How to Talk Yourself up Like a Pro


In which Najva critiques Meg's virtual resume

by Najva Sol, Brand Director

APW + Squarespace Logo

It’s tempting to think that some people are good at talking up their accomplishments, simply because it comes more naturally to them. While that may be true for some (cough, every guy who ever stole your idea in a meeting), I’d argue that for most of us—especially women—talking ourselves up seldom comes easily. Truth is, many people don’t do a good job representing themselves. Because of the way women are conditioned by society, most of us are basically professionals at downplaying our skills. So when it comes time to represent the full epic versions of ourselves? Well, I mean, forget it.

So when it came time for APW’s founder and CEO Meg to set up her website with Squarespace, she was in the exact same boat most of you are probably in right now. Did she even need one? Wasn’t APW kind of a portfolio in and of itself? And did she really have to write about herself? UGH. I mean, you all know that friend who responds to, “What do you do?” with, “Oh just some knitting stuff,” and you have to step in and be all, “What she meant to say is that she’s a serial entrepreneur geared toward eco-friendly yet accessible products and creating opportunities for marginalized communities. Her current project is running a successful hat knitting empire with only local rainbow wool that comes from organic farms, owned and staffed solely by gay women.” You know, that tendency toward downplaying what we should be singing from the rooftops? Well, it turns out that tendency can really shoot you in the foot when you’re building your personal website.

All of which is to say, even though I wouldn’t say Meg is bashful IRL, I can’t stress enough the fact that even outspoken, badass feminists can have this issue. The absurdly high occurrence of female executives with imposter syndrome proves it. So while I can’t give you a whole rundown on how to create your own personal brand (I’m sure you have accomplishments worth shouting from the rooftops, but that’s another article for another day), I can give you a breakdown of four issues I found with Meg’s portfolio site that are both super common… and can dramatically change how someone experiences your personal website (and in turn, how they digitally experience you).

Am I going to help her fix these issues, so y’all can see a before and after? Of course. But the first step is just figuring out what needs fixing. So let’s dive into it.

1. MAKE IT EASY

Right now, there’s only one way to experience Meg’s site—you have to scroll down from section to section. And while that’s great for creating a story with your website (we originally adapted this template from one designed for restaurants), is it helping people find the information they want about Meg? Or highlighting her best work first and foremost? What I’m saying is, don’t hide your accomplishments! Anticipating why people are trying to find you (Do they want to see a bio? Your recent works? How to hire you? What other people think of you?) and then making it dead easy for them to get there is tantamount to being seen properly.

One of the best things about Squarespace is that your subscription automatically includes every template they have, and you can swap your layout with one click and not change any of the information on your site. So you can circle through a bunch of different options before figuring out which one works for you. Meg’s current scrolling template, for example, was a really new format when it first launched, but since creating her site, Squarespace has rolled out tons of new themes. I recommend that she think about what she wants to say about herself and then try a few on for size. Does she want to try the aptly named Keene template and include a front page navigation that tells you exactly what she does best and how you can hire her? Or does she want to show off her recent work more visually with something like the Momentum theme? Maybe she wants to use one of the templates that includes audio so she can showcase some of her recent podcast appearances?

2. YOU ARE NOT WHERE YOU WORK

I don’t care if you’re an employee or a boss, new or dedicated twenty years to the company—you are not defined by your paycheck. Let’s take Sophia Amoroso. Yes, the fact that she built a huge retail empire from an eBay store is impressive. But when she lost her job at Nasty Gal, and they promptly went bankrupt, she was still a name (and a force) of her own. (And pro-tip: She relaunched her newest venture, Girlboss.com, with a Squarespace website.) So how do you position yourself that way… even if you love your job? Or particularly, if you’re a powerhouse who is currently un- or underemployed (and we know you’re a powerhouse).

Who you are and what you aim to accomplish in this world should always precede the where you work spiel. Meg’s first sentence on her site says, “Meg is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of A Practical Wedding.” So let’s say APW folded… then is Meg nothing? This isn’t the APW about page, this is her site. I challenge Meg (and everyone) to change this pattern of thinking. I’d shift the wording to say, “Meg is an entrepreneur and writer who has dedicated her career to solving problems and creating digital communities of smart diverse women. She’s currently founder and EIC of A Practical Wedding, and she speaks as an expert both on the wedding industry and all aspects of running and scaling a successful self-funded media business.” BAM.

3. DON’T PLAY COY

Unless being unreachable and mysterious is a huge part of your brand (and that’s a very, very specific type of brand), you need to open multiple ways in which someone can reach out to you. Of course you need boundaries: some high-profile people keep their personal emails private, some folks don’t use Facebook and turn off messenger on their business page, etc. Just remember, not everyone is willing to fill out a contact form. (And luckily Squarespace makes it easy for you to include lots of different options for contacting you. You can include a contact form, link to your social accounts, and include email address if you want to keep it simple.)

