Disclaimer: I am a guy who never had a real job in my life, and most probably never will. So take any career advice from you with a pinch of salt. No, I am serious.

Build portfolios not resumes! aka self-directed learning

So what is a problem that many job seeker faces?

A: You want to get hired, but employees look for people with experience – and you don’t have any. It is a vicious circle, since most employee are butt lazy to train people, so day want to hire someone who can start working in full capacity as soon as possible.

B: You change career, and have a loads of experience where you got kind of soft skills you need, and you may even be familiar with the new career, read a lot of books, interview and networked with a lot of people from the field etc. Still, it is hard to sell it when it comes to applying for a job.

Since everyone once was a beginner  at a point of your life you have a high chance to have been in A. Since an average American changes career about every 10-15 years, you may face B a couple of times. So there is this patent clerk who couldn’t get any reasonable job in academia .. would you invite him to Princeton to teach?


Albert_Einstein_Imagination Would you hired this patent clerk? (image by WalkingGeek@Flickr)

It is sad and funny in many ways, and I think general education fails to train people how to get face such issues. Since the main purpose of education, getting a degree etc. is getting a job, getting a career, right? It is like a game, pass the test, finish this level, finish that level, earn that many points, go forward in the path what is set in the game, never look back, automatically get higher and higher, right? So many people still resume writing as a list of educational experiences either in a formal way (degrees, training  exams) or informal way (“I worked here and there”). I think society and especially educational institutes are reinforcing this kind of mentality.

My advice: forget resume, build a portfolio! Once you have the Nobel price, it is easy to write a resume, easy to get a job.

OK, a resume is a kind of written version of your portfolio, but what I am saying is to try to build reputation and demonstrate you interest and expertise. The goal is not earning point, passing tests. One should actively and creatively look for ways to grow, to practice and get out actual products to demonstrate the success. It is cool to read books, learn about stuff, go to seminars. But you have to think about projects that demonstrate you tried, tested your skills, your knowledge. So it is not about “how should I write my resume?“, but more like “how can I do something cool, something interesting, something that demonstrate I am kick ass in this? ” or  “what projects I can do to learn more about this, meet more people, potential mentors, potential pears, potential costumers?

This approach very well works for example for programmers  You can have a degree from Harvard, what is good, but if you have only this degree and nothing else the chances are that someone with no degree at all, but a reputable list of projects can be very competitive opponent for the position you applied. In other word, you should act as someone in the profession, should find and contribute to projects, and do the actual job, so when someone asks “Who are you?”, can give a 10 second, kick-ass answer.

So when Albert Einstein goes to a job interview, he can tell that what schools he graduated, that he couldn’t get a good job, so he works for years as a patent clerk – that is not cool. Or he can say, “I wrote a couple of papers, at least three of them deserves a Nobel-price, though I got only one.”  that sounds much cooler. If you are that clerk in the patent office, spend less time on resume-cosmetics, and go for the Nobel price. You know what can be an impressive project, or if not, you should research. You know how to do the job, if not, you learn. There are ways to volunteer, freelance, start your own business, be an assistant or intern, do moonlighting, whatever.


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