SEO and Employability

I was tasked with improving the SEO of our website. While at it, I noticed a similarity between SEO and employment prospect in this age and day. Let me explain why.

What is SEO?

First, let’s talk about how SEO is related to a website

Untitled Diagram

If users can’t find your website on the search engine, it will be almost impossible to generate sales. Below is the conversion rate by ranking position:

Source: Smartinsights

The lower your website’s ranking position, the lower the conversion rate. Hence, SEO is about making your website as high as possible on search engine result pages in your targeted keywords.

Here is what I think is a successful SEO strategy:

DFD_Unroasted (1).png

It is a sweet spot of what you sell, the content you offer to audience and how well the website is built technically to allow indexing and crawling by Google. Let’s talk about keywords

Keywords

There are two types of keywords: long-tail and short-tail.

short vs long tail keywords benefits

Source: SEOpressor

As you can see, short-tail keywords are popular, but they are highly sought after and as a result, your conversion rate tends to be low. On the other hand, long-tail keywords have much less popularity, but much higher conversion rate as they are more targeted and specific.

Of course, all brands want high conversion rate, but at the same time, it’s not possible to avoid short-tail keywords altogether. Brands need to be in the conversation to be heard. However, the competition is fierce. Generic or short-tail keywords like cars, pizza or laptop etc… are highly competitive. Therefore, it requires patience. It takes relentless and consistent SEO effort to yield favorable results. It requires regularly useful content to audience and consistent fine-tuning of the website over a long time to succeed. If all it took were money, it would be impossible to compete with deep-pocketed firms. I have encountered a few brands while working in advertising agencies and marketing in Vietnam that demanded over-night SEO success. It’s just not possible.

How is it related to employability nowadays?

As access to knowledge and information is easier than ever, the competition for well-paid jobs is increasingly competitive. Whether it’s in Venture Capital, Investment Banking, Medicine, Software Development or Data Science, there are a score of other candidates with more or less the same portfolio and qualifications as you or I do. Hence, it takes patience. It takes consistent delivery of useful content online to stand out. It takes finding out your “long-tail keywords” to increase your employment conversion rate. 

Well, of course, if you are lucky enough to know the right folks, it will be easier. But at the same time, others can get to know those right folks too. Nonetheless, the older I am, the more I realize the importance of patience. It’s not easy, especially to an impatient one like myself. At least, it’s better late than never.

 

Book: The Messy Middle

The Messy Middle is a new book written by the founder of Behance, a networking platform for designers. He is now the Chief Product Officer at Adobe. The book reflects his bootstrapping years at Behance and great lessons on businesses, career and entrepreneurship. Even if you are not an entrepreneur (I am not), this book has some insights on how tough it is to be one and fantastic lessons on how to advance your career. The book may get a bit mundane as it progresses, but the good thing is that many small chapters aren’t related to one another and you can skip forward or move backward at will. No need to read it in order. Below are a few of my favorite passages:

On self-awareness

Self-awareness starts with the realization that when you’re at a peak or in a valley, you’re not your greatest self. Self-awareness means dispelling your sense of superiority and the myths that people believe about you.

Ultimately, self-awareness is about preserving sound judgement and keeping relatable and realistic. However big your project or ambition, your journey is nothing more than a sequence of decisions: You’re probably many decisions away from success, but always one decision away from failure. Clarity matters. The more aware you are of yourself and your surroundings, the more data you have to inform your decisions, and the more competitive you will be

On authenticity

Nobody remembers or is inspired by anything that fits in

I do the work I do because I have to. I can’t help it. I was born this way – I can’t be false to any man. I know what the current trends and moods are, but I can’t concern myself with them. I also can’t force myself (as many do) to make work that fits within the going commercial style. Trends change and I believe that is why my work is still relevant today, because I am the only one making work like mine.

The idea of being born “weird” means you have a gift – like being born a star athlete. It would a sin to deny my gift. My “weird” is powerful. It stands out. I know that it attracts some individuals and clients, and repels others. I have to be cool with that. I am not for everyone – just the sexy people. Like you.

And as American artist Sol LeWitt once advised, “Learn to say ‘fuck you’ to the world once in a while”. Do your thing.

On doing the hard work

There’s a reason so few people do hard work beyond their job description: It’s hard work. You run the risk of extending energy or falling behind in other pars of your life, but these are the costs of playing at the frontier and having the opportunity to lead something new. You’re either a cog in the system or a designer of new and better systems. Of course, if you aspire to transform your industry and leave a valuable mark in your world, you’ll challenge every system you find yourself confined by. When you see something wrong, take the initiative to fix it.

When you find yourself frustrated or critical, channel that energy into persistent creation. If it’s not your job, pursue it anyway. Do research, run tests, or draft white papers and presentations to prove your position, even if it’s on your own time. It’ll give you a sense of satisfaction that no amount of preordained tasks will.

A shared trait among entrepreneurs and innovators within big companies is defying prescribed roles. The future is drafted by people doing work they don’t have to do. You need to be one of those people and hire them, too. There is too much wonder and talking and too little doing. So don’t talk: do

On how difficult it is to stay positive when dealing with hardships of entrepreneurship. I am not an entrepreneur, but it’s something I feel relatable, as I believe many do.

When I think back to those lost years, I recall a constant somber loneliness, a suffering from the feeling that nobody else could relate. The struggle was further compounded by the optimism I had to exude to my team and potential customers and partners. My hope had to be minded deep beneath the surface of fear and reality. The juxtaposition of the intensity of a start-up and feeling invisible and despondent was soul crushing. Staying positive was exhausting, and there were times when I felt depressed.

Without a steady stream of rewards, you will feel empty. You must supplement this void with manufactured optimism. You will have to endure anonymity and a persistent state of frustration. You’ll have to generate a unique and intrinsic sense of belief in yourself as you manage the blows to your plan and ego.

 

Inferiority and Superiority Complexes

The dynamic between inferiority and superiority complexes has been on my mind for quite some time, but the book “the courage of being disliked” articulates it better than I ever could. I cannot recommend this book enough. It can be a life changer. Read it if you have time and want to have a better life.

Everyone has the feeling of inferiority, one way or another. There is nothing wrong with it. It is desirable that one uses the feeling of inferiority to drive actions and growth. The inferiority complex refers to the blaming mindset. For instance, I was born in a poor family and uneducated. Therefore, I couldn’t succeed. This “cause and effect” mentality is detrimental to one’s mental health.

A long period of enduring the inferiority complex leads to a superiority complex or a fabricated/borrowed feeling of superiority. Specifically, one “borrows” superiority from using a luxury brand, being associated with a famous person or boasting one’s achievements. Other examples can be using jargon or big empty words. The book quoted Alfred Adler, a philosopher whose credit seems to be less than what he deserved: “The one who boasts does so only out of a feeling of inferiority”.

I used to fill the hole of my inferiority complex with a superiority complex in the past. I, for sure, still do to some extent nowadays. Fortunately, I have tried very hard and consciously to use my feeling of inferiority to drive my personal growth and avoid living on someone’s value systems or borrowed superiority. I have made an effort to play down whatever I do, keep the low profile, keep my head down and just do my own things.

Unfortunately, it may be a bit tricky and difficult in a society drunk with superiority complex. In the past not so long ago, my friend recommended me to apply for a position in her team because she knows what I can do and that the company can be a good fit for me. I sent my resume. My friend, after two weeks, came back and was mad at me. She said that the hiring manager in her team would want to see me boast more on what I had done and that I needed to make the resume longer with more boastful statements.

One incident doesn’t represent the majority, but it would be naïve to think that it is not common. It makes the task of balancing it out tricky. There is no hard-and-fast rule on this. But I think it’s important that we are aware of these complexes and the practical consequences.

Leadership

Leadership is a topic that I am very interested in. It’s often mentioned as a desired trait in many job advertisements. You also hear it a lot in our normal life, be it in sports, politics or in office. But what is it exactly?

I used to think that leadership referred to being in the position of authority, talking the loudest and telling people what to do. Fortunately, my view on leadership changed and evolved over the years.

In my opinion, a great leader usually does the following:

  • Grow the team by giving directions, assistance and especially increasing responsibilities. I believe that deep down, every person craves for personal growth. Given tools and meaningful challenges, each of us will be glad to work beyond normal hours and go above & beyond. Some managers just look at their staff as somebody who does the dirty work and mundane tasks
  • Distribute credit when things go right. How deflating must it be when your effort doesn’t get recognized?
  • Take blame when things go wrong. If all that you do in the position of authority is to reap rewards and point fingers, how can others follow you?
  • Cultivate trust and transparency

Sure, great leaders also have other great qualities such as:

  • Technical expertise – The Internet is a powerful tool. You can learn a lot, even tribal knowledge by yourself. If you consistently do it day by day, you will likely have the same or probably more technical knowledge than some senior colleagues who don’t put in the same work as you do. Remember the power of compounding interest when applied to knowledge
  • “Big picture” outlook – Truthfully, some have a better long-term view on things than others. Nonetheless, in some cases, the lack of access to information also plays a role here. A junior staff with long-term perspective but no access to information can hardly make a suggestion as good as a C-level executive, can she?
  • Decisiveness in decision-making – This is different from one person to another. It is easy to say but exceedingly difficult to prove
  • Communication – you don’t need to be a CEO to be required of communication skills. It’s in almost every job ads.

