May 11 2012

The One Thing That Matters More Than Grades or SAT Scores

Carlos Portocarrero

Report card

When I was young I though my future depends on three things:

  • SAT scores
  • GPA

Once I graduated, I realized none of that really matters. 

It’s kind of sad that I spent as much time as I did worrying about SAT scores and GPA scores. I wish I would’ve spent my time learning how to program or building my first website. Or even learning to play the guitar.

Grades were crucial to get into a “good” school, but once you’re in there all this stuff is pretty irrelevant.

So What Does Matter?

Experience, plain and simple.


What do you bring to the table as an intern or as an employee? What can you do for the company? What value to you bring?

What’s your potential?

As someone who has hired interns and scanned resumes, I’ll tell you this much: GPA didn’t matter one bit. What mattered was the personality and the skills we would get if we picked one person over another.

It’s the reason you see kids getting drafted my Major League Baseball teams even when their numbers aren’t very good: the teams see the skill and the potential and they pay up for it, regardless of what the numbers say.

What Now?

If you’re young and in college (or about to go to college), what do you do with this advice? Should you stop studying and get Cs from now on because grades don’t matter?

I would advice against that. Grades matter in the sense that they show how well you can play within a system.

If you can navigate the collegiate education system successfully, then that means something. It says you’re aware of what’s going on around you and you’re capable of figuring out the rules and succeeding.

This counts for something.

But my advice is to start making things you’re proud of.

Whether it’s a blog or art or a novel or a new way to use Excel—just start making things you think are cool. Things you would be proud to share with your friends.

You’ll develop some skills. You’ll have things to put in your portfolio. You’ll become more valuable.

You’ll be 10 times more interesting and twice as valuable then the other guy who comes in with his chin high because he has a perfect GPA and knows how to take a test.

Image by Mark Gstohl

May 8 2012

The $100 Startup

Carlos Portocarrero

The $100 StartupToday is the day Chris Guillebeau’s new book comes out. It’s called The $100 Startup and I just finished reading it last week.

The book is about creating a micro-business that focuses on helping other people by offering them something of value.

Sounds like my starting over post, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I’ll be writing up a more in-depth review but I wanted to share this with you since it’s a pretty big day for Chris and he’s a really good dude.

In case the name sounds familiar, he writes over at The Art of Non-Conformity and I’ve written about his Empire Building Kit here before.

Congratulations to Chris! It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.

May 8 2012

Internships: Awesome or Exploitation?

Carlos Portocarrero

Messy desk

Some people think internships suck:

  • The pay is usually terrible (or non-existent)
  • You wind up doing other people’s errands some of the time
  • The work isn’t terribly exciting
  • Nobody calls you by your name (“Hey intern!”)

But you know what? It beats sitting on your sofa watching Jerry Springer every day after class. Try putting that on your resume and see what happens.

Internships are about experience, and you have to get that where you can. Even if it means being “Intern!” for a few months.

Lack of Experience

It’s one of the loudest complaints you’ll hear from employers and from employees, especially young ones.

How am I supposed to get experience if all the jobs I’m looking at demand 1-2 years of experience and I just graduated?

I covered this in Not Enough Experience? Get Some, and one of the best ways to get some experience is through an internship.

It doesn’t matter if you’re getting paid or not.

It doesn’t matter if you think you’re being exploited (you are).

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like getting bossed around (get used to it).

It’s time/money in exchange for experience.

The Benefits

Internships aren’t just about filling out your resume (although that is important), there are a bunch of other reasons why young people should get one:

  • Network: Add everyone you meet to your LinkedIn network on day one, they will come in handy.
  • Potential job: Lots of people get a full-time offer after interning.
  • Variety: Odds are you’ll get to do lots of different things. Find out what you like and don’t like.
  • Skills: Learning a new piece of software, taking some training, interpersonal skills, etc. Soak it all up.
  • References: If you have real people at a real company to vouch for you, it will go a long way at your next interview.
Right now the job market isn’t very good, so landing a full-time job might take a while. So an internship might be your best bet to start getting that experience everyone keeps talking about.


This happens. Some employers don’t see internships as a trade, they see it as cheap labor.

You want to try to stay away from these places, but if you find yourself being exploited try to fight to get what you came for: experience. Do the job they ask of you and try to find a good guy/girl in the company that can help you build up your skills and make the most of it.


Overall, I still think internships are a great way to get the experience you need. There are some bad eggs out there, but  I have nothing but good things to say about them.

What’s been your experience with internships? Good? Bad? Ugly?

Image by dumbledad

May 2 2012

Do Resumes Still Matter?

Carlos Portocarrero

Resumes are interesting documents: everyone has to have one but they’re losing their relevance in an increasingly digital world.

People in my generation were always taught to nail the resume because that’s how employers ultimately decide whether or not they want to hire you.

Was it fair?

No, but that’s not the point. The point is that’s the way it was.

It’s similar to the idea of working hard to get good grades in high school and college: your GPA depended on it. A good GPA got you into a good school and a good GPA once you were there opened the doors to a good job.

That was the idea, anyway.

Theory vs. Reality

That was how we were brought up.

But things have changed:

  • Skills have superseded institutional references like diplomas and resumes
  • Diplomas have gotten increasingly expensive
  • People can’t afford to go into debt to pay for school
  • Entrepreneurship has exploded (what @chrisguillebeau calls microbusinesses)
  • Businesses have been forced into being more efficient with their hires

That paints a pretty grim picture, but it also creates an atmosphere that’s perfect for a person that’s simply good at what they do.

Regardless of where they went to school or what their grades were.

Why Portfolios are Great

When I first started getting into advertising, I remember loving the idea behind the portfolio.

Instead of creating a boring resume, here was a chance to show off what you could do.

In my case, it was to write good copy. Instead of writing “Copywriter with extensive experience in both long and short form copy” on my resume, I now had a chance to show instead of tell.

The best part was reading about all the people who had become incredibly successful copywriters despite never having gone to school to learn advertising.

These were people who worked in all kinds of odd jobs that had figured out they could write compelling copy.

And that’s what mattered.

And that’s what should matter: can you do the job and do it well? Do you have proof of your past successes? Let me hire you based on your work, not on a piece of paper that probably exaggerates what you’ve done in the past.

What’s why everyone needs a portfolio.

As they say in programming, it’s time to deprecate the resume and focus on your portfolio.

Who’s with me?

Image by psd