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Are You Selling Yourself Short Professionally?

Meg makes Najva take her own medicine, plus an open thread

In late August of last year, just before The Compact Summer Camp, our longtime staffer Najva Sol delivered the sad (for me not her) news that she’d be moving on to new opportunities. After an intense vetting process, she’d be given a super important position at a cryptocurrency company that would mean lots of exciting things for her and her career. Fast-forward three short months, and the cryptocurrency industry took a massive nosedive. (If you Google “cryptocurrency industry,” Google autofills with “on the brink of implosion.” ūüė¨) So Najva was let go. Right after signing a lease on a new apartment. After she moved clear across the country for the job. Did I mention it was the day before Thanksgiving? FUN. While¬†that is a story for another day, what happened next should sound familiar to anyone who’s been in the job market of late. She threw herself a tiny pity party, and then got to work on her Squarespace site.

A computer monitor displaying Najva Sol's Squarespace website landing page with a photo of Najva and a statement that reads: "Hi, I'm Najva Sol. I'm a community builder, digital strategist, and brand storyteller with a decade of experience."

It’s been more than three years since Najva was on the job market, so she needed to give her website a major overhaul to reflect her current skill set (she picked up a lot of new tricks during her time at APW). Luckily, Squarespace makes it super easy for you to update your site at any time, so changing from a mostly photography portfolio to something that promotes her work with online communities and brands was as simple as swapping out a template. Well, at least on the technical end. And thank goodness for that, because figuring out what to say on your website is enough of a challenge that you don’t need to add how do I change this font to your list of things to sort out.

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When Najva was done with her updated site, she sent it to her people‚ÄĒaka us‚ÄĒfor an outside perspective. And what we noticed was really interesting: while the nuts and bolts of Najva’s experience was represented on the site (she had plenty of case studies and examples of her work), it didn’t convey all the things we know firsthand make Najva a super badass part of any team. It told us what she did, but it didn’t tell us why we should hire her. Which we told her, in the following Slack message that I truly hope you enjoy:

An excerpt from a Slack conversation between Najva Sol and Meg Keene, regarding Najva's Squarespace website.

But when we dug deeper, it turns out, what was really missing from Najva’s website was a healthy dose of feeling herself.

An excerpt from a Slack conversation between Najva Sol and Meg Keene, regarding Najva's Squarespace website.

#SorryNotSorry Najva. ūüėā

Resume advice often tells you to give hiring managers quantifiable experience. You increased sales 10X. You won 95 percent of your cases. Your students have a 99 percent graduation rate. But how do you quantify what Najva called the “emotional labor” of employment? Aka all the things she took and left better than she found them. Because how do you explain making something… cooler and turn it into a marketable skill? How do you quantify systematizing work that isn’t inherently systematic and getting those around you to follow said systems? Or as we forced Najva to face:

An excerpt from a Slack conversation between Najva Sol and Meg Keene, regarding Najva's Squarespace website.

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Working on a small team, I know for a fact that the hard skills are only a part of what makes someone a really standout employee. I also know that even if she wasn’t the lead on a project, a lot of the things Najva had left off her website wouldn’t have happened without her. (Those Compact sponsors? Wouldn’t have made it past my inbox without Najva.)

A computer monitor displaying the "About" page from Najva Sol's Squarespace website with a photo of Najva and descriptive text.

As women, I think we tend to sell ourselves short when we talk about our work, not¬†just because bragging is hard. (Though to be fair, it is.)¬†It’s also because our culture doesn’t value the soft skills it takes to make a company withstand the test of time. And it doesn’t value support work. We’re much more enamored with hotshot leads who make headlines, even at the expense of good company culture and business longevity. I remember when Meg and I were in Lisbon for a conference in 2016, the day of the presidential election, and we were talking to a VC guy in the lobby of our hotel while trying to distract ourselves from the results. He was telling us that male-dominated companies tend to get more headlines and raise more money, but¬†female-led companies are the ones to bet on if you care about the longevity of a business. And yet, women still receive less than half of investor money and represent a small fraction of top-level executive positions. Translated to job hunting, that means we still have to work really hard to prove our value in a workforce that favors men. And we can’t afford to sell ourselves short.