If you need a model, I’d suggest the character Harvey Specter in the series Suits. He grows Mike professionally by giving him more and more challenging cases. When things go wrong, Harvey takes the blame in front of clients and doesn’t throw Mike under the bus. When things go right, he makes sure his subordinate gets the credit financially and position-wise. Finally, there is trust as well as loyalty between them. This clip resonates with me very well.

Jon Snow in the battle with wildlings before he made Lord Commander or Tyrion in the Black Water Bay battle also serves as examples of leadership.

In short, I don’t believe that titles make leaders. On the contrary, leaders make titles. Regardless of where you are on the hierarchy, you can be a leader.

What should be taught more at schools

After years of being at school, I cannot wait to graduate in a few months’ time. Looking back at my academic career so far, even though schools offer some values, most of the courses can now be learned online provided that one has the will and the discipline to learn. What stands out more to me is what schools don’t teach. Here are some lessons that I feel are missing at schools, but play an important role in one’s life and career

Personal finance

I cannot stress enough how important this is. I have seen and known people get thousands of dollars in student loans for education. Then, get more debt in car loans to buy that new car that will be worth significantly less a few years from now. When a new car arrives in your home, it comes with parking fees, gas expenses and insurance. Consequently, monthly expenses rise and savings become even smaller.

On top of that, some gather whatever savings are left to make a down payment for a house and will still have to make installments on a regular basis. A monthly paycheck, after tax, will be used to pay for critical expenses such as rent, food and gas. What is left is used to pay for interests and some outstanding debt. In the end, there is almost no savings. I once read a report recently that many Americans cannot make a $400 emergency payment. Here is a simple breakdown of monthly income and expenses. It is for illustration purpose only. The relative size of the components is different in reality.

Income and Expenses

I didn’t take into account expenses such as bars, celebrations, birthday gifts, wedding gifts, books, travel, shopping, that broken Macbook charger, that flat tire, that media subscription you appreciate so much and others that add values to our lives.

What if something terrible happens and you are hospitalized? How will you pay for the hefty medical bills? It is impossible to assume that you won’t get sick even once for years. It’s practically unsustainable to cross-finger and hope that no severe accident such as car accidents will not happen ever. One of my classmates was hit in a car accident through no fault of her own simply because a person ran the red lights to make it to a Black Friday sale!

There is no shortage of studies and media coverage on pay day loans – a quick way to get your hands on cash, but at the expense of extremely high interest. Life will quickly become just a constant loop of being stuck to your job and paying off debts. If you don’t like the current job, you won’t be able to change jobs or quit because of the debt burden. You don’t have much margin of error or freedom to enjoy life. The lack of freedom to make choices is highly devastating.

Communication

Too cliché? Nah, it is really relevant based on what I have seen so far. . I have seen a lot of PowerPoint decks made by experienced professionals that are littered with text without visuals. As data is taking the world by storm, the ability to convey insights from data is important as well. How could anyone understand anything from highly complex Excel sheets?

The ability to present and communicate effectively is very crucial in one’s career. However, I think that point is missing at schools.

Writing is thinking

It’s easy to sit down, think of an idea and feel that it’s the best idea that has ever been thought of. Unfortunately, it is not true, most of the time. There are a lot of gaps in our thinking unless we write it down on a Word document or a sheet of paper. When we write, we can think more about the points being made, the gaps in logic, evidence to back the logic up and the way to present it. It’s true that students have to write a lot of papers. They; however, have little idea on WHY they have to write papers except for grades.

Reading

It’s all in the books. I am not in a position to tell what one should read. One should just read to see where it is going and what areas one is interested in. Let’s say if a person reads constantly and improves by 1% every month, starting from a base ability value of 100, here is how the person will grow after a while

Ability value

After 4 years, you’ll grow by more than 50% and become twice as good as when you started after 7 years.

Titles, fame or wealth doesn’t always equal to being right

Being logical and having a good idea are not exclusive to fame, authority, fame or wealth. CEOs make mistakes and are dismissed all the time. Crypto fans would be happy to recall that Jamie Dimon – CEO of JP Morgan – dismissed the value of cryptocurrency at first and made a 180 turn to embrace it. I once heard a classmate publicly claim in class that he regretted not mirroring Warren Buffett’s investments. He is a legendary investor, but he is not immune to mistakes nor he is right all the time.

My point is that it’s important to stay vigilant and look at ideas for their merits, not for the fame, titles or wealth of the person who proposed them.

I believe that graduates would be much better prepared for life and career post education if these lessons were emphasized more at school.