Résumés get a technology makeover

Job hunters know the uneasy feeling that often follows sending out a résumé. Time passes with no response, leaving them to wonder if the company even received the résumé, let alone looked at it.

Fred Donovan is well acquainted with résumé anxieties from his decade-long career as a software engineer. For the past four years, he's worked as a consultant based in Nebraska, bouncing from project to project, constantly reapplying for work. Recently he began to feel constrained by the traditional résumé. "There's no personality to it, just skills," he says. "Everybody has skills, so you really don't differentiate yourself."

To stand out, Mr. Donovan created a "digital portfolio," a cross between a résumé and a personal Web page. Most digital portfolios open with a home page, complete with professional objective, a brief summary of qualifications, and anything else a candidate wants to display initially. From there, employers can navigate the portfolio via menus to see a candidate's experience, education, work samples, letters of recommendation, and even streaming video of the candidate on the job.

While not radically different from a traditional paper résumé, a digital portfolio is potentially more eye-catching and allows for more personal information. A growing number of job seekers are turning to new technologies to spice up their résumés. Still, questions remain whether most human resources departments will welcome such a change.

One of the most receptive audiences to this new résumé format has been the technology industry.

"The better candidates in many areas will have a digital portfolio. Our engineers do that as well as our creative staff," says Jill Kulick, vice president of human resources at CafePress.com, an online custom-printing merchant in Foster City, Calif. Graphic designers use digital portfolios to give prospective employers a taste of their style. Engineers include patented designs or examples of previous projects.

Some job seekers who want help have turned to Protüo, a start-up company in San Francisco that has helped nearly 500 job seekers build digital portfolios. By providing customizable templates, the company saves users from having to build their own Web page for their portfolio. Protüo is also helping employers fill positions by allowing them to search its applicant database as well as create digital portfolios for their organizations.

In addition, the company has created a personality survey that employers can ask applicants to take. Questions gauge whether an applicant prefers group or individual work, flexible or structured tasks, a high- or low-stress workplace, etc. While the survey helps employers determine whether an applicant might be worth hiring, candidates can also access the results. They might learn, for example, that they were only 60 percent as "innovative" as the company wanted, while they were 120 percent as "goal oriented" as required. (Such a candidate might try to improve his or her innovative qualities or look for a company that values goal-oriented workers.)

"It's eHarmony meets Monster," says Jennifer Gerlach, vice president for Protüo, referring to popular Internet dating and job-finding sites.

Even Monster.com, one of the first major online job boards, is gradually offering candidates and recruiters more options to showcase more than just skills. Though it does not offer digital portfolios, Monster has helped more than 50 companies to post videos to lure potential applicants. The Home Depot, for example, posted a video about a day in the life of a sales associate.

"As technology evolves and becomes easier [to use], you're probably going to see more and more people trying to use video to differentiate themselves," says Steve Sylven, public relations manager for Monster.com, headquartered in Maynard, Mass.

While the new portfolio technology has shown potential as a marketing tool, it's seen limited results in low-tech vocations like education. Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy has urged students to turn their digital portfolios, now used for internal evaluations, into something they can use after graduation to find teaching jobs. It's unclear, however, if those who hire teachers are ready for digital supplements. "I don't know that the people who hire ... have a lot of time when they're looking at applications," explains Malaya Bernstein, director of undergraduate teacher education at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Richard Deppe has been involved in hiring teachers for more than 30 years. As the head of the department of classical and modern languages at Wellesley High School near Boston, he has yet to encounter a digital portfolio or nontraditional résumé – and he hopes he doesn't.

"I can scan a résumé and know relatively quickly if I am interested in a candidate," says Mr. Deppe. "I would look at these 'other' applications last, simply because of the amount of time they consume. If I found good candidates in the 'regular' applications, I might never look at them at all."

As more applicants and recruiters adopt new résumé mediums, a need will develop to establish guidelines like those that already exist for traditional résumés.

Aleksey Vayner, a senior at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., made a widely reported digital résumé blunder this past October. In search of a finance job, he created a video résumé entitled "Impossible is Nothing." Complete with production credits, the six-minute video résumé featured him weight lifting, ballroom dancing, and playing tennis (his serve: 140 m.p.h.). Through unclear circumstances, Mr. Vayner's résumé was posted on YouTube, making him an object of ridicule as well as a warning of what not to do.

Despite the potential faux pas and resistance, applicants continue to test new résumé media. Donovan, who has had his digital portfolio online for a couple of weeks and has yet to get a serious lead, remains optimistic. "Gosh, if this isn't the wave of the future, I can't imagine what would be better than this," he says.

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