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The traditional transcript and résumé are dead

By Dale J. Stephens,

The following question was posed by Puget Sound Community School’s Steve Miranda in late August: Should résumés replace school transcripts? It’s a good question, but ultimately the wrong one. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to whether résumés will replace transcripts. We should be asking: What yet-to-be-seen innovation will replace both transcripts and traditional résumés?

After all, if “curriculum vitae” means “course of life” in Latin, why is what they represent so linear? Résumés and CVs traditionally answer four questions: Where did you go to school; where have you worked; what skills have you acquired; and what, if anything, have you published? In a world where jobs and school experiences are becoming less uniform, it makes more sense to find alternative ways to showcase your talents and achievements.

The Internet has changed how we do this. We are no longer limited to telling our stories on 81 / 2-by-11 sheets of paper — we can use digital portfolios to display our work. Digital portfolios are already starting to replace résumés in the creative and technical professions.

But the problem with such sites is that they serve a niche market of people who can make do without these resources. If you’re both technical and creative, why have a profile on someone else’s site if you can further showcase your talents by creating an independent portfolio of your own?

The most creative and technical among us buy their own domain names and design personal Web sites that function as portfolios. However, not everyone has the time, money or expertise to do that. Zerply allows anyone to create portfolios designed using templates by world-class designers. Zerply was launched just a few months ago, graduating from Dave McClure’s 500Startups. Since then, it has grown exponentially.

Proven.com takes a skills-based approach to revolutionizing résumés. Although not as aesthetically pleasing as Zerply, Proven provides skill verification. From masonry to legal work, Proven certifies your skills before passing your résuméto employers. This is great from the perspective of the employer, but it still puts you, the employee, on a very narrow track. What if you have no prior experience — either because you want to change jobs or just graduated from school? Neither Proven nor Zerply allows you to break out of the linear path to success.

Although LinkedIn passed 100 million users this year, had a successful initial public offering, and has terabytes upon terabytes of data about users’ work experience, innovation at the company is stagnant. LinkedIn Labs released a résumébuilder, but it takes the data on your LinkedIn profile and turns it into a traditional résumé. If your LinkedIn profile ever does replace your transcript, it won’t be because of how it is presented, but rather because of the personal recommendations that users submit on the site. The old adage still rings true: “It’s who you know, not what you know.” But no one has built a Web site that allows users to fully capitalize on that aspect of the hiring process — yet.

Companies that have terabytes of user data but have not incorporated résumé- and portfolio-building into their platform could easily enter the online résumémarket. What if Udemy, a start-up that allows you to create online courses, or Skillshare, which allows you to take real-world courses, or P2PU, which organizes online collaborative learning groups, gained millions of users and allowed them to represent their data in a digital portfolio?

With that in mind, perhaps your personal brand, as cultivated on Facebook and Twitter, makes up a larger piece of the solution than we imagine. What if Facebook leveraged your social graph to find you jobs and provide professional social networking? TopProspect, an application built on Facebook, does the former, and BranchOut does the latter. Although neither has gained significant traction, the market opportunity, given the level of Facebook users’ engagement, seems huge.

In May 2010, Alec Brownstein, a New York-based copywriter whose personal Web site is a portfolio of his work, found another way to stand out: Google AdWords. For $6, Brownstein bought ads that appeared when five New York City creative directors Googled themselves. The ads said: “Googling yourself is a lot of fun. Hiring me is fun, too.” His novel approach worked: He got interviews with four of the ad chiefs and job offers from two.

Your school transcript — particularly if it is from an elite institution — may get your foot in the door, but simply getting a degree isn’t enough. Part of the problem is rampant grade inflation. In 1960, 15 percent of all grades were A’s; today, 43 percent are. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean we’re getting smarter. Rather, it means that, whether or not you go to college, you must go above and beyond to prove yourself once you graduate.

Dale Stephens leads UnCollege, a global social movement that aims to change the notion that college is the only path to success. In May, Dale was named a Thiel Fellow. The Thiel Fellowship recognizes the top global change-makers younger than 20. Stephens’s first book about “hacking your education” will be published by Perigee/Penguin in early 2013.

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