20 Writing Strategies for the PLA Resume

Since the PLA resume is usually a strange, new kind of document for many students, this section will outline a few ways former students have approached the writing process.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The final PLA document has to be a 4-column table such as the example in the previous section, but there are infinite ways each student will get to that final version. Just as all of you bring vastly different prior learning experiences, you also have a wide variety of work processes and thinking patterns. Each student’s steps in writing the PLA resume will look different.

Therefore, you should create your PLA resume in a way that works well with your strengths and the flow of your unique, beautiful brain.

Below, there are three writing strategies that may help you write your PLA resume.

Please note: these strategies are meant as guides to help you start thinking about this PLA resume; they are not all-inclusive or prescriptive. They’re not magic, and they’re not required. In fact, there are many more ways to approach this writing activity. You could use a mind-map, pencil and paper sketching, an interview with a long-term partner, a brainstorming session with a coworker, gamified freewriting, etc.

That said, here are four possible ways to frame your thinking and begin writing your PLA resume.

The Accomplishments Strategy

Make a bulleted list of your accomplishments. Your examples can be from your job, volunteer work, community work, side hustles, hobbies, or more. Even better, find a partner who knows your life story well and bring them into the brainstorm, too. Be sure, however, that all the accomplishments you list are significant learning experiences that align with the Course Objectives for your challenges.  These accomplishments will be listed in the “Selected Accomplishments” area of your résumé. (Shocking, I know.) For example:

  • Sold over $10 million in real estate in my first year at Jenkins Real Estate firm.
  • Managed my own computer business for 10 years.
  • Held a government contracting job as an analyst for 11 years and brought in $5 million in contracts per year on average.
  • Started a pet grooming business and managed over 50 pets a month.
  • Trained in computer technology in the military and can operate in UNIX, C++, COBOL, Oracle and People-Soft.
  • Volunteered with a studio that records books for the blind and dyslexic for 15 years, becoming an experienced reader over time.
  • Maintained membership in a Civil War reenactment group for 10 years, gaining detailed knowledge of Civil War history in the process.

Using this list, group Accomplishments together into what you learned by that achievement. Put those Accomplishments together into the table under their related Expertise area, and fill out the remaining columns for each Accomplishment.

The Expertise Strategy

Make a list of all the things you think of as your strengths. These might include professional skills like Management, Budgeting, or Customer Service, but they might also include less tangible skills like Tenacity, Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Keeping It Together, and the like. Just make the longest, most self-aggrandizing list you can. Don’t be shy–show off your awesome, because this is just for you at this stage.

Then consolidate the list–can you combine items into one larger Expertise area? Can you professionalize the wording or title for your reviewer? Then cut all the strengths that don’t apply to the courses you’re challenging. You don’t want to overwhelm your reviewers.

Now that you have a manageable list of how great you are, look through your traditional resume and find connections between those strengths and your work experience. Link those together, then throw the net wider and think of other places (community work, travel, volunteering, side gigs, social and church settings…think big!) where you practiced and learned those strengths.

Write them all down, then start filling out your PLA resume table. As you do, you may start paring down a little more, keeping things clear and concise for your reviewer as you go.

The Learning Outcomes Strategy

Read through the Course Outcomes for the course or courses you’d like to challenge. Highlight or note the words or terminology that stand out to you and speak to your experiential learning. See if you can reuse or slightly translate those words and terms into words you can use in the Expertise column. Write them all down in the PLA resume table.

Then, unpack those terms. Why did those terms stand out to you? What part of your experience were you thinking of when you noticed those terms? Try to link your intuition about those terms to your experience, and remember to think big about prior learning: it can be work and jobs, but it can also be hobbies, travel, study abroad, volunteering, community service, apprenticeships, and more.

The Reverse Engineering Strategy

Get your traditional resume and a blank sheet of paper. For each job or experience listed on your resume, write down on the blank sheet what you really did at that job. What were you the office expert on? What did people come to you for help with? What decisions did you have responsibility for? Write down the real work you did at that job (which, we know, often isn’t what the job title says or what people think we actually do).

Look at that list on the blank sheet. See if you can group things together to make areas of expertise. Try to see if there are any main focus areas or strengths that kept coming up across all your jobs. Don’t be tied to what order they’re listed in. Move things, group things, tie things together. Make your skills the focus, not what order in time things happened. Put those Areas of Expertise into your PLA Resume table, and then proceed to fill out the rest of the columns.


This chapter contains material taken from “PLA 200: Introduction to Portfolio Development, Module 3, Lesson 3” by Center for the Assessment of Learning and Terry Hoffmann licensed under CC BY 4.0.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Prior Learning Portfolio Development Copyright © 2020 by Baker Lawley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book