Digital ‘open badges’ give Millennials a fighting chance in tough job market

     (<a href=''>Waiting for a job interview</a> image courtesy of

    (Waiting for a job interview image courtesy of

    It’s hard for Millennials to find work these days. Most of the forces at play are profound industry shifts outside of our control. The one thing we can control is how we represent ourselves to prospective employers, but the standard resume is proving inadequate in the face of 21st century methods of demonstrating skills and achievements.

    As graduating Millennials begin the job hunt, they have a lot to worry about. It’s not easy these days, especially when a college degree no longer holds the significance it once did. Many industries — from health care to publishing to education — are undergoing profound shifts that make employment difficult or, for some, unappealing. Yet the causes of these fears are largely out of Millennials’ hands: Industries will always change, and the job market will always vacillate.

    One aspect of the hiring process that does remain in our control is the way we represent ourselves to prosepective employers — the resume. But what an inadequate tool the resume has become.

    My current resume goes something like this: name, email address, the institution where I earned my B.A., my graduating GPA — and then the bullet list of my most notable achievements. Having been warned that a resume exceeding one page will guarantee perpetual unemployment, I have craftily crammed in as much information as I can with .7-inch margins and 10.5-point typeface.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    It’s not what I would call a full picture of my interests and experiences. But what if resumes were different?

    Showing what you know

    Digital “open badges” have the potential to do what resumes can’t. Developed through a collaboration of the Mozilla Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the badges represent skills such as writing, computer programming or problem solving, and they can be displayed online in social network profiles and personal websites. By clicking on each of those badges, employers and schools can access a digital archive of a candidate’s projects, course descriptions, videos, and actual work illustrating his or her experiences.

    The open badge project has continued to grow into a community of high-profile contributors, such as NASA, Disney, Microsoft and Girl Scouts. Now schools and universities, community organizations, government agencies, libraries, museums, and professional development companies can disstribute the bages as markers of expertise in an accessible, online format.

    Digital On-Ramps (DOR), a network that aims to provide employment and post-secondary education training for Philadelphians, has embarked on a badge system of its own. Using badges as markers of experience allows participants to track the progress of their education and training. Though it remains unclear exactly how badges will affect grading systems, educational curricula, and employment processes, they certainly have potential to serve as a resume-replacement.

    Restoring the details that a resume kills

    Resumes for job-seekers fresh out of college seem to be little more than a vehicle for two key details: alma mater and GPA. In a hiring process too focused on expediency, using a document too focused on brevity, a perfectly capable and qualified candidate may be eliminated in the first round without an employer having any real insight into the applicant’s background.

    A line from my resume reads: “Researched material for upcoming articles in the magazine.” But what does this really say about my internship experience? That I did a few Google searches, or that I did extensive research to contribute directly to a published article? Resumes are intentionally vague when it comes to the actual meat of experience.

    When I was applying to jobs my senior year of college, the resume-writing process continually frustrated me. My achievements seemed instantly diminished in a resume format. Four years of challenging, demanding and enriching English courses were reduced to “B.A. in English from Williams College.” Instead of providing a glimpse into my background, it seemed that I had actually stripped away the detals that made the experience valuable in the first place. The summarizing that resumes do so well may also be their essential weakness, as they render one applicant almost indistinguishable from the 50 others in the pile.

    Clicking through digital badges may seem to take more time than a quick glance over a single page, but I think the badges ultimately save time by giving employers a more complete picture of job candidates. A minute spent exploring an applicant’s portfolio of badges gives information that simply could not fit on a resume. Perhaps most importantly, badges would allow Millennials a fair shot at representing themselves, their interests and experiences, to employers in a time when jobs are not easy to come by.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal