Fill-in-the-blank job applications and wordy cover letters weren't doing it for Sgt. 1st Class Steve Gilland. The Army National Guardsman, a union carpenter looking for work since coming off orders in January 2009, wanted a richer, more personal connection with potential employers.
Gilland found it with a digital résumé, a Web site that displays not just the usual information — experience, education — but also his apprenticeship history, a story about him from Carpenter Magazine and a copy of his Air Assault certificate. He even introduces himself personally in a half-minute video.
A digital résumé "gives a lot more sense of who you are and what you are seeking in terms of employment," he said.
Artists, photographers and writers have used the Web to showcase their creative output in digital portfolios for years. Lately, job-seekers across the spectrum are moving online to make a multimedia pitch.
"With a portfolio, you can put on anything about yourself. You can display video, you can display images," said Heath Huffman, co-owner of Doodlekit Online Free Website Builder, a Web site that allows people to build and display a variety of portfolios and résumés. "You can sell yourself visually more than you can with just a résumé. A picture is worth a thousand words."
Huffman, a former Marine, said the depth of a digital résumé can be especially helpful for former military people struggling to connect their experience in uniform to the needs of the civilian work force.
"You might have better chance of making that clear if you can express that through a video," he said. Rather than wrangle clunky written verbiage, "you can just say: ‘I have been in the military all my life, I'm out now and here's what I can do.' It's not so formal. You feel like you are really talking to the person."
Recruiters agree that a good digital résumé can add another dimension to a candidate's qualifications. Especially when supplemented by audio and video, the digital CV "presents how a candidate communicates, his or her executive presence, and the way they conduct themselves," said Steve Watson, international chairman of recruiting firm Stanton Chase.
But a hiring decision still will rely heavily on a recruiter's "person's appraisal of that candidate," he added, "so how one comes across in an interview and his or her track record will still be most important."
A number of free and low-cost services can help job-seekers achieve a polished look through the use of predesigned templates.
* http://www.visualvc.com">VisualCV.com: Users with little technical knowledge can embed charts, audio, video and other materials, and the site links CVs to an up-to-date employer database.
* http://www.leadyou.com">Leadyou.com: Free resume templates, along with hosting for e-résumés, a personal URL and space for pictures, documents, audio and video.
* http://www.themeforest.net">Themeforest.net: A marketplace for Internet templates of all sorts, including about a dozen CV templates that sell for about $10 each.
* http://www.careerscribe.com">CareerScribe.com: Helps you build a résumé and makes it available to potential employers. Gilland built his resume here with help from Scott Mitten, program manager of the Indiana National Guard Employment Coordination Program.
Alternately, professional designers can create a unique portfolio, rather than a generic template, though you may pay as much as $3,000 for the service.
Building your resume
What does it take to make a virtual CV or portfolio sing? Advice from Heath Huffman of Doodlekit.com and Sean Hodge of Smashing Magazine:
Keep it clear and simple: Everything is easy to find, and language is direct and concise. It's better to say too little than to jam too much into a small space.
"Don't clutter it with too many pretty pictures that don't mean anything, or too much generic art of two generic businessmen shaking hands," Huffman said.
Tell a story: You're presenting yourself as a package. Video, audio, résumé and supporting materials should all tell the same story, reinforcing your themes — leadership, for example, or experience.
Photos should be more professional than personal, showing you in uniform or at work.
A short video is a good opportunity to put a human face on an application. Introduce yourself and talk for a moment about your experience and goals, just enough to get employers interested and help them look beyond the uniform into the eyes of the actual person.
A digital résumé also is a good place to post your honors and citations. These tend to bulk up a paper résumé, but can be delivered via discreet link in an electronic CV, making them available, yet unobtrusive.
Keep it on point: There may be plenty of room on the page for political opinions or links to political sites. Leave them out. And don't link to social media sites where an employer can dig into your personal information.
Keep it intuitive: Navigation links should be obvious and should conform to the usual conventions. Anyone lost in a maze of links will soon click out completely.
Incorporate a blog: It's a way to show off your expertise, reach out to your professional community and keep the portfolio fresh.
Spreading the word
Once you've built your digital résumé, the best way to draw an employer's attention to it is to feature a link prominently within a cover letter and again within a résumé itself — along with the name, address or other identifiers, for example.
Gilland's new digital CV hasn't landed him a job yet, but the Guardsman is glad to have another tool in his job-search toolbox.
"When I am looking at a résumé, I am looking at a white piece of paper with black letters, and you don't know anything beyond that," he said. With the digital résumé, "employers can get a much better sense of what they are looking at, even before an interview."