As much as possible, make it easy for someone (particularly an important-to-your-career someone) to slide into your DMs. Speaking of DMs, if you have a social media account you use regularly that’s public and shows up on the first page of your Google results, you should probably link to it in your site. If it’s off brand, make it private or change the name to something less traceable. If it’s on brand? Show it off, front and center. For example, Meg is super active on Instagram, but her account is nowhere to be found on her website. She should add icons to any active public-facing social media channels next time she’s updating her website.

4. SHOW YOUR WORK

Remember in middle school math class when you’d write in the right answer and the teacher would still penalize you for not showing the method to your mathematical genius? My translation of that into branding becomes this: show what you’ve done, so people know how to work with you. Give a little #BTS action. As an expert in her industry, Meg is in an incredible position to be hired to teach, speak, keynote, and host. And she lists out the many, many times she’s done just that on her site, with a handful of vague titles. But you know what’s missing? Her work. The site is missing what she has to offer, be it sample talks and syllabi, or case studies of times she’s worked with brands.

For lots of small businesses and personal brands, this means having a detailed breakdown of services, case studies of working with clients, or just a behind the scenes video of how the magic is made. Just be careful not to show too much work. For example, Meg has sixty-nine press clips listed starting in 2011. That’s… a lot. And here’s a hot tip: If you’ve been quoted by the New York Times, had a viral story on Buzzfeed, and been on NPR quite a bit (all things Meg has done), I’m going to assume you’ve been in a lot of other smaller places. Frankly, I’d rather not wade through those less important press mentions to find the good ones. The same goes for other businesses. If you took ten great wedding shots, I assume you haven’t only ever shot ten weddings. I don’t need an exhaustive list, just a general idea of what you’re about. Leave ’em wanting more, as they say.

This is where you should let technology do the work for you. For example, if you’re afraid you’ll never update that section of your website (cough, all of us), Squarespace has it set up where you can automatically publish to, sync with, and import from Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo, and more. So if set it and forget it is more your style, that’s an option too. Or if you don’t want to have to update a full page layout every time you have a new announcement, you can always use their announcement bar feature to let people know you’re latest and greatest. But bottom line, by all means, show people the infinitely cool possibilities that lie in working with you. (Personally, I want to see Meg take advantage of the fact that you can now have a video background on your Squarespace website 😍.)

The thing is, you’re awesome. You want that to come across. It might feel a little arrogant, you might be tempted to overcompensate with content instead of swagger… but don’t. What makes you (and, by extension, your website) slay is that it’s yours.

do you struggle to promote yourself? What’s holding you back from shouting your own name from the rooftops? Pro-tip: every Squarespace subscription comes with a free 14-day trial. So if what’s holding you back is a fear of commitment, GET ON THAT right now.

This post was sponsored by Squarespace. We are thrilled to be partnering with Squarespace again this year to talk about what it means to be a woman with hustle in 2017. If you’re looking to make a career change or kickstart one on the side, one of the best things you can do for yourself is create a home online where you can show off your work in the form of a portfolio site, an online resume, or another hub where you can display just how awesome you are. Squarespace provides the creative tools that make it easy to build your online home beautifully, even if you’ve never made a website before and have no idea where to start. Squarespace is offering APWers a 10% discount on your first purchase when you use the code APW17 at checkout. Click here to get your website started today with a free 14-day trial from Squarespace.


The Info:

All images via Squarespace and Meg Keene’s website, www.megkeene.com

Najva Sol

Najva Sol is a queer Iranian-American writer, photographer, branding consultant, artist, and ex-poet.  She’s the token staff Slytherin and—while formally based in Brooklyn—tends to travel as much as possible. Storytelling is her life, but making chicken broth is a close second.

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Jessica

    This is an awesome conversation, and I have some questions:

    1. Using Meg as an example is great, but what about those of us who have not started anything–rather are employees who are making improvements to our current organizations?

    2. When not job-searching, what practical use does a website have?

    3. When job-searching, when do we send people to our websites?

    • Emily

      same questions!

    • Najva is (sadly for us, not at all sadly for her) on vacation in BARBADOS. Where I am not. But ok. Anyway, she’s a little better at answering these Q’s than me, which is why I asked her to do this, butttt, let me link to some past articles we’ve done on similar issues. I’m sure other folks will also have advice.

      (And as a note from someone who hires folks with some regularity. While I know this really varies by industry, I like it and take people more seriously when they have a website I can look at. It shows me what they’ve done, but it also shows me how they present themselves, how they approach and solve problems, etc.)

