Thus, Andy/Space became more than an electronic business card, but less than a personal library of my extent works. As to the question of my "personal" life, I was quite aware that committee members would be able to learn of my family and other "outside" interests. As we've discussed before, this consideration can hardly be controlled. The idea that Andy/Space was the "center" of all text related to me and my candidacy is a comforting fiction. I knew it then. The rhetorical goal of the online job seeker is to craft a simulation of self that reinforces the sense that she or he does indeed have other interests than merely looking for a job. In the San Jose we call "real," I recall the several lunches, dinners, and coffee breaks I took with committee members. So much of the "test" during these off campus chats is to discern whether the applicant is interesting, or at least pleasant. Perhaps the same goal might be realized by visiting a candidate's website. From the perspective of the job seeker, I sought to create a three dimensional person, at least in a conceptual sense.
Incidentally, since I was hired, I revamped Andy/Space. What was once a clerical listing of my various papers - set off by homemade paper clip icons - is now a nostalgic play on the brain medicines and patent cures of the gilded age. Nonetheless, as a professor of computer mediated communication, one who can still be judged by prospective employers, publishers, and the like, this graphical choice (with images of elocutionists to indicate my connection with communication theory) contains political implications. I find a joyful irony in claiming to be an "old-fashioned" CMC person. Those folks who remember a Devo album called New Traditionalists might know what I mean. Despite my use of Java Script and apparent love of PhotoShop and other "high-tech" software, I don't seek to construct a contemporary avatar. Online, "Andy" lives in a time period circa 1893 -- the age of the Chicago Exposition, the closing of the mythical western frontier. Perhaps this strategic liminality is a component to the effective construction of our online selves. Stephanie, might we suggest that a purposeful use of ambiguity is necessary, or at least useful, in the online job hunt?
Stephanie: Organizational communication researchers have suggested the utility of strategic ambiguity at various levels within and between organizations. Such an approach to job applicant homepages seems appropriate as well. There is ambiguity in the nature of what constitutes "home" and therefore "homepage." While I agree that "home" is generally conceptualized as private, there are parts of "home" that are more public: the "living" room where guests are usually entertained, the kitchen where family and friends often gather, and the backyard where neighborhood children play. The front porch, as we noted earlier, most clearly represents the private-yet-public space of "home." Thus, job applicant homepages exist in an ambiguous space, defying the controls and structures of traditional paper and print. Job applicant "front porches" may be a better label for what we now call homepages.
I was intrigued by employment advisers' suggestions concerning job applicant homepages. Regina Pontrow has some specific tips for job applicants. Although she focuses on resumes, Pontrow provides some insight into how the corporate world views this new addition to the job search. Her advice is fairly basic, such as developing content before worrying about putting the resume online, incorporating relevant key words, using several short pages or anchor links within a single page. Pontrow concludes, "Just like me, you'll probably find that the majority of home page resumes are very weak. As a result, many of these resumes will probably prove to be ineffective. Again, as statistics come out about the effectiveness of electronic resumes including home page resumes, success rates may appear to be low. In large part, this will probably be due to such poor resume design and content." Career Talk also focuses on the importance of keywords, suggesting that job applicants pay special attention to nouns which employers will likely type in for a database search. In addition, Damir Joseph Stimac, columnist for Career Talk, advises: "Place your most important accomplishments at the top of the page so your resume will quickly attract the attention of the recruiter when they review all of the matches found by the keyword search. Remember, even if your resume makes it to the top, it will still have to attract a recruiter's attention." Dick Davies, President of Sales Lab Incorporated also stresses the importance of keywords in electronic resumes. He further argues: "Electronic (disk, modem, Email, internet) creates a better image than hard copy (fax, snail mail), so you can also include sound or video through a hotlink or hyperlink to make a better impression."
In many respects, the "tips" on online job applicant information are similar to those given for standard paper resumes. Thus, advice-givers do not address the rhetorical, legal, or political issues associated with electronic forms of presenting applicant information. Further, job application websites generally include information not found on a traditional resume or vita. While a vita represents a version of the professional self, a website is more revealing, more personal, and presents a more multidimensional view of the self. Moreover, although we would expect job applicants in our discipline to include their vitae on their website, they may not necessarily do so. In contrast to what employment advisors suggest, the rhetorical, legal and political aspects of job applicant websites implicate the strategic use of ambiguity in the practical dimension, the development and construction of the sites. That is, just as job applicants carefully construct the physical self they present at face-to-face job interviews, they must also attend to the self they construct in their websites. So Andy, the bottom line: Should job applicants in our discipline have websites, home pages, or front porches?
Andy: No more strategic ambiguity from us! From our discussion, I conclude that the employee website will soon become as ubiquitous as the fax machine and email address. At one time, these components to the well-prepared job seeker were somewhat mysterious and fraught with electronic peril. In the days of rolled up faxes that mysteriously found their ways behind book cases and tables, some might have suggested that this communications "advance" was hardly worth the trouble.
