My Life in Tags: Creating an Interactive Resume and Biographical Website

How many times have you done your resume? Redone it? Done different versions of it for different situations? Put it into different formats, from Word to PDF to plain text to LinkedIn to Monster to individual employers’ recruitment websites and however many others? I’ve done all this too many times for my taste. It’s gotten tedious.

The data geek in me has often thought about making a database for myself, where I could keep all my background information organized so that I could pull out different parts easily and automatically, making different resumes for different purposes on the fly. I never got around to it.

But then I learned WordPress, which is far more than just blogging software — a full-on content management system. And then I became fully self-employed — and I had more need than ever before to be both solid and flexible in how I market myself. And then I bought the marksmeritt.com domain name — but I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

These things all converged, making me feel like now was the time for a grand experiment: The resume as website. My life in tags. A dynamic, interactive biography that was always up to date, that could be instantly organized and reorganized with a click. Further, one that people could browse themselves, looking at what was pertinent to them without my having to lift a finger, much less make a whole new document each time.

It’s not all done yet, not all up to date with everything in my background that I’d like to put there, but a first phase interactive bio is off and running at MarkSMeritt.com. There are a number of reasons why I think it worthwhile to make a site like this, some caveats to keep in mind about it, and plenty of advice that I can offer about how to do it.

Why do it?

Let me count the ways:

Vanity — Let’s get that out of the way up front. Certainly someone might want to do a site like this out of vanity. That may be part of it for me, but I think I do things out of vanity less and less as time goes on. Even beyond that, there remain some other good reasons why someone might feel a need to put themselves out there in this way.

Marketing and self-promotion — This is the main reason we do resumes and portfolios and curriculum vitae anyway, after all. Most of us have to put our best foot forward at some point or other. There is often even more need to do this for the entrepreneurial and the self-employed. And this all leads to…

Flexibility — Like I said above, the tedium and repetition of making different versions of these documents can grow unbearable. A database-driven resume allows for slicing and dicing over and over in different ways, zooming in and out, going straight or sideways or zig-zagging through the different parts of one’s experience, all without actually having to create different documents each time a new need arises.

Hands free — Put in the work up front, and you end up with something that you can put in the hands of employers, recruiters, clients, etc., letting them see the parts of your background that are relevant for you without you having to spend much effort customizing anything for them.

Self-understanding — Looking at the material as it develops — as you fill in your past as well as your future — you can see at any time what kinds of experience are more and less common in your own background. It’s no replacement for doing an Appreciative Inquiry (AI), or going through the System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA), or What Color is Your Parachute, or Zen and the Art of Making Living, etc., but it’s very suggestive. It can show you some of the most common threads you have to build on. It could tell you what less obvious aspects may warrant more of your attention. To some significant extent, it can help you clarify your picture of yourself.

Experiment — Looking around the web, Googling things like “interactive resume website,” I found precious little out there like what I had in mind. There were resume creation sites that gave you interactive tools for creating a resume, but not much at all out there in the way of resumes that were themselves dynamic, always changing and automatically updated, interactive for the person reading the resume. There don’t seem to be tools for making these, and there don’t even seem to be people who’ve taken on doing it for themselves — few and far between, at least. For me, then, it was an experiment, something combining my interest in and knowledge of WordPress with my desire to have a flexible way of presenting my diverse background. It was an attempt to answer the question, can it be done? Can I make a dynamic resume like I’d often pondered, and can I do it in a way that puts it in the public’s hands so that people could take advantage and interact with it on their own?

I feel like my stab at it has proved positive in light of every one of these reasons for doing it.

The Basic Idea… and Some Caveats

First, the fundamental idea: entries and tags. Like a blog. The content is divided into a number of entries, each corresponding to some aspect of your background. Each entry is then tagged with however many words and phrases you think are relevant to capture all the different topics/themes that run across your experience. When you pull up a list of entries for any given tag or combination of tags, you’ll be able to zero in on whatever aspects of your experience you want. With tags and other links between entries, your biography becomes interactive in two ways:

  • Every piece is cross-referenced with tags and links to allow the material to interact within itself, making all sorts of connections that might not otherwise be apparent.
  • These connections allow readers to interact with the information, choosing what aspects of your background they want to learn about, traversing their way from one to another based on what they find interesting and relevant.

The site acts like a resume, a portfolio, a curriculum vitae, a bio, even a full-on lifestream if you want — but on software steroids, and putting in other people’s hands the freedom of how to read it.

In a way, it’s that simple. But nothing is ever that simple, so I’ll give you a whole bunch of advice on how to make it happen. Before I do that, though, I wanted to share some caveats about just how much “integrity” an interactive biographical website like this will have. I personally think these are all fairly minor considerations, but they seem worth noting.