      Here is more on having a portfolio website, written by Jaressa, who works at Target Corp: https://apracticalwedding.com/portfolio-website/

      Najva again, on why you really should have one: https://apracticalwedding.com/personal-websites-by-squarespace/

      And here is one I wrote ages ago with tips for anyone setting up a portfolio website, when I was first setting up this one: https://apracticalwedding.com/build-portfolio-website/

    • Megan

      2. When you’re not job-searching sometimes opportunities are searching for you! It’s the same reason for being on LinkedIn even if you’re not looking for a job.

      3. Put it on your resume.

      • And in your cover letter. I like when people highlight it for me, because it is one of the first things I’ll go look at.

    • Jess

      Same questions.

      Figuring out how to structure a web site is pretty monumental when I’m not in a creative-adjacent field (including but not limited to photography, writing, being a chef (where photos of what I’ve made would matter), or making fancy soaps) and what I do work on I can’t disclose beyond broad strokes of a project.

      • I totally want to emphasise that it varies by industry. (My dad had a high security clearance when I was a kid. Clearly if he was still working, he wouldn’t have a website, so he wouldn’t go to, you know, jail with Michael Flynn.)

        But I do think the fact that a website allows you to control your narrative and search results online is a super great thing. To some extent, LinkedIn can do that, but this gives you a lot more control and range on how you present yourself. Also, when I’m hiring, looking at someone’s LinkedIn doesn’t really add to my knowledge of them beyond their resume. A website really does.

        • Jess

          I mean, I want to have one because… jobs and marketability. You don’t gotta sell me there.

          It’s more just that the advice for personal websites is often very focused on creative endeavors – which, I GET. That’s what most of the APW team do, that’s what most of the personal websites are for!

          I just struggle with how to transfer that idea for something less “here’s a thing I did” and more “I made cool stuff that I can’t demonstrate because customer NDA’s” or “I have these skills through X training.”

          I dunno if you all know some manufacturing based people with personal websites (or maybe Squarespace can partner as a sponsor to help you find some!), but there’s a need for that sort of content seems to come up a lot in comments on Squarespace posts and would be helpful!

          OTOH, maybe manufacturing just isn’t an industry where personal websites are relevant and I should stop worrying.

          • I feel like well placed stock photos (which SS actually has a deal with Getty, so are easy to get nowadays) can make up for a lot in a non-creative portfolio. Tell me a bit more about what you do? Maybe we can workshop this into a future post!

          • Jess

            It would be super cool to see if it would be workable or not appropriate in the field!

            I’m a product development engineer working with consumer goods in a business-to-business field.

            I end up doing a lot of stuff day-to-day: developing new products w/ customers from idea board to scale-up at the production level, responding to quality issues, and boosting efficiency in production facilities.

            Areas I’d consider skills: Six Sigma/Lean Manufacturing training, CAD work, and Minitab proficiency

            Stock photos are probably 100% where it’s at, visually, since photos of my fabulous self may actually be a detractor.

          • rebecca

            Do you like to write? Can you abstract some of your experiences to more general “6 Strategies for Product Ideation with Clients” or “Best Practices for Responding to Quality Issues” You don’t have to actually maintain an industry blog, but having a couple of articles on the kind of work you’re really good at/would like to do more of can be really beneficial.

          • Sarah E

            I wonder if it would be more helpful to think of your website as way, way, more simple than a creative entrepreneur might need. Perhaps literally you just need one page with the best things from your resume highlighted and a way to contact you.

          • Jess

            Oooh I like thinking about it less as a portfolio and more as a “Best of My Resume” display.

          • Amy March

            I think personal websites are interesting and useful, but they certainly aren’t necessary or even appropriate tools for every field.

          • Jess

            Totally a valid point!

          • another lady face

            Manufacturing probably isn’t an industry where you would need a personal website. For example, I work in government and just went through the hiring process for new staff. We can only look at people who actually apply for that specific job posting. We can only review their resume and cover letters (that is all that we, as interviewers and hiring managers get from HR). We have no place in the hiring process to look at or find a personal website. Even if they had one, I don’t think we could look at it in the hiring process. So, maybe your industry is similar. If you have a non-disclosure agreement for your project, what are you going to put on a website? This seems like something that you could vaguely mention on a resume, then go into more detail in an interview (without breeching the NDA). Not every post on APW is for every person.

          • Jess

            Thanks for that hiring insight. You’re probably right, that it doesn’t make sense in this kind of industry.

            It’s just one of those things drummed up in so many media channels and advice for careers that I kind of started thinking, “Huh, I wonder if this is a thing I should be doing?”