A computer monitor displaying a page from Najva Sol's Squarespace website, showing case studies of her previous projects.

And we certainly didn’t want to let Najva do just that. So, precisely because she¬†is a woman of very little ego (and since she literally did the same thing for Meg’s website not too long ago), Najva handed Meg her website and said “Have at the feedback.” The result is here, and it is a marked improvement if you ask me. Here are a few of the tangible things Meg told Najva to fix to help her better sell her intangible value:

  • She told Najva to add a¬†landing page describing the kind of job she wants, so you don’t have to dig into her work history and play detective to find out what she is all about. It reads: “I’m a community builder, digital strategist, and brand storyteller with a decade of experience. I excel at using data to craft moments of delight, vulnerability, and connection.”¬†I mean, hi, I want to hire that person! (Honestly, I do. Najva, come back?)
  • She told her to edit her work history so that it’s more than just a list of accomplishments, but rather a story about why those things were special and important. The section on her work at APW is a great example of how to tell a story while weaving in important data points. And note the bolded sections that draw your eye to the most impressive information. (Again, a breeze on Squarespace.) Small details like that make it easier for your future employer to zero right in on your best assets.
  • She told Najva to add a few eye-catching stats to her home page (for example, the fact that she helped double APW’s traffic while she was on staff). Because, you know, got to follow that tried-and-true resume advice as well. (And don’t bury that info where someone has to go digging for it.) And then follow it up with a call to action for her employers to ask themselves what she could do for¬†their company.

A monitor showing Najva Sol's Squarespace website with a detailed case study of her work at A Practical Wedding.

It’s interesting to look at Najva’s website now. Even if I hadn’t seen it beforehand, I can tell exactly what parts Meg yelled at her about. Because the parts that make me want to hire Najva are also the parts that are always¬†really hard for me to come up with about myself when I’m trying to explain why I kick ass. Especially when I’m second-guessing whether people on the receiving end of my assessment would agree with me. (As general advice, I recommend anyone in this situation hire this stuff out if you’re stuck. Bribe a friend with cookies. Trade with your coworker. Or ask your most writerly friend to do you a solid.) But I also want to get us more comfortable with the process of articulating the reasons why we are great and why our accomplishments deserve your attention.

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So today, I thought we might use this open thread to do just that. Because we can’t all have Meg at our beck and call, the next best thing is always the APW community. Let’s be each other’s editors. Share your work experiences in the comments, what you think you might be good at, what you’re afraid to say you’re great at, and anything you think you might be selling yourself short on. Then let’s workshop each other’s skills until they really shine.

Also, if your own website needs a refresh (or if you need to create one from scratch, ahem, me) I recommend doing an update like this¬†before you’re on the job market, when you’re feeling really good about your accomplishments. It’s a lot harder to dig deep into what makes you awesome when you’re feeling the sting of being let go. And thanks to our partnership with Squarespace, all APW readers get 10% off your first purchase with Squarespace when you use the code APW19 at checkout (and that free 14-day trial is basically the only reason I ever start anything). So if your New Year’s resolution is to level up your work life, let’s start with a solid fist bump and a conversation about why you’re awesome.

So let’s talk about where you might be selling yourself short? And let’s lift each other up accordingly.

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This post was sponsored by Squarespace. We are thrilled to be continuing our partnership with Squarespace talking about what it means to be a woman with #goals in this modern world. Whether you’re stepping up in your career or striking out to do your own thing, one of the best things you can do for yourself is create a place online where you can show off your work in the form of a portfolio site, an online resume, or another hub that displays just how awesome you are. Squarespace provides an all-in-one hub (including everything from custom URLs to beautiful templates, analytics, and now even built-in email marketing) that makes it easy to build your online home beautifully, even if you’ve never made a website before and have no idea where to start. Click here to get your website started today with a free 14-day trial from Squarespace. APW readers get 10% off your first Squarespace purchase when you use the code APW19 at checkout.

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