Employers, recruiters and others may not want to look around an interactive biographical website! — You might do all this work, only to find that you still have to make resumes, CVs and other documents at different times. The silver lining: If you make one of these sites for yourself, all your background information will be about as well organized and well phrased as it possible can be, so it’ll be easier than ever for you to make those extra versions of those documents.

It will take time to create — Probably more than you realize, maybe a lot more. The silver lining: Like any system, the best results come from spending energy on quality design and foundational work. Once you’ve put that time in, the results will hopefully be worthwhile.

Current ongoing items aren’t always so easy to see — If you go with WordPress like I did, you’ll find the entries are organized by the post date, which is almost always bound to be the start date for any entry. So if you started your current job 10 years ago, it’s going to appear not at the top of your lists of background material, but at the 10-years-ago point. This is backwards compared to a typical resume. The silver lining: You can always create some customized views into your bio (see below), create a Current tag, and if you incorporate a timeline (also see below), it’ll be able to make very clear what items are current and ongoing.

A tag’s strength isn’t likely to match the importance of what the tag represents — For example, the amount of time and effort I put into Cupid’s Arrow, the musical I wrote and directed in high school, was inordinate. As of now, there’s only a single entry tagged for Cupid’s Arrow. But get inducted into a few honor societies, and join a few organizations, and spend hardly any time on any of them, and before you know it my Associations tag starts to look more important than Cupid’s Arrow. In other words, the frequency of each tag in the posts isn’t likely to be proportional to the amount of time and energy you’ve actually spent on that activity. The silver lining: Like I said before, the tags are likely to be pretty suggestive, especially if you’re thorough with your tagging. Cupid’s Arrow may not have much representation in my tags, but there are plenty of other tags for the Cupid’s Arrow entry that, combined with many others, do have more representation than Associations.

You may not get it working just how you want — Unless you’re really programming your own database from scratch, you’re going to find yourself limited by the tools at your disposal, and you may not be able to get your interactive bio to do quite everything you’d like it to do. The silver lining: It’ll still do way more than your regular resume.

Now onto making it happen.

I Am Interactive (And So Can You!)

Before I got far into the project, I thought that this might be a service I could offer, creating this sort of website for others. As the work progressed, two things became clear: 1) Like I said, it can take a fair amount of time. 2) What takes the most time isn’t the technology, it’s just going through the biographical information, making personal decisions about what to include and what not, deciding how to phrase it all, and pondering how best to organize and tag everything.

So rather than offer to make this kind of site for others, I’ll write up some advice about how you could go about making this kind of site for yourself, going through a number of questions that I came to myself throughout the process. First, the biographical info itself, then some technical concerns.

The Biographical Content

What background material should I include? — Whatever you want. Want to keep it professional? Do so. Want to add more informal stuff? Go for it. With tags, you’ll be able to organize it however you want.

What goes in each entry? — This was really the most important part of the whole thing. In the end, this, too, is up to you, but I have two main suggestions:

  • Think about how things happen in time — Anything that can be pinned to a particular date or date range, that’s an entry. Got a job where you did various things at different times? Take advantage of what this whole project is all about, and just don’t worry that you’re not going to put all the stuff for that job in one spot. Make a separate entry for each bit, create one or more tags that define the job, and then assign the overall job tags to each of the different entries. Then add more specific tags appropriate whatever each bit happens to be. This way, you’ll be able to pull up everything for that job at once when you want, while at the same time the different aspects of your experience with that job will have the opportunity to be pulled separately. Got an award for that job? Did some work with a children’s group? Created a website? With tags for honors or awards, children or website design, those items can also come up along with all your other honors, awards, children’s activities and websites, separate from the rest of the job description.
  • Sufficiently describe each item — Everything should read well in a list with a number of other items, so nothing needs any more detail than you really want. However, having sliced and diced things across time so that the different pieces can be pulled in different ways, you’re going to want to make sure that each item makes full sense on its own, separated from the information it might “usually” go with. That award you got for your job? You probably want to list the name of your employer there, because that award may come up away from the rest of your job description, and it might only be clear what it actually is if you reiterate your employer information there. This makes for a lot of potential redundancy when you pull up a tag archive — your employer’s name and maybe even city, or your college’s name and city, may end up appearing in several or even dozens of posts that all get pulled together. This wouldn’t happen on a “real” resume, and with a more elaborate database and custom programming, you might be able to get around that with an interactive biographical website. I let the issue lie, and I don’t think it’s all that big a deal under the circumstances.

