Are resumes dead? One expert weighs in on how to showcase your talent

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Last updated November 1, 2021

Employers can type a candidate’s name into Google and instantly get details on everything from where they’ve worked to what they’ve posted on social media.

Zoom calls are becoming an accepted way to conduct job interviews.

Printing out anything on paper feels like an increasingly rare event.

With all that in mind, how is the traditional resume expected to survive? And if it doesn’t, how should those looking to change jobs or enter a new field expect to showcase their skills to the market?

According to Jade Bourelle, the resume may have a surprisingly long afterlife, even if it comes to be seen as an outmoded form of demonstrating your education and experience.

That’s not just because Bourelle is the CEO of VisualCV, a Vancouver-based firm that provides tools to develop online resumes and CVs. He’s also chairman of MindField Group, a recruiting firm, and has led organizations that develop software used by HR departments to screen candidates.

“When you log into any of these systems, step number one or two is to upload your resume,” he said. “Those corporate recruiting systems— they’re not going to change, and they’re not going to go away.”

The limits of LinkedIn

Of course, many of those systems now include buttons that allow candidates to upload or add details directly from their LinkedIn profile, but that comes with risks and limitations too, Bourelle said.

“Whether it’s your resume or LinkedIn, the question you want to ask yourself is, are they really telling a broad, representative story of what you want to portray?” he said. “Most resumes are two pages long. They don’t have a lot of dynamic capabilities. LinkedIn is very prescriptive — it’s the same profile view for everybody. There’s no way for you to stand out uniquely.”

Instead, it might be better to consider developing a more sophisticated online portfolio that tells your professional story, Bourelle said. While portfolios have been a standard tool for those working in design or artistic careers, he suggested they might offer a more comprehensive approach to showcasing individual talent in many other fields.

This would not simply be a rundown of previous employers and positions held, for instance, but a digital hub that could include links or samples of work you’ve produced.  A digital marketer might upload advertising creative they oversaw or worked on, while a web developer could post wireframes as well as link to completed websites or mobile apps.

The power of portfolios

In a recent article on the Harvard Business Review, April Rinne argued that the concept of a portfolio speaks to the totality of a career in a way that other approaches can’t.

“It’s a new way to think about, talk about, and — most importantly – craft your professional future in order to navigate our ever-changing world of work with purpose, clarity, and flexibility,” she writes.” A career portfolio is a never-ending source of discovery and fulfillment. It represents your vast and diverse professional journey, including the various twists and turns, whether made by choice or by circumstance.

Even before the pandemic, a survey of more than 600 managers by Toronto-based staffing firm Accountemps last year showed 43 per cent of Canadian employers are most impressed when candidates provide access to an online portfolio or personal website. Thirty-nine per cent said they liked to see career highlights done as an infographic.

The challenge, perhaps, is making sure that what gets shown comes across as accurate and genuine. According to the Monster Future of Work: 2021 Outlook survey, for example, 66 per cent of employers agreed that candidates exaggerate skills and competencies on their resumes.

Bourelle had a few specific tips on presenting your credentials in a way that’s honest, interesting and fully fleshed out:

1. Don’t think of it as a job search — think of it as a sales and marketing strategy

Should you have one portfolio that you use for every career opportunity, or should you somehow customize it? Bourelle said the answer may depend on whether you’re focused on what marketers call an inbound strategy (where they’re trying to attract customers and prospects to come to them) or an outbound strategy (where they’re targeting a specific prospect).

Someone who is currently employed and not urgently looking for new work might have an inbound strategy, for instance. Their portfolio might use particular keywords related to skills they’ve gained so that it shows up organically when companies are looking for talent.

Those who are actively searching might be more like a sales team pitching a client, Bourelle said. In those scenarios, a sales team wouldn’t just recycle the same material for every client but would come up with a proposal that specifically reflected what their client wants.

“It’s lead generation,” Bourelle said. “Your portfolio’s only purpose is to get that company interested enough in you to have a conversation.”

2. Create a self-portrait that connects you to causes you care about

The media is filled with horror stories about toxic workplaces and the struggle to lead with empathy. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) are now a priority for many firms, as is a commitment to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues.

Bourelle said candidates should not only stand out based on their academic qualifications and work history, but where they’ve volunteered or how active they are in their community. It can be just another way to communicate to employers that there will be a cultural fit.

“Companies are wearing their values on their sleeves, and recruiting against those values,” he said. “There’s nothing more uncomfortable than getting a job based solely on your skills where there’s a values mismatch. It works in everyone’s best interest for you to be overt about what matters to you.”

3. Frame accomplishments based on outcomes — and don’t leave out your origin story

An online portfolio should be a living document, Bourelle said. That means it should be updated every time you’ve reached a new milestone. This could mean earning a new degree, certification or even completing a bootcamp.

It could also be a snapshot of a recent project, but he said this could be a story that shows the impact on the organization. Mention who you worked with, he said, and even what they might have said about the value you brought to achieving the objective.

The more complete the picture, the better, Bourelle added — even when you’re talking about your first experiences.

“I think people often start their resumes with their first professional jobs and they leave off all those early service industry jobs, but those are interesting to me too,” he said. “I want to know where they came from. Don’t worry about whether or not those jobs are relevant. They’re hiring you, as an individual, not your position.”

4. Offer content as a follow up rather than leave them wanting more

Even if employers still ask for a resume, it often happens at the beginning of the hiring process. However, smart candidates fuel hiring managers with content throughout the journey, Bourelle said.

Also, what some job seekers might not realize is that the HR systems employers use are often deploying artificial intelligence (AI) or some kind of automation to strip away many details from a conventional resume or CV. This often includes information such as a name or gender in an effort to mitigate the risk of bias.

“This is often driven by regulation, and that means it’s not always going to be this robust view of yourself that they’re looking at,” he said. “After you have that first interview, that’s when you might want to link to that detailed portfolio, because at that point they’re now considering a bunch of other factors and the content you offer can help them.”

Whether resumes die off one day or not, careers are essentially stories professionals learn to tell about themselves. How versatile they become at telling those stories in a compelling way will play a big part in their success, Bourelle added.

“Content rules,” he said. “That act of promotion of putting your content out there will have a cumulative effect.”

Shane Schick

Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate and manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing Magazine and B2B News Network. He is also the former Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief) at IT World Canada, a former technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada, and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca.

One thought on “Are resumes dead? One expert weighs in on how to showcase your talent”

  1. If you are in technology (web developer, UX designer, product manager, digital marketer, etc.) you NEED a portfolio! And your portfolio should appear at the top of Google when people search your name. Resumes are just a formality for HR departments to sort through people, but most jobs don’t work that way anyway. Hiring managers are checking out your digital footprint.

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