Digital Media | Viewpoint

On the Cusp of the Resume Renaissance


Resumes are notoriously irregular, suspect, unreliable, and misleading. How to address this issue? And how can higher education help its students improve their employability by producing better resumes?

Systems and processes throughout our culture and within higher education are going digital and, increasingly, are managed on the Web. But, though some of these processes are far along in their development and reliability (financial systems, student information systems, customer relations systems, and ERPs to name only a sampling), the online resume for graduates of community colleges, four-year colleges, and research universities is still relatively undeveloped, both as incarnated through new media technology and as a rational new process.

One factor slowing the resume renaissance is distrust: Resumes are already suspect, and won’t they be even less trustworthy in digital format?

It is hard to construct an online process in an atmosphere of distrust. Whenever I talk at a conference or on a campus, one question, inevitably, will be about plagiarism of one sort or another, as if it is common knowledge that, first, students have a strong urge to cheat, and, secondly, the Internet somehow brings out the worst in people. So, given that already there is a basic mistrust of the Internet among a certain percentage of faculty and professional staff, and of course among employers, the idea of an online resume is, right out of the blocks, faced with a gantlet. To some academics, online high-stakes interactions are automatically suspect.

However, given that online resumes, as the default expectation or requirement, are an inevitability, let’s lay aside our suspicions for a moment and imagine how an online resume might work best for all involved. Society, after all, can only work if our default assumption is to trust.

The first value that an online resume offers is easy tailoring to a specific audience or interview. An online resume, after all, can include hyperlinks to artifacts or sites that provide backing for claims in the resume, so the resume can be as extensive and the process of reviewing it as intensive as the interviewer or HR reviewer wants. The presented resume can still be one or two pages, but through the hyperlinks, can in reality be dozens or hundreds of pages if those extra pages are needed.

In fact, when a student presents an online resume, the problem may be that the possibilities are not limited enough. It was very interesting to hear that Tufts was accepting video clips as part of the admission application package this year, but that can of worms cannot be left open: Good production values, which are very costly to achieve, can easily become the deciding factor, and not the abilities of the student. Multimedia is not the answer to everything. In fact, personally, I’ve seen enough special effects movies for the rest of my life.

So, maybe video clips will not be part of the admissions application package. We can easily see the dangers in having no limits for online resumes. The form of online resumes must, therefore, be defined and standardized, just as paper resumes have been. And just as with paper resumes, as long as you stay within the boundaries and the rhetorical norm of a new online standard resume, you can be as creative as you want to be. Digital forms can easily be boundless--just the opposite tendency of paper-based forms--so the effort must be aimed to define the limits as well as the minimums.

Electronic portfolios, or ePortfolios, are related directly to the question of online resumes. As students collect evidence of their work over their time in a course of study in their ePortfolio, this online evidence should be referred to in a resume. In fact, ePortfolio systems themselves produce something like an online resume, although this term is only slowly working its way into the argot of the ePortfolio community. I would be very surprised if ePortfolio vendors are not already moving toward the online resume market, using some new features in their systems.

The whole move toward accountability and therefore an emphasis on student learning outcomes and assessment of student progress toward those learning outcomes has produced in-place technology and processes for activating the online resume as the ultimate step. In the United States, regarding this accountability push, we academics have talked mostly about learning and assessment. In the rest of the world, a third emphasis reigns supreme: employability. We are about to catch up with the rest of the world. Community colleges, in particular, are beginning to see the value in collecting evidence of the kind of work that their students do--such as creating merchandizing displays, or doing auto repair, or using CAD software to machine a part--tangible, palpable, work that can be visualized, and using an ePortfolio as an online repository for evidence of that work.

Not just community colleges, but all of academia has to pay more attention to employability. The easy times seem to be over. One way to amp up the employability process is through designing learning goals that are not just a reflection of the curriculum as it is but that reflect the realities of the workplace in this century--work teams, writing and communication skills, unstructured problem solving, globalization, and so on. Institutions of higher learning must collaborate with employers to validate the institution’s learning goals. We still say at the four-year college level that we don’t educate for a specific job but for life, and that must remain our goal, but our economy has become a bit less accommodating than it was years ago, and therefore we, as educators, must be a bit more accommodating.

ePortfolios, as a slowly emerging phenomenon throughout higher education, has a role in the online resume, but there are separate issues as we consider what standards we would impose on this new form.

Resumes are distrusted because paper or free-form resumes permit ambiguity. The famous fudge factor. But, online forms have a weapon against ambiguity: It’s called “disambiguation.” (What else?) If parts of an online resume are drop-down choices, or if answers are required that do not allow for the fudge factor, the online resume thereby reduces the ambiguity: Did you graduate? Yes or no. What degree did you receive? BA, BS, MA, etc. In what department? Provide a link to all the work you did while taking courses in that department. What experiential work did you do? Provide a link to evidence of that work. How did you change as a learner during your time in college? Show evidence of achievement at the beginning of your college career and at the end and in 200 words describe the delta. What collaborative work did you do and what was your role while engaged in this collaborative work? Show evidence of what you produced/contributed while engaged in this collaborative work. And so on.

The mantra is that no HR rep or admissions officer in graduate school wants to see more than the one page resume in the first round. However, if that rep or officer sees that you do have evidence that can be reviewed later, that fact might have some influence on whether you make it to the second round. In the final round, the online resume with links to evidence can make all the difference.

But, to go beyond the mantra, here is a proposition: If higher education can, as a natural evolution influenced by intention and by awareness of the possibilities of disambiguation, create consensus for a new hybrid resume form--part response to questions and part free-form text--students can then create resumes that will contain far more concrete information about them, that will be much more easily processed, and that can be verified and enriched by evidence.

This move to online resumes is ready to accelerate. It’s about time.

[Photo by Judy Batson]

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