So welcome to your new, fully-digitalized career! Whatever your current occupation, you can expect to be hopping jobs every three years (or less).

When you go after your next job, you’re more likely to be screened by software before you get to talk to a person. If a recruiter is in the mix, you can bet (94%) they’ve already eyeballed (or their software has) your LinkedIn profile. If you do get to talk to a manager, expect them to have an analysis of your social media habits and participation in front of them.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention that an average of 250 people will apply for the job you want, with the first resume being received within 200 seconds?

Our brave new in-the-cloud world of work has more than a few brave new challenges to go along with it.

So to help you meet those career challenges, here’s a few suggestions for defining and making a career today that takes you where you want.

Your enemy is obscurity

First tip for building a successful digitalized career: your enemy is obscurity.

Or put another way, you need to be building an online body of stuff that builds real connections, shows you take your career seriously, helps to show what you’re passionate about, and offer value to others.

Remember the 250 or so people who are applying for the same job you want? What’s going to make you stand out? A degree from a good college will definitely help. So will lots of people giving you LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook likes – somewhat. But with the average LinkedIn person has over 900 connections; what’s going to make you special?

You are going to have to stand out.

Putting your content online

Nowadays there are dozens of great social networks you can participate in, creating and consuming content and, oh by the way, advertising. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about creating or revitalizing a central place where you originate content, then share that content out to the social networks of your choice. Think of it as the home of your online you – not just a sliver of you tied to one social network or platform that might pivot away from you.

Every self-employed person knows they have to advertise; now, everyone is essentially self-employed. So it makes sense to build a good, solid platform for your online self, and be comfortable with the ongoing cost in terms of time and money that platform that you own will entail.

Digging into the particulars of building a good blog today is a subject for another post, but let me give you a quick idea of the costs and time involved. And while you can go with an all-inclusive service like squarespace.com, experience has taught me controlling your own domain name, what your site looks like, its behavior and where and how it’s hosted is the best multi-year approach.

So what should you expect to shell out to do your own hosted WordPress-based site/blog/portfolio/gallery the first year?

  • About $10 give or take for a domain name.
  • As little as $4 a month on an annual contract for a reputable hosting service like SiteGround.
  • Zero to $60 for a good, modern WordPress Theme at themeforest that reflects the person you are and what you want to convey.
  • Zero if you can find images that work for you at Librestock.com or elsewhere, or you’re a photographer, to the sky’s the limit if you go with stock photography sites.
  • And lots and lots of time.

There’s no getting around it, even in these days when people post to their own blogs infrequently: blogging takes time. Time to setup, time to maintain, time to find what to write about, time to do the actual writing and editing, time to federate your content out (much less time if you use Zapier.com). But it is worth it: having your own blog is the single best way to defining and presenting your online self.

Create, Curate or get out of the way

Looking for an easy way to start doing your own content marketing for your professional online career? With so much information exploding in every professional field out there, you can do a huge service for others just by curating good information from bad. Just by coming out weekly with 2 line summaries of 5 posts or videos or podcast episodes you thought were good uses of your time, you can build a following of hundreds of others in your profession who appreciate you.

Not sure where to look for good content to curate or build upon? Start with Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop – it’s a well-maintained searchable megalist of the top bloggers on everything from architecture to yoga.

And remember there’s a world of difference between your blog – motivated by sharing with others in your online world – and commercial blogs obsessed with how many ads they can stick in front of you before you rebel. Don’t try to be a media blog: don’t run ads.

Find or refind your passions and let them pull you along.

Whether you are creating original content or just passing along content that you judge as worth other people’s time, you need to stay motivated. Building an online presence is the work of years, not days.

It’s hard to stay motivated week after week in our distraction-packed online lives. Two techniques that work are finding things that you are either professionally or personally passionate about.

Passion makes the world go round – and gives you the psychic fuel to forgo watching your favorite tv show so you can write about something others will find interesting.

