Resumes don’t carry the weight that they used to. Students and unemployed people spend days writing them, focusing on how to re-word, “[Job applicant] is an excellent communicator, with a passion for problem solving and strategic thinking.” Then employers spend days reading through run-on sentences and jargon-laced sentences that don’t speak to the true potential and personality of the individual they were meant to describe.
The biggest problem with resumes, however, is that they group you, the applicant, with “the masses.” Securing your dream job is hard – when you walk into that office, and ask the secretary where you can put your resume, you enter a competition. Suddenly your unique set of skills is put in a stack of 100 other names and skills. And all of them are “excellent communicators, with a passion for problem solving.” By using a resume to get a job, you’re playing by someone else’s rules in a game that has you at 1–100 odds.
So how can you really catch an employer's eye? Build a portfolio.
This weekend I was driving home from Tahoe with one of my friends who is a junior at a very good school in California. He gets better-than-average grades. He loves his field of study, mechanical engineering. And he has an impressive amount of real world experience. But he’s still concerned that he won’t get an internship this summer. That’s because he’s playing someone else’s game.
On the car ride home, I described how I got my job at Highfive. Last year, I was riding my bike through Palo Alto, when I saw a poster advertising a part-time writing job. Rather than sending in my resume, I sent a three line email that said something along the lines of, “Hey there. My name is Michael Thomas. I like to write. Check out some of my work here.”
Because all of my work was on a website that I controlled, I didn’t have to describe myself in typical resume form. Instead I was able to let my work speak for itself. If the hiring manager wanted to learn more after the first page, they could navigate to another piece of writing, and another, and another. My thought process and experience wasn’t limited to one page, it was all encompassing.
So I suggested that my friend do the same thing with an engineering twist on it. “Put up a website and show off the stuff you do in your free time.”
We found three projects he could put on a portfolio website. In a Philosophy of Design course, he had designed a washing machine that automatically moved clothes into the dryer. Perfect. He’d also designed, prototyped and manufactured a physical product after High School. Even better. We even turned a job he had last summer as a camp counselor — a negative on your typical engineering resume — into a portfolio page. It turns out he was teaching elementary students how to write code and had to design the courses himself.
All of these experiences were nothing without the stories that made them interesting. But the resume my friend was thinking about writing didn’t have any room for storytelling.
So here’s my advice: sign up for a squarespace account and make two pages: “About me” and “My work.” Spend a couple hours uploading some of your past work and take the time to write out your process of thinking. Then send the CEO of your 5 favorite companies an email describing what you can do for the company and include the link to your portfolio. The funny thing is that you’ll get a better response rate from a CEO with that email than a HR manager sifting through a hundred resumes. After all, the world rewards the creative and the different.