Some will say that you should keep a blog to demonstrate expertise, or to get practice in writing, or to engage with others in your area. I think there’s another reason that doesn’t get mentioned much: blogging is an unfakeable signal of commitment.
I started a draft of this a few weeks ago, but more recently I discovered a great motivating example for this post: a Twitter account I follow, Election Maps UK, is run by an A-Level student. Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t mean much, but this year it may be very valuable. The student in question has had their grades lowered by algorithm, and didn’t get the grades they needed. When they mentioned this on Twitter, they did ask if they were followed by an admissions tutor (with 90k followers, there were bound to be some). I counted at least six public replies from admissions tutors or departments, as well as a bunch of PR firms, think tanks, and consultancies offering work. I imagine there’d be even more replies in direct messages.
It’s obvious why they would be interested: the person running the account has displayed that they really care about the subject, and it’s a much more convincing demonstration than getting an A-grade would be. The Twitter account is the result of hundreds, probably thousands, of hours of work, sustained over more than three years.
Anyway, back to the original anecdote for the post: a couple of years ago I was interviewing for a Research Manager for a data project. The best candidates were the first two we saw.
The first was a seasoned professional; she’d worked in multiple countries, she’d done well in different roles, she’d managed large teams, she had all of the skills we needed and would be able to pick up the stuff she didn’t know very quickly. The second had much less broad experience, but had already done the work we needed for years. She might not learn as quickly as the first candidate, and she didn’t have the same breadth of skills, but she already covered every part of the job description.
I would have been very comfortable offering the first candidate the job, but the other interviewer and I agreed that, regardless of her overall strong skills, these were trumped by the second candidate’s relevant experience. We offered the second candidate the role, and her performance was excellent.
What we saw in her interview, and the reason she did well in the job, was that managing research projects was something she had done for a long time, and enjoyed. Her commitment to that area of work made her a better choice.
I assume artists and designers normally provide portfolios as part of any recruitment process; I know that people in software will often provide accounts on GitHub or elsewhere. From what I’ve read, recruiters in data science seem to love a few good projects on GitHub too. These portfolios show skill in an area, and do not have to come from paid work .
For both the person running the Election Maps UK Twitter account, and the person I hired as a Research Manager, the choices they’d already made on how to spend their time worked in their favour. While the Research Manager candidate had demonstrated an interest in the job through doing similar jobs in the past, the Election Maps writer had done this without even getting paid.
I had a bad experience at a job interview, a while ago, in a field I wanted to break into. I wanted the job, and had done some research on the company and their work, but when I was asked why I wanted to work there, I fumbled it. I froze up a bit, and couldn’t easily back up my (true!) claim that I’d always been interested in reasoning from data. If I’d been able to point to a public record of interest in their subject going back a couple of years, I think it might have gone differently.
You can’t easily fake the effort that goes into creating a blog (or a YouTube channel, for that matter). The articles have to be written, research has to be done. It’s time consuming, and ultimately, if you’re willing to spend some of your time doing that, you must have some interest in the subject. That will count for a lot, to a recruiter, to someone taking a first look at a subject and finding your work, or to someone trying to work out who you are from your public profile.