The Paper Resume: Not the Best Way to Impress During a Job Search

paper resumeAs the co-founder of an educational firm, I spend a lot of time looking at resumes. Not only current job applicants. But also the resumes of students – many of whom will create their first paper resume during our work together.

Our team guides students on formatting and helps them craft compelling descriptions. We also offer a set of eyes for spelling and grammar checks. And at the end of the college application process? It always feels good to know that we’re sending our students off into “the real world” with the basis of a paper resume.

However, I’ve now spent more time on the other side of the table interviewing and hiring job applicants. And so now I’ve come to see the paper resume as just one small component of a much larger picture.

And by the time today’s college freshmen graduate? Well, I’m not so convinced that paper resumes will – or should – bear the weight they have in the past. Through my experiences, I’ve found that other aspects of the application and hiring processes do much more to bring the resume (and the person) to life:

Your Personal Narrative

Every interview in our office begins with the classic “tell me about yourself.” While the question may be a bit clichéd, I’m most focused on one thing in particular: the candidate’s narrative. How did her educational path influence her professional one? How do her past experiences shape her goals for the future? What details has she left out? A paper resume asks the recipient to derive their own narratives; the format is inherently passive.

Despite this, be sure to utilize the form to make your story pop off the page in anticipation of your interview. Be thoughtful about how you’re arranging your experiences. Sometimes chronology is most effective, but not always. Remember that the headings you use and the way you organize your work history will give the recipient helpful context. Think of the resume as an outline for your story. That way, when you arrive for the interview the narrative will easily flow.

Expressing Gratitude Thoughtfully – and Quickly

Too many times, I’ve reviewed a perfectly edited resume only to receive a thank-you note with typos and grammar errors. It’s one thing to be able to communicate effectively in a resume format. It is quite another to write a well-composed, thoughtful follow-up message. If a paper resume makes a first impression, a thank-you note makes sure they remember you.  And here, technology can play to a candidate’s advantage.

While a handwritten note is a charming touch, it should only be used to follow up after an email. I expect to hear from a candidate within 24 hours of an interview. For business owners, be sure candidates have the interviewer’s email address. Any time our office schedules an interview, we copy the interviewer on the exchange to ensure that their information is accessible after the meeting.

Showing Your Skills in Action  

In the college process, some innovative universities are welcoming prospective students on campus for live writing tests. They are also encouraging students to submit graded academic assignments with their applications. In a similar vein, we give job applicants the opportunity to show how they think on the spot. We want to see them applying their skills to new problems.

We’re always sure to give candidates advance notice (no one likes to be caught completely by surprise!). But simulating an actual work scenario offers a glimpse into what cannot be gleaned on paper alone. Additionally, digital portfolios and personal websites aren’t only for artists. In fact, putting a link to a personal website at the top of a resume shows initiative. It also reveals a candidate’s personal passion and style. Sure, employers may want to develop their own tests. But today’s best job applicants show they are proactive. They share past writing samples or projects, for example. Or they offer a sample of their work in action.

One of the most exciting parts of my job? Preparing students for their futures. And as someone who’s simultaneously committed to recruiting the best talent for our team (a goal many universities share), I’ve come to realize: We need to think about what the resumes of the future might look like.

Maybe in the coming years, paper resumes will decline in favor of their digital variations. Maybe they should. But the human element – and the power of narrative – remains.


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Business Collective!


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