How do I choose what tags to create? — That’s really up to you. I’d suggest you focus on the content first, and then once it’s as solid as it can be, go through all your items, one by one, thinking about what tags might be relevant for each. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What area of life is this? — Abstract tags like livelihood/work, education, community service, hobbies, skills, etc., will prove very useful in providing “big picture” views of your background. Think hierarchically — education may be an area, while high school and college and graduate school may be “sub-areas,” but all would just get their own tag.
  • Who did I do this for? — Specific employer names, school names, organizations names, etc., will help you show your complete history with particular associations. Think about associations in each area and “sub-area,” and also go beyond that to parts of your life that don’t fit neatly in the areas you’ve already identified.
  • In what area/industry was who I did it for? In what area/field was what I actually did? What was my own role? — Maybe your company is in the computer industry, but you are in the human resources department, and your job is administrative. Maybe your company is in the human resources industry, but you are in the computing department, and your job is managerial. The point is, look at these three levels, and you’ll have more detail to use, and more tags to help keep things organized. Don’t worry about keeping track of the way these pieces of information may organize hierarchically, just make sure to create a tag for each unique piece of information at each level.

How far is too far? — It’s really up to you. If you’re concerned about going too far, or too deep, you can choose to leave things out. Otherwise, you can always create a tag to set aside a group of higher or lower priority items. For example, I have a Resume tag attached to every piece of information that I typically include in an actual resume, a Portfolio tag attached to every entry for something that you can actually read/view/hear/visit online, and a Notable tag attached to noteworthy items I most often refer to in bios . This kind of tagging makes it easy to select these kinds of portions of my background even while I add plenty of extra information about my background for other purposes.

Technical Considerations

What platform should I use? — I used WordPress because it’s what I know and like, but I imagine that any blogging platform or content management system that allows you to tag individual posts/entries would probably do the trick. The rest of my advice here will be for WordPress, in particular custom installations, but much of this could be done even at WordPress.com.

What’s the best and simplest way to present the content? — I decided that the tag archives themselves were the best things to use for this kind of project. Click on a link to a tag archive and boom, all the entries for that tag come up. Since the post content tends to be fairly short — much shorter than typical blog/site content — this kind of view is really all that’s needed, far better than encouraging people to actually view individual posts. This led me to change my WordPress settings to allow a larger number of posts to be displayed on a single screen instead of the default 10. I was tempted to even remove the hyperlinks from the individual post titles, because the full post is always in view in the tag archive — better to see it in context with others rather than on its own. But I figured it was really best to let the reader decide — perhaps they’d want to visit a single entry to make a comment. The point is that using even just the basic tag archives is an excellent way to browse through the bio.

Is clicking on a tag in archive or single post view the only way to browse the bio? — Not at all! Your content is likely to have a lot of words and phrases that will be similar or identical to the tags you’re making. You can take the opportunity to add links within the content itself, and there are some great tools to help you do so automatically.

  • Simple Tags plugin for WordPress — In addition to lots of generally useful tag management tools, this plugin has an “auto link” option. Anywhere your post content contains text matching the name of one of your tags, it will automatically link that text to the tag archive.
  • SEO Smart Links plugin for WordPress — This plugin was custom made to do the same kind of autolinking as Simple Tags, but with many more possibilities. In addition to autolinking to tag archives, you can also link to Category archives or even individual Post titles or Page titles. Further, it gives the option of autolinking any other custom keywords or phrases you can think of, and they can be set to link to any URL you like, not just those in your own site. For example, one of my tags is Music, but I can set Smart Links so that “musician” also automatically links to the Music tag archive — and I can set it so that “Custom Songs” automatically links to the Custom Songs page at Potluck Creative Arts.

I want to link to other websites, but autolinks are forcing things to link to tag archives. What do I do? — SEO Smart Links gives you the ability to ignore certain words or phrases, so that’s one option. I went with another option. The autolink functions only work on text that isn’t already hyperlinked. At first, I thought I’d manually hyperlink appropriate words and phrases to external sites, but in the end I decided that it was better for the posts to be as interconnected as possible, and as consistent as possible, giving visitors as much opportunity to move around my biography and letting them know what to expect from links within the post content. So I decided that, for websites other than my own, I would manually include links at the bottom each post, below the “real” content. This gave me everything I was after.