From your job, start to identify tools, techniques, and knowledge that interests you. You’re looking for things you want to write about, first and foremost. They can be things you are working with at work, or things you’re not working with that caught your attention.

There’s a common misconception that only people who know a subject really well “should” blog. Nonsense! Some of the most useful posts I’ve read are from people currently learning say a new coding framework and they are working through the same issues I’ll confront learning soon enough.

The big part of answer to what is going to make the difference in your online career are the things your have a passion for. Not just the things you do in a job. That passion is the fuel that will keep you working on a Maker project, coming back to Startup weekends or volunteering at your local literacy project.

Give yourself permission to have some fun, find what you’re really passionate about and get involved with it in a useful way. And by the way, that passionate thing you’re doing besides work?

  • Can lead to unexpected connections with others in your industry,
  • Gives you something interesting to talk about on your personal/professional blog,
  • Let’s you network with people in a non-looking-for-a-job way that can open career doors you don’t even know exist.

So a big part of building your digital career path is finding and indulging in one or two passions – whether they’re building robots from scratch or tilling a community garden. Do something interesting!

But doing something interesting is only part of what you need to do to take control of your online career. Next, you need to show who you are online.

Start with an online audit of yourself

How do others – recruiters, managers, executives, co-workers – see you when they Google you? If you’ve been online for a while, go Google yourself in an incognito web browser window – you may be surprised at the results.

First off, you’ll find a lot people with the same name. If you’ve blogged, your blog will probably come up – and that’s a good thing. If you’ve authored or contributed pretty much anything above and beyond the normal requirements of the jobs you’ve had, Google will find it. And of course, your LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter links will be there, along with any other social media accounts Google can surface.

Now focus on what a recruiter will see: Is your LinkedIn profile up to date? How about the picture of you – does it reflect who you are now? Is it too marketing-like? If it is, ask a coworker/friend at work to get a couple of good candid but professional shots of you and use one of those.

How about your content? Are the updates/posts showing up in LinkedIn, Twitter and other networks you use? If not, spend a moment thinking through where your content originates online, and where you want it to show up. Then head over to Zapier.com, and enable a few pre-packaged integrations to automatically pipe that content to where it can do some good. For example, from your Tumblr blog to LinkedIn via a free Buffer account.

Another question you should ask your online self is who are you following? Friends and family on Facebook, naturally enough. Past and present co-workers on LinkedIn. But how about Twitter? Are you following interesting people in your industry, people who contribute good content? Or are you following people who chief contribution is complaining? The old adage, you’re known by the company you keep, is ever so much more true online, where recruiter software apps routinely analyzes not just who you connect with online, but who the people you connect with also connect with.

Even if you’ve grown disenchanted with Twitter, following influencers in your field on Twitter has a major hidden benefit: combined with the awesome Nuzzel mobile app, you get a really high quality feed of what those influencers are reading and watching. And having that high quality feed means you get for free an education on what’s important and hot in your profession.

Planning the stepping stones in your career: jobs.

Whether you’ve just got a job, or have been in a particular job for a while, here’s a piece of advice your current manager won’t share with you: plan on leaving.

Over the past 20 years, the number of jobs collage graduates hold in their first five years has nearly doubled. And the same is true for people long out of collage, if to a lesser degree. So it make sense since you’re in charge of your career to think through how and when you’re going to be leaving your job before your leave.

For most people, whether you quit or are fired, the first thing that’s going to disappear is your online access to your workmates. Whether it’s Slack, company email, or some other network, your company accounts are the first thing the HR person is going to delete.

So your first step in a new job is to start building your own way to contact people who happen to work where your do. It can be as simple as a google spreadsheet you start building out as you go, or as complicated as a full-blown CRM system (see this Zapier free book if you want to go that route.

