Resumes Stink, Start Asking For A Portfolio

Recruiters have been “placing ads and reading resumes” for decades. As an HR professor I get to review hundreds of resumes and I never have understood why any HR professional would rely on it as an accurate source of information about a candidate. If you really want to find out about a candidate go beyond the resume and ask for a “professional portfolio.” As a candidate for a position, you might also find that a portfolio gives you a competitive advantage above others who merely provide a resume. The difference is obvious. Can you imagine how easy it would be to miss an opportunity for calling in Michelangelo, based on a resume (word) description of his picture…Mona Lisa? As they say “a picture is worth a thousand words!” Why Resumes Stink:

    • They are shallow and dull to read


  • They are full of words but they give few details due to their 1-2 page length
  • They are one dimensional and can’t demonstrate technology or visual arts
  • They are focused on the past and not on what you can do in the future
  • Words in a resume are a poor way of showing what most people can actually produce
  • They are full of mis-truths and omissions because it’s easy to “mislead with words”
  • They are often written by others and thus do not reflect the actual writing skills of the candidate

Advantages Of Portfolios Over Resumes:

  • They allow you to review actual work in order to assess its quality
  • By looking at actual work samples, you often find candidates that appear to have “insufficient experience” on their resume actually have capabilities beyond their years
  • They allow you to assess creativity because they give the candidate some leeway in the work they include in their portfolio
  • A portfolio can include videos, pictures, product designs, and other 3 dimensional items that can’t be in a resume
  • It can include floppy disks, CD’s, and web pages so that technology and software can be demonstrated
  • This practice gives managers more exposure to the actual work being done by other firms and thus it is a form of benchmarking and competitive intelligence
  • Because portfolios take some effort, they demonstrate a degree of commitment on the part of the candidate that is not required in a resume
  • It can focus on what you will/can do as opposed to what you did do in the past
  • A “picture is worth a thousand words”
  • It improves the quality of your hires

Think about it. If you were going to hire an artist (or a musician or a chef) would you want to read about their paintings…or see them. If you were going to hire a programmer–wouldn’t you want to see some actual code they had written? Well you can see the actual work of your candidates if you request a portfolio in addition to a traditional resume. Many Fields Already Use Portfolios There are a number of candidate fields that regularly prepare portfolios. These include artists, musicians, writers, graphic design professionals, illustrators, web designers, etc. Hiring managers in these fields review these portfolios for content, creativity, etc. and since they are experts they know what to look for. The added content in a portfolio allows managers to go beyond the “number” of years of experience in order to judge the quality of the experience as well! Steps In Shifting From Resumes To Portfolios:

  1. You don’t need to shift to portfolios for all jobs. Start with key jobs where there is a shortage of people with new ideas or sufficient experience.
  2. Consult with the managers to get their buy in.
  3. Most start with a request for a resume. The recruitment ad informs the candidate of the need for a portfolio if they become a finalist.
  4. After the first screening ask the second cut candidates to provide between one and three samples of their work (the type of work that candidates would normally already have in their files).
  5. Finalists are requested to send a complete portfolio (see the sample below).
  6. The portfolio is reviewed by the manager and/or the work team using pre-agreed upon criteria.
  7. During the interview candidates are asked to expand on their work and show how they could adapt it to your firm’s environment.

An Example – Possible Elements In An Hr Professional’s Portfolio Some Of The Things That Might Be Included In An HR Portfolio:

  1. A two paragraph executive summary with bullet points
  2. A table of contents
  3. A traditional chronological resume
  4. A personal mission and goal statement
  5. A list of your major accomplishments and outputs with a two sentence description including numbers, dollars, and evidence of quality
  6. A WOW bullet point list of facts that illustrate your best competencies and accomplishments
  7. A list of your Business competencies with a sentence showing the level of your expertise (categorize by Business Interpersonal, Communication and other (risk taker, creative)
  8. A list of your HR competencies with a sentence showing the level of your expertise (categorize by HR functional areas–Recruiting, Generalist, Compensation, HRIS, Legal, Benefits, OD, Training, Benefits and International)
  9. A list of the technology- and computer-related capabilities the candidate has with a sentence showing the level of your expertise for each
  10. A link to your personal web page and an outline of what can be found on the web site
  11. A list of special projects in HR that you have completed
  12. Between 3 and 7 one-page outlines of selected projects showing goals, steps, and results
  13. A one-page list of your interests and preferences including career goals and what makes a great job, boss, and company
  14. A one-page summary of your knowledge of the firm, its problems, competitors, and opportunities
  15. A one-page summary of your training and education including topic areas your courses covered in school, projects, papers, presentations
  16. A fleshed out (3-5 page) example of your solution to one of the major problems you will face in your new job. The solution would be tailored to the culture of our target firm
  17. A list of your mentors, contacts, and references
  18. Optional appendices include: videotapes of your presentations, copies of articles, reports, HR processes and programs you developed, etc.
  19. A CD-ROM or floppy disk containing detailed examples and pictures (if appropriate) of your work
  20. A list of your key contact numbers, address, etc.

Characteristics Of A World Class Portfolio:

  • Scanable (in 15 minutes or less)
  • It sells you with your work and your ideas
  • It is customized for this job and the firm
  • It includes and highlights your WOW’s
  • It excites the screener

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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