          • Another Meg

            I’m a digital archivist and I have a site. It’s basically a place to expand on what I’ve touched on in my resume. Also, I can build websites, which is an added bonus to potential clients/employers. (Mine is a WordPress site that I custom coded)

            I don’t think everyone needs a big fancy site. But a basic portfolio site is a bonus when you’re hiring in a field where it’s rare. Include a good head shot, a blurb about you on the main page, a page to link to your resume, a course description list if you’re new to a field and boosting your degree, a page with quotes from past employers, and a page with descriptions of projects, presentations, or publications if relevant. I also included a page about my volunteer work because it’s important to me and some companies want you to volunteer so they can brag about it.

            I include my site on my resume as part of my contact information, and my professional (but not work) email is me@mysite.com, which looks super cool.

          • Jess

            Thank you! That’s really good advice!

          • Another Meg

            YMMV but my husband has the same issue so he has a blog where he talks about the problem he solved in more general terms and uploads a template version that’s anonymized. Training is always a good thing to list!

    • april

      1. For white collar workers/professionals in non-creative fields, I think LinkedIn provides a sufficient online presence. It gives you a space to explain your current position, talk about your past work experience, and highlight projects or professional publications.
      2. Fact: a lot of the people you encounter in your career will probably google you at some point. A good website or LinkedIn profile will give them something to find (other than your Facebook page and embarrassing pictures of you from your college days …).

  • Laura C

    Suggestion: “Meg is an entrepreneur and writer who’s dedicated her career to solving problems and creating digital communities of smart diverse women. She’s currently founder and EIC of A Practical Wedding, and speaks as an expert both on the wedding industry and all aspects of running and scaling a successful self-funded media business.”

    Take out the “solving problems.” I mean, whose resume doesn’t say they solve problems? This blurb leads with its most generic component.

    • I mean, I’ll take ALL the ideas. I’m so bad, and so behind, on branding myself as a person who is not APW online… because I find it so painful.

      I almost didn’t write a book, because of the part where I had to write two pages in the proposal selling myself, and it felt like peeling my own skin off. Thankfully on my second book, I had Maddie help with that part. And I do think that having other people help you sing your own praises is the best thing you can do, if you personally really hate it.

    • Katharine Parker

      “Makes problems for other people to solve” would be a fun thing to read on a resume though

      • Laura C

        “Inspires creative problem-solving in coworkers and clients.”

    • Sarah E

      Agreed. “solving problems” —> “breaking down systemic barriers”

    • I’d actually switch the order of sentence 2 to be something like this: “An expert both on the wedding industry and all aspects of running and scaling a successful self-funded media business, she’s currently founder and EIC of A Practical Wedding.”

      • penguin

        I agree with mssolo on the “currently founder” thing though.

        • accidental_diva

          “she’s the founder and currently is the EIC of A Practical Wedding”

          leaves room for movement

          • penguin

            That makes sense, it was the placement of “currently” in the old sentence that was odd – once you’re the founder of something, that’s forever.

          • Yeah, that feels right. Because I’m always the founder…. doesn’t matter what happens.

            Currently also the EIC, because I like to do to much ;)

    • Is anyone else twitching at “currently founder” or is it just me? Meg is forever the founder of APW, and currently the EIC. No one else can gazump her founder status. i’d drop “currently” altogether, because although part of the point is to get away from the idea of being defined by your current job, it’s just a spare word getting in the way of the point being made, which is that being founder and EIC Meg has experience that she brings in both the wedding industry and running and scaling media businesses.

  • Man, this is JUST what I needed today… I’m working on updating both my business site and creating a personal port site, and these are tips are amaze.

    Also since I do video production, I am verrrry excited for video backgrounds on Square sites.

  • Sarah

    Pretty sure entrepreneurship is spelled wrong…

  • I like the layout of the template just above number 2 and am wondering if my website should go in that direction. But I have a bilingual WordPress site and don’t feel up to re-doing it all now. The bilingual stuff is rather complicated, so… But I have been wondering how to talk about my various different career things and which ones actually belong on my website… I don’t have all my writing on there, but I am published, so maybe I need to include that. But it’s in an arts area that is not my primary arts focus….so not sure if it fits or not on the same website. Yet I don’t really have the desire to have a separate website for that either. This gives me some good stuff to think about over the holidays when I have a little more time to reflect…

  • Pingback: How to Talk Yourself up Like a Pro - Everything For Brides()

  • Hope

    I wrote a presenter bio for myself today and really stretched to show my best side. It felt
    good and afterwards I emailed it to my husband and best friend. I’m applying to present at a math and science education symposium as an art teacher.