A Resume-Less World

A message to my 18-year-old self

When you graduate high school, colleges ask you for your resume.

When you graduate college, companies ask you for your resume.

When you quit your job and start your own shop, clients ask you for — what? — your portfolio.

That’s right. No client hires you to work on their company’s website or mobile app because of where you go to school (Boston College), what you study (digital communication) or where you pay your dues (a non-profit). They hire you because of what you’ve created (awesome websites, a community of readers, and slick mobile apps).

All they want to know is if you can pull off what you promise them, so they ask if you’ve done it before — and if you’ve done it well.

What’s the difference between the two?

  • Resume: a brief advertisement of where you’ve studied and what positions you’ve held.
  • Portfolio: a collection of samples of your work, usually those that you believe best demonstrate your quality.

As the years go on, schools rely more heavily on resumes, and the real world relies more heavily on portfolios.

Nobody cares what you’ve studied. They care what you’re good at.

This isn’t a theory. It’s what you will experience in the real world. It’s what many of the greats experience, too. You’ll read about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other greats dropping out of college, but you won’t read about how they used the quality of their work, not their diplomas, to climb to great heights.

You’ll adopt their approach a bit late.

Building a resume-less world

Careers depend on portfolios, but re-crafting our world to drop the resume is a difficult task. Here are some ideas on how to pull it off:

  • Put up a website with what you’ve worked on. Whether it’s school-work, job-work, or client-work, show what you’re up to. Even if you’re not in the tech industry, show what you’re up to. Images and videos of what you’ve created helps show what you can create in the future.
  • Do work that builds upon itself. That means choosing work that will help you perform future projects with more mastery. That means choosing work that is valuable for the skills it allows you to refine, not for its prestige.
  • Fight the “chicken and the egg” problem by doing stuff free/cheap. It’s tough to get new clients if you don’t have a portfolio, and you can’t build a portfolio with no clients. To get those first few projects, offer to work for free or very cheap. (After that, though, charge what you’re worth.)
  • Make yourself findable and helpable. Tell people what you’re working on, and you’ll start making more serendipitous connections, getting new leads and making new friends. Connections are critical to learning because you’ll find people that can teach you invaluable skills.

If you’re building a resume, you’re looking to get hired for something. A resume is list upon list. People don’t hire lists. They hire people.

If only someone had taught you this at 18…