want to be and target that community when you write your about page.
Consider including these key elements on your about page. Organize your page according to the inverse pyramid: the most important information should appear first.
A short, memorable URL
Remember, until we have spex, you want your page as accessible as it can be. If your URL is short, it's easily remembered or jotted down. If the service allows a custom domain, even better.
Your name and title
If you don’t have a title, your tagline should describe you as a up-and-coming professional. Avoid taglines like “Student” or “Up-and-Coming Whatever.” Make it dynamic and descriptive.
Stick with fonts and colors that are readable, especially if you use a photo for your background. As Butterick’s Typography suggests, “Avoid goofy fonts, monospaced fonts, and system fonts, especially Times New Roman and Arial.” Avoid silly and comic fonts. Consider a sans-serif font for headers and a serif font for body text.
A short introductory narrative
Introduce yourself in 100-words-or-less. What qualities most define you as a professional and as a person? Make it interesting and readable - save most of the boring facts for your résumé. Sell yourself and your passion for for your profession. No jargon or business-ese. Avoid links within the narrative; put them on the bottom of your post. Consider Scott Burkin’s suggestions for writing a good bio: especially his advice to keep it short.
A professional (looking) photograph
While you don’t have to pay a professional photographer to take your portrait—though I would be happy to do so—you should use a recent, high-resolution, professional-looking photograph. Have it pertain to your personality and the type of professional you are. For example, as an English Professor, I might have book shelves behind me and wear what I do to teach. If you do not have a high-res photo, make it a smaller headshot in you bio text and find an appropriate photo for a background. No selfies. Nothing says “amateur” more than a low-res selfie.
A good cover letter introduces and details skills, qualifications, and expertise of a résumé. While the letter points to the résumé, your about page points to your work on the Internet. Link to social media accounts you use professionally, your focused blog, your portfolio, your Linked In profile, your curriculum vita or résumé, and any other online information that helps paint a more complete picture of you as a professional or expert.
A way to contact you
While it’s a good idea to never put your email address on a web site, it is a good idea to have at least a way of contacting you via email. Social media sites like Twitter are making email obsolete, but many professionals still prefer to network via email. Make that possible.
Several services already offer excellent tools for constructing your about page. I'm a big fan of trouble-free: no self-hosting and a no-cost account offering. Or, you could hire me to do one for you.
Finally, review your About Page from time to time. Things change in your professional life, and your About Page should reflect those changes. I make it a point to update my page at least once a semester, even if it's just tweaking a small detail. This review allows you a moment of introspection about who you are and how your present yourself at this particular time. Be sure that it's accurate and current.