Are there more elaborate ways to present the content? — Sure there are! There are undoubtedly far more ways to do so than I’ve done, but here are some different ways I’m presenting my own interactive bio:

  • Tag cloud — A tag cloud can visualize how often each tag is used, with more frequently used tags set in larger type. This, in fact, is what I use on my main interactive bio page — I give the basic complete archive view as an option, but only as the last option, since it’s the least interesting. There are lots of options for how you can display a tag cloud, both the default WordPress cloud as well as a special Simple Tags cloud, so you can customize in different ways.
  • Archives by date — WordPress can easily display date-based archives, allowing visitors to quickly jump to a particular time period. While WordPress commonly shows archives for every month/year, I’ve left that out of my site, showing only full year archives. Over the span of a lifetime biography, there are quite a lot of years involved, and generally not all that much information on average for any given month, so this seemed to me an optimal level of detail to provide. Those visitors in the know can always manually add the two-digit month to the URL of a year-based archive in order to get an archive for a particular month.
  • Timeline — One of the coolest things I’ve seen for WordPress is this plugin for MIT’s SIMILE Timeline, which I’d mentioned earlier. This will provide an interactive visualization of your bio. You can drag the timeline with your mouse or move it with the arrow keys. Drag months in the top section to move slowly or years in the bottom section to move faster. What’s especially nice, as I also mentioned earlier, is that this feature makes it possible to have current ongoing items actually show up as current even beyond creating a Current tag. Just fill in the Event End Date for particular posts to visualize durations. For current items whose end is indefinite, you can add a date sometime in the future. I picked December 31, 2037, since it’s one of the latest dates that the system seems able to handle.
  • Highlights — You can always pull out a few particular tags, organizing them and linking them as you wish on one or more special pages. This can draw people’s attention to particular aspects of your background. Endless possibilities, of which I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface.
  • Intersections and unions — WordPress’ built-in tag functionality allows for intersections and unions. The intersection of multiple tags is the group of all posts that each have at least any one of the tags you’re interested in, while the union is the group of posts that each have all the tags you want. Post tagged both Children and Music, the union, can be found easily: http://marksmeritt.com/tag/children+music/. Change the plus sign to a comma, and you get the intersection: http://marksmeritt.com/tag/children,music/. As of this writing, I haven’t built any of this into my site, but the possibilities here are limited only by the number of tags you have.

How should I craft titles and URLs for the individual posts? — With WordPress, the “permalinks” — the URLs for each post — often contain the post’s title. They also very often the year and even the month of the post date. A long title can make for a long web address, and that’s not always so desirable. However, since more often than not visitors will be looking only at tag archives and not at individual posts anyway, I decided to leave the post title out of the permalink altogether. This meant simpler URLs for posts that wouldn’t often use them. Also, I remain free to alter the post title at any time if the need arises, without worrying that I’ll be messing up the ability of visitors or search engines to find my posts because of changing URLs. I also left the month out of my permalinks, figuring that, like I mentioned above, months just aren’t as useful for an interactive bio as they would be for a blog. My permalinks, then, are simply the year followed by the post ID. Very simple, very short, and guaranteed to keep all your permalinks unique, which is always a priority when setting a permalink scheme.

Is there a way to control the depth of information even in a given entry? — A great possibility here would be to take advantage of WordPress’ excerpts. You could include a brief summary of the entry that would show up in tag archives, and then you could provide more detail in the full post body, which someone could click to only if they wanted more information. The main reason I didn’t do this was because I already use potluck.com as a place to publish original content, so I just have links going there when appropriate and didn’t feel a pressing need for multiple levels of detail in my interactive bio. I was, though, tempted for a while to use excerpts. I still may at some point, who knows. Someone could definitely put them to good use in an interactive biographical website.

Anything else I ought to consider? — There’s always more to consider! I’ll say only a few more brief things about how you might alter your theme/styles to present the information.

  • Let each post’s tags be displayed in both archive view and single post view, since this is what will really allow visitors to undertake their own dynamic exploration of your background.
  • Unless you find a way to take advantage of multiple Categories, consider removing the display of Categories from your archive views. There’s going to be a lot of information already, may as well declutter.
  • Also in the service of decluttering, consider getting rid of the post author from your archives as well. In a site like this, it’s all you anyway, and everyone will know it.
  • If you use the timeline plugin, consider added the Event End Date next to the Post Date so that you can show full date ranges when appropriate for particular entries.

Go Interactive

What else is there to say? I’ve said so much at this point! An interactive biographical website is a cool thing. With some time and some thought, you can make a nice one for yourself. Give it a try! And feel free to share your results below in a Comment. Thanks!

2 comments for “My Life in Tags: Creating an Interactive Resume and Biographical Website

  1. September 6, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    A quick addendum! As of this writing, I’ve still got a few kinks to work out with the SIMILE Timeline plugin. I just figured I’d write the post as if all was well, for posterity, you know :)

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