If Horace Greeley were giving career advice today, he would probably say something like, "Go website, young dude, go web."
In today's changing high tech job market, young people and college students should be developing their own professional websites and blogs while they are in college and even high school. In addition to theoretical and analytical courses, colleges should teach real world practical skills such as constructing a website. Schools need to teach students that the internet is much more than a social networking tool or a way to research papers and projects.
I teach Journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University. At the beginning of each semester, I'm surprised at the small number of students who have developed their own professional style websites. Everyone is on Facebook or MySpace, but only 10 or so of the approximately 500 students that I've taught over the last seven years had their own website, which featured their writing samples, articles, or other work. Most of the college students that I know at my gym don't have websites. Many schools, including the ones I teach at, offer website design courses, but not everyone takes advantage of them. I now emphasize to all my students that developing their own professional website while in college can be an effective marketing tool and a great way to get internships, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, exposure, and extra cash.
For example, one of my former students, Leah Kauffman, the voice and co-creator of the Obama Girl videos, was a junior at Temple University when she collaborated with others to create BarelyPolitical.com. She has been interviewed in many media outlets, including ABC News, Cosmopolitan, and MSNBC. Kauffman also created her own website, which has her bio, news articles in which she was quoted, and information about her singing career and appearances.
Walter Cherepinsky was a senior at Central High School in Philadelphia when he created WalterFootball.com, which is now recognized as one of the top pro football sites in the country. Now 28 years old, his site garners over 50 million hits a year and he writes columns on fantasy football for USA Today Weekend during the NFL season.
Kauffman and Cherepinsky are examples of high school and college students who were able to launch successful web ventures that furthered their careers.
The most common reasons that my students give for not creating their own websites are that it's too complicated to set up, that they don't have the time to work on a website, and that it would be too expensive.
However, as a 49-year-old self-professed technological idiot, I can attest that creating a website isn't as daunting a task as it seems. After years of procrastinating, I finally pushed myself this summer to create my new website www.professorlarry.com . My site is fairly simple; it doesn't have too many bells or whistles, but it has my bio, some of my writing samples, links, and a blog. It took me around one week to set up, with the help of GoDaddy.com's technical support advice and the ease of using WordPress.
As far as finding to time to work on a website, once you learn how to add content to your site, it isn't that time consuming to add new blog posts. Regarding costs, it's possible to create and maintain a website for less than $100 a year, which is the cost of some college textbooks. In the long run, the time and money that you invest will be worth it.
Bloggers and website creators are gaining increased respect and exposure in society and the mass media. Every time Jib Jab comes out with a new video, it gets played on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Ana Marie Cox cultivated a platform and an audience as the blogger "Wonkette" and is now writing regularly for Time Magazine and The Daily Beast. Bill Simmons, who writes "The Sports Guy" column for ESPN.com, started his "Boston's Sports Guy" website when he was in his late twenties and developed into an internet celebrity.
Unlike Facebook or MySpace, professional websites shouldn't have pictures of you and your friends chugging beer while standing next to a keg. You can tailor your website to your interests and passions. If you love sports, create a website where you write your thoughts on the topic. If you love music, write music reviews of CDs and live performances. Creating a website can showcase your individual talents and skills. Agents and book editors check websites and blogs written by young people to try to discover new, unique voices. In addition, many employers like to Google the names of their potential employees or interns. It would be much better if they discovered your professional website, as opposed to your Facebook or MySpace site, which could contain content that portrays you as being immature. Another reason to create your own website during college is to earn money. According to collegefinancialaidguide.com:
There are legitimate ways for students to earn money for college online. One way to earn money online is to set up a website about your favorite topic and earn money by placing ads on the site with AdSense. Another way to make money online with your own website is by referring visitors to other online merchants, otherwise known as affiliate marketing.
When creating your own website or blog, it's usually best to focus on a specific topic that you passionately care about. You can create a static website with your resume, biography, and writing samples, or you can develop an interactive blog or website that you update frequently. To increase traffic to your site, try to trade links with other websites that deal with the same or similar topic. The more traffic and web hits that your site gets, the more ad revenue you'll make.
Hopefully, schools and individual teachers will require or at least strongly encourage students to create their own professional websites. The digital natives might seem restless about this at first, but they'll warm up to the idea eventually.