Update: broken link fixed!
An increasingly important part of being on the market is to create a professional-looking online presence. This post relates my experiences and what others, both job seekers and search committee members have told me. There's a ton of advice on this topic on the Internet, but I would like to focus here on the philosophy job market.
To some job seekers, the prospect of creating an online presence is daunting. While it may seem risky, there is an opportunity to stand out from the crowd, as well as opportunities for peer support, networking, maintaining friendships, which I’ll describe below. I'll focus on the importance of a personal website, other platforms such as academia.edu, blogging, and social media.
A simple and effective way to create an online presence is a personal website. A veteran search committee member told me recently "let me tell you one thing that has really helped me (and my colleagues) in our recent searches: the job seeker's web site. Having a web site was a really great thing, it gave us so much more information about the candidate."
You can design your own website (see here [link fixed] for lots of useful advice), ask a friend who is an expert to do it for you, or rely on a template from wordpress or a similar service to make a professional-looking website. For the purposes of a personal website, you don’t need to pay a professional web designer.
Try to keep the website simple, easy to navigate, and focused on your professional work, with sections such as an online CV, drafts of published papers, teaching (overview of taught courses, syllabi), research statement. I’ve seen lots of people include a section on their personal life as well (e.g., their cats, their children, hobbies), which is fine I think, as long as it doesn’t dominate the website or detract from the professional information.
It is sensible to invest in a personal domain name, something easy to reproduce, such as "YourfirstnameLastname.net". As it’s becoming common for people to move between several institutions, such a stable domain name provides others with an easy way to find you. Keep the website up to date. Also, be sure to link other content (e.g., your university webpage, academia en PhilPaper profiles – see below) to your personal webpage; it will show up higher on a google search as a result.
Online paper repositories (e.g., Academia, ResearchGate, PhilPapers, SSRN)
Next to a personal website, there are several online paper repositories on which you can post published and unpublished articles. The easier they are to find, the likelier they’ll be read or cited. PhilPapers allows you to create a personal profile in minutes, and automatically updates your list of publications with new entries. You’ll still need to upload a draft copy and specify keywords so that it’s searchable. Academia.edu has handy categories such as CV, papers and talks, and it has a cool new feature, sessions, which allows people who follow your research to comment on a paper-in-progress for a period of about 30 days. The downside of academia.edu is that you can only download papers if you have a profile there. Therefore, I would recommend having a personal website next to the academia.edu website. ResearchGate and SSRN allow you to upload papers that can be freely downloaded by everyone.
Some people are concerned about the possibility of referees googling their unpublished work. Such concerns are not unfounded (Just a few days ago, I got a referee request from a journal, which now asks every referee to refrain from googling the title or other portions of the paper! It's a bit sad to see they have to ask this explicitly nowadays) Also, there is the possibility that people might plagiarize your ideas (taking an idea without attribution, even if it’s not verbatim is also plagiarism, but it’s difficult to detect and difficult to prove). Therefore, some people wait to put their papers online until they are accepted for publication or published.
I don’t know how to advise about this (personally, I adopt the cautious strategy), but my sense is that it is better to wait until a paper is accepted when you are junior. The risks of adverse effects of googling by referees and of plagiarism greatly go down when you are established well-known in the field (they might still google you but won't hold your identity against you, and they might think twice before stealing ideas). Most people I know who have positive experiences with putting preprints online are well-established. But I would be glad to hear from others who have different experiences/advice.
When I meet people at conferences who know my work, many of them know it primarily through my blogging and not through my published work. A first, I found this quite frightening as I use blogs primarily to try out new ideas, or to find a place for ideas I think I’ll never be able to publish (although some blog posts did find their way, in a modified format, in a journal.) Blogging is enjoyable, but it is also very time-consuming, and one reason I’m blogging less than I used to is that I have a much heavier teaching load now compared to when I was a postdoc. I don’t know how efficiently others write, but for me writing a well-crafted blogpost requires several hours, sometimes a day. Commenting is also time-consuming.
Although blogging do not improve your CV directly, it is fun to discuss ideas with other philosophers, and blogging has much more the feel of a real conversation compared to traditional printing formats. You get the benefit of peer review when you want to float an idea before investing too much time in it.
If you want to blog, you could join a group blog or start your own. Perhaps my favorite blogs are personal ones, such as Eric Schwitzgebel’s Splintered Mind or Eric Schliesser’s Digressions & Impressions. However, to keep traffic flowing you need to publish quite regularly. Moreover, a personal blog with big gaps or the last entry in March 2014 does not leave a good impression. Group blogs are more forgiving in that respect, which is why I chose that format.
