Giant Résumés Fail to Impress Employers
2014-02-11 15:34:32Source:The Wall Street JournalAuthor:
"Show, don't tell" is a core tenet of good writing. It is also becoming a guideline for student résumés—whether employers are interested or not.
In an effort to give students a leg up in the job market, more universities are pushing their graduates to complete e-portfolios—Web-based dossiers that showcase writing samples, class presentations and other evidence of skills that might be attractive to potential employers, like critical thinking.
The Web portfolios are useful in making students stand out, school administrators say, and can help them better understand their own achievements.
Just over half of U.S. college students used an e-portfolio last year for academic or employment purposes, up from 7% in 2010, according to Educause, a nonprofit focused on information technology in higher education. The group expects that number to rise further this year.
"It's a learning experience, linked to a career opportunity," says Tim Shea, an associate professor at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth's Charlton College of Business who oversees the e-portfolio program. The school has required e-portfolios for M.B.A. students since 2009.
One big problem: Few employers are actually looking at them. Polls suggest employers might be interested in the sites—83% of respondents to a recent Association of American Colleges and Universities survey said an e-portfolio would be "very" or "fairly" useful in ensuring that job applicants have requisite knowledge and skills. But basic human-resources software don't allow such links in the first round of application submissions, and many hiring managers are simply unwilling to carve out time to dig into the digital showcases, they say.
Marie Artim, vice president of talent acquisition at Enterprise Holdings, says her team doesn't see many e-portfolios when hiring for their management training program, but even when they do, "they are typically not a factor in our screening process." The car-rental company, which hires nearly 10,000 college students for internships and full-time positions a year, puts more emphasis on its behavioral interview process, she says.
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Hiring managers are skeptical that the Web portfolios will convey anything more than a résumé and interview, if they're aware of them at all, Ms. Baer says. "I don't think that a lot of our hiring managers know or understand an e-portfolio," Ms. Baer says.
Some schools use their own technology, but about 500, including Stanford University and Marquette University, have teamed up with Pathbrite Inc., a portfolio hub that also enables students to upload verified transcripts and test scores. A similar company, thePortfo***m LLC, has signed up more than 25,000 users from partner schools, including University of California's San Diego and Santa Barbara campuses, since launching last February.
Companies have been slower to catch on—neither Pathbrite nor thePortfo***m have signed any corporate contracts.
To be sure, some firms find the portfolios are useful assessment tools. Employers say they can help to uncover hidden talent, such as nonnative English speakers or those with weaker writing but strong technical skills.
Greg Haller, president of the western U.S. region at Verizon Wireless, is pushing to get his company's career site to link to thePortfo***m so applicants can include more evidence of their skills.
"You can write on a résumé that you did an internship somewhere, but if I can see the projects that you worked on, it gives me a more rounded view of the candidate," he says. For example, he might be inclined to interview someone who spent time at an electrical engineering company, only to find out that the work experience had nothing to do with engineering. A glance at an e-portfolio could have saved him the trouble, he says. Mr. Haller says that if he picked the 10 top candidates each from a group of 100 traditional résumés and 100 e-portfolios, there would be very little overlap.
That is the hope at University of South Florida. Honor students there aren't required to complete e-portfolios, but the sites became prerequisites for some scholarships about five years ago.
Inga Zakradze, an international business student in the honors program, includes a link to a travel diary she kept during a school trip to Japan as well as academic papers and examples of posters she designed for student clubs on her e-portfolio. The 22-year-old senior says her résumé is still "the primary calling card," though she thinks the e-portfolio provides "a better feel for me as a well-rounded student."
A "small number" of students include links to their e-portfolios in job applications, says Stuart Silverman, dean of the university's Honors College. "Whether or not the prospective employer looked at it, or weighed it, who knows."
Even if employers never lay eyes on the sites, proponents say that just creating them is worthwhile because they force students to reflect on their college achievements, and then can better articulate such successes in interviews.
"We don't draw a sharp distinction between the portfolio as a learning process and the portfolio as an employment tool, since it's the self-awareness that comes out of that process that ultimately prepares the student for the workplace," says Kerri Shaffer Carter, director of e-portfolios at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
Westminster initiated a campuswide e-portfolio requirement beginning with the class that enrolled in 2011, though it has been a slower slog to get employers on board.
"We're still at the beginning of trying to translate this from academic to professional," says Annalisa Steggell Holcombe, associate provost for integrative and community-based learning.