Last week I was asked for my resume for a speaking engagement at a local university. Unfortunately, I didn’t have one. Haven’t for years.

I’d argue that not having a resume is a pretty good indicator you’re on the right track in your career, and is a great professional goal to set for yourself.

Most great jobs never make it to a job board. A few make it to a recruiter. But most of the time, great jobs are acquired through a network. Smart executives resort to job boards and the like once their network has already been exhausted.

Why You Have a Resume

Few employers will tell you this, particularly HR. And if you apply to a job through a traditional method without a resume, it’s likely you won’t get called. But that doesn’t mean the resume is necessary. It means that you need to think about your job differently.

The reason you have a resume is because it’s easy. Standing out in a sea of people is hard work. It’s much easier to spend a couple hours on a Word document and start spraying it everywhere.

The downside is that the resume is easy for employers as well. A resume is shorthand, a way for them to make quick decisions about you. When they’re bombarded by hundreds of similar candidates, resumes are a mechanism to rule people out.

So you face two roadblocks:

  • The employers have already exhausted their other options and are resorting to a job posting. It’s possible they’ll find someone amazing, but they probably aren’t expecting it. After all, if the great people get hired without going through traditional channels, it’s likely you aren’t great.
  • The job posting process has designed itself to make it almost impossible for you to stand out. Maybe you really are amazing. Good luck convincing someone of that with an undifferentiated piece of paper with action words on it.

What Employers Want to See Instead

I was asked for my resume when I got my first job back in New York ten years ago. On jobs that followed, people relied on my LinkedIn profile, my portfolio, my website and the word of others when making a decision. These days everything is based on the word of our clients.

No one cares I don’t have a resume. No one cares where I went to school. No one cares that I’m proficient in Microsoft Office.

What they care about is that I can make their user experience better, as measured by customer feedback and actual usage. What they care about is that I can help them increase top line traffic and bottom line revenue. What they care about is results, not degrees or the right linen paper.

As someone who now hires people, I can tell you resumes don’t matter.

  • I don’t need a resume to tell me whether a designer is great – I have their portfolio.
  • I don’t need a resume to evaluate a programmer – I can view their code.
  • I don’t need a resume to evaluate a sales person – the persuasiveness of their email, the way they talk on the phone, and their willingness to follow up tell me what I need to know.

What If You’re Just Getting Started?

But what if you’re just out of school or beginning your career? If you’re just starting out, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a job without a resume. But you can make your resume a formality that happens at the end of the process rather than the beginning. You can make it a box to check rather than an easy mechanism for screening you out.

You can make it a formality by doing the hard work your competition isn’t doing – by aggressively building up a body of work (even if it’s for free) to demonstrate your competence.

If you’re a designer, you can do it by focusing relentlessly on your craft. Give yourself simulated client projects with real constraints. Focus on working within them and getting better. Post your work on Dribbble or Behance. Go to industry conferences and network like crazy. And always follow up.

If you’re a programmer, you can do it by contributing to open source projects or creating your own. Post your work on Github. Solve problems for others on Stack Overflow. Identify an emerging trend (responsive design, node.js, etc.) and jump all over it. Go to industry conferences and network like crazy. And always follow up.

Even if you’re a project manager or account manager or accountant or hr generalist, I’d argue you can do it. You can do it by spending six months immersing yourself in a topic. Turn what you learn into a Keynote and post it on Slideshare. Answer questions on Quora. Give presentations in your area through Skillshare or Dabble. Start a blog and interview the smartest people in your field. Go to industry conferences and network like crazy. And always follow up.

Set a Goal to Burn Your Resume Within the Next 12 Months

What if you resolved that within a year, you would never apply for a job using traditional methods again? What would you need to do between now and then to make that happen?

The ideas above can probably get you a long way there. The key is to never stop. Once you have the job, don’t get complacent. Continue to get better at your craft. Continue to meet smart people and keep in touch. Continue to share what you know with others.

A tremendous feeling of peace and control can come from not needing a resume. Once people know what you’re capable of, finding a job becomes about choosing between a number of good options.

I know multiple people who left companies, posted a single tweet, and got several offers within 24 hours. That can happen to you. But you have to do the work.

What can you do today to put your resume on notice?

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  • aron

    damn your blogs doing pretty good with that attitude.

  • rakesh

    i am a programmer and i wish every hiring manager was like you.. :)

  • Renae Gregoire

    Love the thoughts shared in this article, especially that, “Most great jobs never make it to a job board. A few make it to a recruiter. But most of the time, great jobs are acquired through a network. Smart executives resort to job boards and the like once their network has already been exhausted.” I know I have lots of great value to offer, so I’m getting serious about taking steps to never again have to be one in a pile of resumes. Thanks for the great post.

  • tomas__86

    good stuff, I always try to think work product – demonstrating something rather than the meta that is the resume