Now, about the content of the blogposts, some people choose to post about controversial issues, such as political, religious or issues in the profession. And sometimes this can create a serious backlash. Unfortunately, I have heard of people receiving hate mail and worse after posting a controversial blogpost. I cannot advise whether it is wise for job candidates to blog about controversial topics. When I was on the market, I posted frequently about religion, which is always a sensitive topic. I do not think it needs to be problematic. Use your common sense judgment about what is appropriate to post. The same goes for commenting.
Facebook, twitter etc.
Many philosophers seem to be on Facebook. I am Facebook “friends” with famous philosophers I have never spoken to in real life, as well as with people in a similar career situation, or senior folks in teaching-heavy departments, graduate students, philosophers outside of academia, and also many non-philosophers. I find it fascinating to see this variety of perspectives and experiences. I find FB especially good to keep in touch with people I have met or know from previous employment situations (e.g., at Oxford). When you move around so much (as academics seem to do), it’s difficult to forge lasting friendships (although don’t neglect face-to-face friendships, and don’t use FB as a substitute!). Also, it is terribly sad to relocate away from friends. FB lowers the barriers to keep in touch. I’m going to focus on just a few aspects of how a job seeker can use FB effectively to maintain a professional network, and for finding peer support.
Peer mentoring and support
Networking can feel as something distasteful and unethical, and the fact that it is almost a necessity of life doesn’t diminish the ethical qualms one might have about it. However, I think social media use can be an effective networking tool if wisely used, especially for peer mentoring and support. I’ve received a lot of very good advice and support from people who are in a similar career stage: where to publish, what to do when faced with a dilemma, etc. I try to be generous and also help people in my network who are in need of help and advice. I try to also do this for people not directly in my network, such as by writing blog posts like this one in the Cocoon.
Why is this important? I sometimes fear that academia instills bad ethical habits and a backstabbing mentality: landing grants, publishing papers, and getting jobs are all zero-sum games and it is easy to start to perceive others mainly competitors. Almost automatically, one feeld a pang of envy when someone one knows (especially in a similar career stage) managed to publish in a high-ranked journal (more on this below), but I feel we must consciously push back against such sentiments. Peer mentoring and support is one way to do it, and FB (as well as traditional e-mail or skype) is a low-barrier way to achieve it.
There has been some discussion on the extent to which we should use FB, twitter and other media to announce new journal publications and similar achievements (see e.g., here for an excellent take on this). I do not think that announcing new publications is problematic. For one thing, I’ve learned a lot from the people in my twitter and FB feed who announced their papers. Getting a paper accepted is hard work, and you should have every reason to be proud! Also, I enjoy reading what people in my FB network are doing and it expands my horizon. The best way about it is not to go the humblebrag way (e.g., “Well, it’s not much, but my paper just got accepted in Nous"), but just a straightforward way (“My paper just got accepted in Nous.” + a couple of sentences of info on what it’s about for non-specialists. Link to latest draft).
Some people create multiple categories of friends to screen things off (or show things selectively) that they post on social media (e.g., about personal life, professional life etc). If you don’t do it, you need to use your judgment about what potential search committee members might learn about you as a person in your personal updates. I agree with Catarina Dutilh Novaes that it is sometimes useful to post about personal failures - the grant you did not land, the paper that didn't find a home, etc., it makes us more human and provides a more accurate picture of what your life is like. That being said, this remains a difficult balancing exercise for early-career stage people who still need to resubmit the grant somewhere else, find a new home for the paper, etc. So I feel this suggestion to be realistic is more pressing for people with tenure.
Potential sources of awkwardness
If you have several hundreds of philosophy FB friends, there will be at some point people in your network who are search committee members of a job you’ll be applying for. It is awkward and bad practice, I think, to send friend requests to search committee members while the search process is ongoing (for the same reason, don’t friend people who are job candidates for a position you are in a search committee for.)
Of course, you might already have someone in your network who is a search committee member for a job you’re applying to. If that’s the case, it’s uncool to use FB messaging and other social media to query them about the status of the search (if you need to, use normal e-mail and contact the person who is listed as the contact person).
If you are long-time FB friends with someone who was on a search committee for a job you didn’t get, and with whom you also interact regularly in or outside of social media it seems best to write that person an e-mail along the lines of that you are sorry you won’t be colleagues, but that you appreciate the professionalism and efficiency of the hiring process
These words of advice do not rule out that your online presence might still have an adverse effect on hiring decisions about you. For one thing, it is not easy to convey nuanced emotions in tweets or FB posts, and you can be misunderstood. You can have a bad day and post something ill-advised. Still, I think the benefits of creating a professional online presence outweigh the potential risks.