Now, having a fax or electronic mail account is almost as necessary as having an answering machine. Certainly, plenty of successful entrants and returnees to the market find that good shoes and a polished vita are all that's necessary for them to succeed, but these lucky folks are increasingly a minority. For the rest of us, some sort of web presence is both necessary and, as we discussed earlier, inevitable. This question becomes less a matter of whether, but how we shall constitute ourselves online.
The front porch metaphor provides a more comprehensive orientation to/for the job applicant/prospective employer. In urban areas where most (but not all!) of us live, the front porch has gone the way of the corner drug store and the clink of glass milk bottles. I suggest that many professional fields, ours included, suffer a similar syndrome. Our interactions are either strictly formal, a panel in Reno, a paper in Chicago - or they are so informal as to be inappropriate in the discourse of the performing job seeker. Let us describe a return to the front porch as an "other" place, both private and public - though not fully either; both informal and formal, though not simply in "the middle." The front porch's humble architecture, somewhat enclosing but not fully isolating, offers useful hints to an effective website in a politically tense and even litigious market.
We should offer a glimpse of our personal selves, interests, and ambitions as we invite colleagues and potential friends to the porch. The job search is so frequently decried as a meat market; I prefer my website to offer a meeting place. The awkward conversations over a dinner of "appropriate interview food" (nothing that causes stains!) can be smoothed by interviewers and candidates who have sat a spell in one another's semi-personal locales. Hyperlinks to individual projects and personal interests serve as steps upward to those private spaces we reserve for friends. Rather than hold to a fiction that we can separate our personal and private lives, these step/links remind ourselves and our colleagues that teaching/scholarly/personal interests can and should be integrated. I am reminded of an essay written by John Rodden in Western Journal of Communication Spring 1993. He states: "Your life in this discipline and this profession is not lived abstractly, what you think about academe has emerged from your concrete experience - and whatever lessons or suggestions you want to share cannot be understood apart from it" (p. 112). Webpages and front porches help us transcend the abstractions of the curriculum vitae and HTML code; the medium instead becomes a means toward deeper connections.
There's a practical concern that the technical sophistication necessary to craft these front porches may create a "digital divide" between web experts and non-web experts. In the short term, we have created a new "hoop" that will surely generate more heat than light. Nonetheless, the internet is blurring and blending the stuff and activities of our everyday lives. Soon, speaking of "web architecture" will become as abstract an exercise as "body mechanics." Sure, such a thing exists in principle, but from an organic perspective, it makes little sense to me. The medium will become such a subtle and intricate part of our professional and personal lives that distinguishing it from ourselves will be as useful as separating the process of thinking, writing, and editing to a person using a word processor. Online presence will form a necessary part of the rhetorical body of most job seekers. It's time we embrace this reality.
Stephanie: It should be clear from our discussions that we believe websites for job applicants are simply a given and in a few years, the question we address in this editorial will not even be asked. Still, job applicants should not build an electronic front porch because it is the thing to do. Rather, applicants must attend to the rhetorical identity they present, as well as the political, legal, and ethical implications of the information they include or do not include. Practically, job applicant websites should be elegant, easy to navigate, and accessible. I have one final concern that I want to address which we've alluded to in our discussions but was not a part of the original question. In academe, employment choices are more than just choosing one job over another. Particularly with tenure-track positions, job applicants and their prospective colleagues are making a decision that could - and frequently does - last their entire professional lives. This decision is too important to be left to the paper curriculum vitae and a brief interview. Electronic front porches provide important information for both interviewers and interviewees.
The question of websites are necessary applies not only to the job applicant, but to those on the other side of the table as well. When departments have a position open, faculty often think of themselves as "choosing" the "right" person, as they would choose the perfect eggplant for a vegetarian stir fry. The eggplant has no choice in the matter; job applicants do (even when they think they don't). For job applicants and the prospective colleagues to make informed choices, they need as much relevant information as is practically possible. Not only do departments need websites so job applicants can get a sense of department emphases and values (how does the department construct and deconstruct its online identity?), but each faculty member needs a webpage as well.
Andy: Legal issues we've covered, how much information is too much, reveal the ethical quandary that won't go away. Sure, I'll believe that you never looked at Motel Americana when you were sitting on the other side of the desk. I'll assume that you didn't even peek. But those human rights experts who case our collective processes in the job hunt may not be so willing to suspend judgment. I suggest that the responsibility be with the job seeker. Interviewers and web-visitors shouldn't ask. But if I want to tell, that's my business. And Stephanie, I want to tell. I conclude that the benefits of my potential colleagues having received the chance to sit on the porch with me outweighs the potential risk that they'll peer into my living room and wonder why the sofa has stains on it. The real issue isn't legal wrangling about privacy on the web. In an employment process that frequently dehumanizes the recruiter and makes applicants feel like supplicants, isn't it not better that we build spaces to get to know each other? The irony is that we may rediscover some of our humanity in these virtual spaces, even as we lose it in physical domains.
Dr. Andrew Wood and Dr. Stephanie Coopman - last updated April 13, 1999