Next, start thinking about, and even drafting, your future LinkedIn entry about the job you currently inhabit. (Just don’t put it on LinkedIn yet!). What are the accomplishments, the positive differences, the new skills and knowledge you hope to highlight when (not if) you leave your job? Asking those questions, and at least setting a reminder on your phone to check how you’re doing on your future resume entry once a month is a totally awesome way of staying on course in your career.

Next, think about how you can leverage your work into posts on your blog. Every field has new information, techniques, new tools, new problems – from blacksmithing to robotics. Pick the items that a) relate to work or your profession, b) you care about, c) that could be fun to learn more about. Write about them. Enthusiasm and honesty count way more than perfectionism. Rinse and repeat.

Optimize your next job for learning

Given just how fast the world of work – especially tech work – is moving, you might want to do what Christine Lee is doing: optimize your next job by what you can learn. Lee, a UX Designer at a small San Francisco startup that recently “dispersed” its staff, is on the hunt for a job where she can learn. “For me, it’s what do I know now, and what is the gap between that and what other designers at the same stage of their career know, and where I can work that will help me fill that gap,”

Christine said. “I’ve talked to my friends that are designers at larger companies, and they just learn a lot being around senior designers or a design lead. They learn about how to defend design decisions, learn more about how to manage stakeholders, how to focus on the decision points of the experience. These are things I want to learn how to do better, to be a better UX designer.”

Christine is both working and researching a list of larger startups and tech companies that have real funding and the network of face-to-face real connections she’s made by attending various design events and meetups. “A lot of my design friends are from school, but a lot of them are from design events where for one reason or another we had a really good conversation and we connected,” she added.

Building contacts – whether it’s through your content, in-person at events in your field, or though participating in non-work work like philanthropic work – is the stuff of a real career network. The number of LinkedIn connections you can rack up – not so much.

Recap: where to from here?

If you’re going to be in control of your online career instead of being controlled by it, you’re going to have to stand out in a good way. That means creating content and value for others in your chosen line of work, be that making life easier for them by curating the firehose of content, or by adding content that you’ve spent time and effort to make.

And, you’re going to need to be seen standing out. That means it’s important to make sure your social profiles communicate your intention of being serious about your profession – whether it’s designing AI or the perfect pastry. It also means making sure your digital plumbing works to send your content to places like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and especially specialized digital destinations like Dribble and even Versioning. Take the time to update your profiles, drop negative people who aren’t adding to the conversation, and generally clean up.

But there’s more to a career – even the fully digitalized, in-the-cloud career of today – than a succession of jobs. There’s the things and people you are passionate about. Sometimes they may be work-related, but they don’t have to always be. Leave some room in your life for things that aren’t just work – and don’t be afraid to blog about them because others may see such posts as “unprofessional.” Interestingly enough, there’s solid antidotal evidence that the more successful people are, the more outside interests they have.

Careers are made of jobs – not just getting jobs, but thoughtfully planning what each job is going to look like to your next hiring manager a few years down the road. Start by thinking about how your current or next job is going to look like. What do you want to be able to point to as your accomplishments? What do you need to learn in this job to set you on your path for the next job? And plan on adding some flesh and bones to your in the cloud network by keeping in contact with your work friends beyond just the company’s Slack account, and by making friends in your field outside of work.

Build your online self, contribute value to your profession and share that value online. Build a network of former workmates beyond the confines of LinkedIn. Spend some time and attention on what you’re passionate about inside your profession and the in the greater world – these are foundations for building a successful career today.

Now all this advice isn’t going to do you much good if you let yourself be overwhelmed by all the things you could be doing to build your online career path. The real trick is taking on just a few things, executing them well, and then coming back to the infinite to do list called the Internet for a few more. To that end, you might want to pick one point from this post that hit a nerve for you, schedule time right now to work on it, and get it done and on your Got Done List.


Bob Walsh makes his living building awesome rails apps remotely and writing sales-increasing content for startups. When not cranking out code or content for others, he’s busy building DevCodeLearn.com, the better way for developers to learn and thrive.