Use a Two-Dimensional Bar Code to Brand Yourself as an Innovative Journalist

The buzz over two-dimensional bar codes is growing and suggests a way for smart job-seekers to stand out from the pack.

The little squares (also called smart bar codes, mobile bar codes and QR codes) are like the bar codes we see on almost everything we buy. But when you scan them with a phone camera, they serve up Web sites, photos, videos or text messages.

There are more than a dozen varieties of smart bar codes. They can be printed on ads, hotel key cards, scarves, even geeky neckties.

The codes are widespread in Japan, where a Toyota subsidiary developed the QR code to track auto parts. You may have seen them on movie posters. Starbucks uses a QR code as a gift card that resides on the owners' phones.

These codes are starting to cross over to U.S. news media, which dabbled with codes years ago. Remember the CueCat? What has changed since then is that millions of us now have the technology on our phones to scan codes like this.

A two-dimensional bar code on a resume or business card can brand you as someone who is on top of technology and take prospective employers to your portfolio, resume or a video. They can jump-start conversations.

Two-dimensional codes are popping up all over

The Oklahoman's announced in early February that it has begun using ScanLife to lead readers with smart phones to additional content, including videos and maps. A week later, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette front pages started carrying codes that take readers to the newspaper's mobile reader.

A few days later, Mid-Day became the first newspaper in India to use QR Codes. Like the Post-Gazette, it plans to use codes throughout the newspaper.

And in its March issue, Esquire, which has experimented with E Ink (2008) and augmented reality (2009), will print Scanbuy codes in a spread of men's products, according to The New York Times.

You may have seen a similar box, called a Jagtag, in Sports Illustrated promotions for this month's Swimsuit Issue or in an NBC Universal Olympics campaign. Jagtags are scanned and then texted, e-mailed or tweeted. More information or a video is then sent back to the user's phone. No special application is needed, but there can be costs for the text messaging.

A Digital Edge for Job Candidates

Yvette Walker, director of custom publications at The Oklahoman and a former recruiter, said slapping a two-dimensional bar code on a resume or business card could give someone an edge, if the interviewer knows what it is. (One of her products, the entertainment tab LOOKatOKC, has been the Oklahoma Publishing Co.'s testing ground for ScanLife.)

"Having it on your business card is very interesting because you're handing those out person to person and it is generally a conversation starter," she said. "It would make you look like you know what is going on."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Director of Interactive Media Pat Scanlon said in a phone interview that he would "certainly pay attention to it."

"It would just say to me that they have an understanding of what's in the future and are not just looking back, for argument's sake, at just the Web," he said. "For the United States, this is bleeding edge, not cutting edge. It's way out there in the front."

Tyler Chance, a copy editor and page designer for the Journal & Courier in Lafayette, Ind., had QR codes on the business cards he handed out at the Online News Association conference in October. "As far as reactions go, I get a lot of puzzled looks at first, especially since not a lot of people have heard of them," he wrote in an e-mail.

He believes the code helped him get a job because it "made me look tech-savvy and forward-thinking. Which I am, but it definitely encompassed that idea in a way that could be easily communicated to the potential employer. Of course, it was something I had to back up, like an understanding of social media and Web skills."

Scanlon said he'd pay attention to where a two-dimensional bar code took him. The destination, then, should display well on a cell phone and shouldn't simply be a standard Web page designed for a computer screen.

Codes can be generated and read with free tools

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There are a variety of free tools to generate two-dimensional bar codes. Search for "QR Code generator." Several Web sites offer a simple service in which you enter a URL, phone number or text message and it serves up a unique code as a JPEG or PNG file. (The open-source Quick Response, or QR code, is a popular format.)

You can add these to a Web site, resume or your business card. A prospective employer (one who has downloaded a reader) can use the code to go to your Web site, portfolio or a video.

Test the code before you use it. The generators return slightly different versions of the code and some worked better for me than others. The matchup among different versions of the code, different readers, browsers and phones is bound to create some trouble, but there is no denying the wow factor.

Scan this code to see how this works. It will take you to a feed of Poynter's new Mobile Media blog. If you have trouble scanning from the screen, try making a printout. Codes can be printed much smaller than this one -- small enough to go on your business card.


E-mail Joe for answers to your career and job-hunting questions.

Coming Monday: How blogging about job opportunities led one journalist to a new job.

  • Joe Grimm

    Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website.


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