The traditional resume is the one we all know and love. Well, perhaps not love.
In the traditional resume, you have a few standard sections like Education, Work Experience, Skills. You list your jobs on there, most recent first and then work backwards. You give your contact information, maybe some references. You try to make the layout professional and have the proper look for your industry. You try to cram all this into one page!
But if you think about the traditional resume, it displays a lot of biases and assumptions.
It values a straight-as-an-arrow career that makes sense at a glance, such as moving up within a company or field in progressively higher positions. It has a bias towards someone working in the same field or industry the whole time, so there’s no new ventures or confusing leaps between job types. It assumes everyone should work continuously, and penalizes you for “having a gap” from taking time away from jobs to do things like raise a family, travel, re-skill at school, or find a new job after getting laid off or furloughed.
Now, to be clear: in spite of these negatives, your PLA portfolio will include one of these traditional resumes. There’s something interesting in seeing work history in chronological order, and your PLA reviewer won’t hold it against you if it’s full of jags and zig-zags.
But we’ll also be including an accompanying resume specifically designed for prior learning, the PLA resume, which is organized to tell your story a different way.
In short, the PLA resume doesn’t care about when you worked where. It cares about what you know.
It’s organized in a table that can be (get this) several pages long! It has 4 columns: Expertise, Source of Learning, Accomplishment, and Dates. Here’s a quick breakdown of each section, with a little insight.
Column 1: Skills, Expertise, or College-level Learning Area, the most prominent column, lists the skills you’ve learned through your experience. Skills in this column might be big-picture things like Communication, Teamwork, Safety, Problem-Solving, and other terms along these lines. You can actually focus your PLA resume on the specific skills taught in the courses you’re challenging. Just organize your PLA resume by skills that speak right to those Course Outcomes. Nifty!
Column 2: Source of Learning, the next column, lists the experience where you learned that Expertise (through a job, travel, stay-at-home parenting, self-study, whatever it is). This is one advantage of the PLA resume, that all experiences count towards learning. It might be considered a gap in your traditional resume, but on the PLA resume it becomes a source of knowledge.
Further, with the PLA resume you can highlight a skill that might not be associated with a particular experience. Say that someone owned a small outdoor expedition company. Many would instantly think they’d have expertise in Survival and Safety, but they’d also know Marketing, Communications, Teamwork, and many other skills that are built in to that experience but not apparent at first glance. Here’s your chance to highlight the work you actually did in your experiences, rather than what people assume.
Column 3: Learning Experience, Duty, Achievement, or Activity in the next column is a chance for you to tell your reviewer what you did to gain that Expertise in column 1. Rather than a traditional resume where all job duties are lumped together, here you can list specific projects you completed, things you managed, widgets you created or collaborated on, groups you led, and so forth.
Column 4: Dates is where you list the timeframe for the learning of this Expertise with each Source of Learning. PLA resumes don’t care about the order of learning–you can have years or decades between learning. This column is there to benefit you by showing how many cumulative years, and how much timespan, you’ve been learning this Expertise.
As we prepare to write your PLA resume, let’s consider an example of how experience might be translated onto the PLA resume:
Perhaps an apprentice plumber worked on a team in constructing a subdivision, then left to be an independent contractor for a decade. After all that experience, she joined a Plumbing Supply company as a manager. So she may list Teamwork as an Expertise, which she learned about as an apprentice and again as a manager, but with a ten-year gap while she worked alone. PLA resumes doesn’t care about that gap; it shows she’s had two long stints working with others as part of a team, and that’s what counts.