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Virtual Portfolios and Other Digital Job Search Fantasies



  Log on and you enter the virtual universe called cyberspace, don a funny set of video-goggles and fill your cranium with virtual reality. Seek medical advice, share a lesson plan, or gather advice about relationships or finances and you've joined hands across logic boards in something Howard Rheingold calls a "virtual community." The digital Disneyland is challenging the way we do business, communicate, form communities, and even our very perception of reality . It is logical to assume that this new digital reality will also affect portfolios -- transforming them from collections of three-dimensional objects into multi-media documents which fuse text, sound, and visual imagery.

To better see the sands shifting under our feet, you sometimes have to gain some distance, swim far out, and then look back at the entire shoreline. With this in mind, let us digress, and project for the moment far out into the employment world of the late 22nd or 23rd century. In this Star Trek universe, people create a Personality Document which is sent out to interviews. After all, you might need to interview for the Star Gazer Technician job on Luna 9 while enroute to a salvage operation on Home Base Alpha. Since you can't be in two places at once, you send up a facsimile for your personality, or what might be called a Personality Document, to represent you. Think of it as a resume/portfolio autobiographical document which is brought to life by an intelligent chip. The employer-council can examine your life history, ask questions, and pose problems to the Personality Document. They check you out, in absentia, and you get a full report later.

How would you get the job interview in the first place? You'll use an Infobot. This is an information-seeking robot. It uploads your preferences and talents and then trolls oceans of megadata for jobs or projects matching your interests and talents. When it finds an opportunity that matches your goals, it posts a message triggering your Personality Document into the update mode. You receive notice that it's time to revise your profile in light of a possible interview. To stay current, your Infobot regularly attends a Robot Academy to keep up with the ever changing infrastructure of cyberspace. In other words, it collects new keywords, tips about hunting, and gossip from other Infobots.

I've probably taken this story as far as it can go. I apologize for this drift into sci-fi, but you see, I was raised by a scientist who loved poetic stories. I am not alone in this tendency. Not long ago oceanographic soothsayers predicted that a large segment of our society would choose to live under the seas. Earlier prophets foresaw a day when everyone would own their own dirigible. In our century of the atomic cold war, the need to wage peace (and not war) was underscored by the perception that nuclear weapons had made war become obsolete. If you lived in my rain-soaked part of the country you would long for the day when meteorologists would be able to fulfill the dream of controlling the weather. And, who wouldn't welcome the forecast that medical researchers would find a way to regenerate organs and limbs by the year 2007? The pursuit of prophecy works best when taken with grain of salt and a dash of humor. If we take prophecy too seriously then we become victims of our own wishes. On the other hand, when prophecy is lit against a backdrop of humor then it helps to expand the sense of what is possible. The comedeic consciousness reminds us that the roots of most predictions are firmly planted in the soils of the present tense.

Perhaps we don't yet have Infobots as described in my fantasy, but people are working today on scripted programs which scan the online newspaper articles for you, selecting what is pertinent to your interests. Prototypes of this kind of intelligent information gathering program have been dubbed "smart agents" which act on your behalf, supposedly learning your preferences, and then going out and seeking information which matches your interests. And while we can't beam up a Personality Document, you will be able to upload to any machine a multi-media portfolio which shows, tells, and sings your praises. Think of it as a digital portfolio.

I asked online and telecommunications expert Leni Donlan to comment upon my futuristic scenario. Leni directs an electronic learning lab in San Francisco. She found her current position through a job posting on the Internet. She developed a relationship via e-mail and ended up being invited to an interview that ended in "yes."

In addition to her formal position, she spends many additional hours managing several online education projects and present workshops to teachers from around the country. I asked Leni to comment about my "Digital Job Search Fantasies," and she e-mailed me the following commentary:
Already, savvy Internauts are using infobots to collect and screen information. Newsreading software will scan newsgroups postings and collect all articles that contain specified keywords and phrases, then automatically send them to the users electronic mailbox. Sophisticated electronic mail software allows the screening of incoming mail, and separation of this mail into discrete groupings, etc. Web Publishers are learning to produce displays incorporating multi-media, as well as text-based information to share with the world at large. Within the next few years, it will be possible to exchange almost any kind of information in almost any form with users of any platform! There is a virtual explosion of possibility, as new tools and solutions appear daily, allowing us to create and share in ways never possible before!


Before completing this book, Phil Shapiro of Washington D.C. wrote to me about his uses for a portfolio online using a home page. He has many interests as a freelance consultant and educator specializing in education, online access, innovative technologies, and software development. He e-mailed me his comments regarding how he envisions using a "home page" on the Internet's World Wide Web as an online portfolio.

Just last month I ran across a situation where I wished I had a home page set up. The editor of a publication covering educational technology matters sent me e-mail inquiring about some of the work I was doing.

I happened to pick up this e-mail message while I was out of town, visiting relatives in Philadelphia. If I had had a web page I could have easily pointed the editor towards relevant information about the work I'm doing (as well as information about my background and interests).

I have a sense that having a web page will be essential for anyone doing freelance work in the technology field in the years ahead. Persons with home pages will have a distinct advantage in the marketplace, in my view.

Phil's web site will probably use pointers which connect the reader to educational games he has developed, papers written about accessibility and equity, as well as his general writing and musing about the use of computers in both personal and school domains.

To get an additional reality check, I contacted Bill Vick; an executive recruiter sleuthing the Internet byways in search of ideal candidates who might fit his customer's (employer's) needs. Vick is an advocate of Cyberland. Among his other forays across the digital frontier, he has set up a connecting point called Recruiters Online Network, which is limited to professional recruiters in the permanent and temporary employment agencies. This online clearinghouse offers recruiters a chance to share ideas, contacts, and information about candidates. The electronic forum can accelerate the hunt capabilities of placement specialists who can now draw from a much larger pool of information. This is critical when the search for talent must measure up to the very detailed and demanding criteria supplied by the employers looking for six-figure candidates. In the first ten months Recruiters On Line Network became one of the worlds largest virtual associations of employment professionals with over 1,100 members. Bill Vick feels that this kind of connecting service will eventually branch out to mainstream employment operations. When asked to reflect on the sci-fi story of infobots and digital portfolios, Vick wrote back, "I see yesterday's resume being replaced by a new medium much richer in content. I believe that portfolios, as I understand them, are going to become critical in the new work mentality."

Moreover, the notion of demonstrating your talents through an actual or virtual portfolio logically follows the evolution of the hiring process used in our times. At mid-century, a good interview usually centered on asking a fairly standard set of questions including: "Tell me about yourself... Why did you leave you last job? What challenge did you face on your last job, How would you rate your last two supervisors?" Skilled people, like secretaries and welders, were given performance tests involving typing or metal fabrication simulations.

Over time, the single interviewer gave way to a panel of inquisitors followed by multiple interviews. Standard questions were then augmented with "situational" queries beginning with phrases "Suppose you found yourself with the problem of..." or "How would you handle..." For instance, a job seeker might be asked how he or she would handle a rude customer, solve a planning or budget crisis, or resolve an inter-office conflict.

Now, we've come full circle, and today applicants are increasingly asked to demonstrate talents through participation in performance interviews. Administrators and managers are being asked to go beyond describing a talent to demonstrating it. An interviewee might be asked to give evidence of communication skills by delivering an impromptu speech, demonstrate people skills by chairing a goal-setting focus group, or exhibit the ability to use a particular technical skill in a hands-on problem solving event. We are returning to the performance interview first used with skilled people such as welders and secretaries.

In the future, the need to observe the performance of candidates could merge with the advantage of using images and three-dimensional holographs to tell the story rather than relying on words in a two dimensional resume. Where once job seekers pasted photos on their resume, the virtual portfolio you upload to the Internet will come packaged with so much more. You'll have the chance to upload a "page" with your name, summary of talents, and even an animated picture showing you at work---accompanied by the jazzy sounds of your favorite music.

It is conceivable that employers will increasingly use computers to search out the talent they need. The never-tiring front end of the digital-selection process will be driven by a computer program looking for critical skill words. Where once you had to get past the secretary, now you must make it past the software. Next, your electronic portfolio will be forwarded to a review committee or search team for further evaluation of the first-cut candidates. The panel will point and click or speak words which trigger the hot-buttons you've installed on your first virtual-page. One button will take the viewer to a timeline showing accomplishments, another might starts a video clip of a speech, a third will read aloud a typical memo you've created. Yet, another button takes the viewer to pictures of certain products and services you've assisted in developing or promoting.

As a result, resume writing services will go the way of the typing pool in the next century. When it's time to update your portfolio and resume, you'll make an appointment at a digital portfolio studio. Here you'll "stage scenes" for the camera, demonstrate various technical skills or products, scan significant documents, and digitize pictures of three dimensional artifacts as you construct your professional multi-media job search kit. It's possible you (or perhaps your children) will find the next job through a computer network. A future employer could request a "digital sample of your work," or a multi-media based portfolio. The decision to hire may be made in your community or halfway around the world? Your interview might take place at your home computer, talking to a panel of examiners sitting on just the other side of your video screen.

The foundation for this is being laid today. We have multi-media software, head hunters looking for talent on the Internet, and software which scans resumes for large companies. Joyce Lain Kennedy and other online career experts have all ready written books outlining how employers currently use computers to screen job applicant resumes. The government-run job service centers are trying to speed the matching of employers and job seekers with user-friendly data bases and touch screens. Huge communications and computer corporations have joined in strategic alliances. They have invested mega-bucks in developing services which connect people through their video screens. It's not a question of if, but when. The future is now.

Of course, must of this section about virtual portfolios is riddled with conjecture, we really don't know what form job seeking will finally take in our increasingly computerized world. We just know it will change, along with everything else.

I can say with a degree of certainty that paper and in-person interviews will remain the dominant medium of exchange for quite some time. As anyone who has recently logged on knows, we are at the infancy of the digital job search. In fact, as I write these words I still cannot easily send a decently formatted document from my Macintosh to a person using an IBM or other platform. As a result, much of our computer mediated communication going on in the mid-90s probably will need to be limited to plain-vanilla text files sans pictures, audio, formatting, or layout.

This digression into sci-fi job hunting serves several purposes. First, you begin to think beyond today's technology when planning a portfolio. Second, it suggests that we all need to connect with the current technology in some fashion, if we are to flourish in the future. Last, one must try to make the portfolio both employer-friendly and computer-friendly.
 

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