Mercedes makes cars, Apple makes consumer electronics. What do you do?

Southern California-based Chapman University social media professor Niklas Myhr has been known to give expectant parents this somewhat tongue-in-cheek advice: before making a final decision about your child’s name, check first to see if the web domain is available.

He is only half-joking.

“Owning your own domain name is a great starting point both for protecting and building your personal brand,” said Myhr, who owns www.niklasmyhr.com.

As the job market becomes more competitive and options for social media grow, the need to differentiate oneself from the pack is greater. One increasingly important tool for jobseekers and executives: a personal website, preferably using one’s full name in the web address.

The brand of you

Personal websites are still not the norm for professionals — but interest in them is taking off, according to Charles Pooley, chief executive officer and founder of Workfolio, a Detroit-based startup that provides personal website services.

Roughly 80% of people would like to have their own website, but only 7% actually have one, according to a 2012 Workfolio-commissioned study of 3000 people in the US. Some 56% of 250 hiring managers said that they were more impressed with a personal website than with any other branding tool, according to another Workfolio-commissioned study.

“It provides (a) shop front window to display their skills and personality,” said Ted Clohosey, branding expert and co-founder of United Kingdom and Ireland-based Your Brand Academy. “There is such intense competition in the jobs market, and you have to create a branded website to assist you in standing out.”

A LinkedIn profile or other social media presence by itself is not enough if you want to get noticed and land at the top of the results in an online search, according to Clohosey.

“The problem is that LinkedIn will bring the 25 other people with the same name as you to the forefront, too,” he said.

Your best option is to secure your full name with dot-com at the end.

“Dot-com is still the Rolls-Royce standard when it comes to top-level domain names,” said Myhr. While dot.com has become the standard in many countries, it’s also a good idea to register your name with other endings, depending on where you live and your interests. Have all of the domains point to your single dot-com site. It’s an easy and inexpensive move ($10 to $20 a year in the US depending on the provider) but one that can help bring you — not someone else with the same name — to the front of the line when a recruiter searches you online, an increasingly common practice in the hiring process.

What to display

Once you’ve secured your domain name, you need to decide what you want to include on your website and what you want that information to say about you.

“It should scream out to you and to your reader what your purpose is, what you are great at and portray that certainty to your audience,” said Clohosey. “Mercedes makes cars, Apple makes consumer electronics, Budweiser makes beer. What do you do?  Employers want results and someone who will fit into their organisation.” 

There are a number of key elements that professionals should include, starting with a summary, a headline and a professional photograph, according to Workfolio’s Pooley.

The summary is a short, descriptive professional biography. The headline is your job title or a few words describing what you do or what you want to do. Don’t just list past responsibilities — include results. The more quantifiable those accomplishments, the better, said Pooley.

Whenever possible, add links to projects you’ve worked on and attach or link to images of work or documents you’ve authored.

If you write for a blog, including your own, Pooley suggests including a link. Short, well-written testimonials from people with whom you’ve worked or to whom you’ve reported are also a nice touch. You can take snippets from LinkedIn recommendations colleagues have written for you or solicit them via email. You’ll want your site to focus on what it is you want to do in your career.

“If people know you and they know what you’re looking, they’ll likely think of you next time they hear about an opportunity,” Pooley said.

Finally, make sure to add contact information — a phone number and email address. If you prefer more privacy, include a contact form where people can leave their information and then you can get in touch with them.

Once you start, you can slowly add content — new work product or accomplishments — as you go, according to Myhr. What you include should be dictated by why you want people to find you.  If you want to be noticed for your programming skills, your website should stress that and include supporting evidence, for example.

“You have to find your professional identity,” he said.

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