What exactly is a portfolio and why should I have one?
When we think of portfolios and who uses them, we think of people in fine arts, designers, performing arts, models, photographers and education professions. However, all types of job-seekers can make use of a portfolio. When a client asks me whether I think they should make use of a portfolio I almost always say “yes”. They can be effective in any field. Think of a portfolio as a very handy tool in the job hunting process and a constantly evolving record that, if kept current, will continue to be of assistance as you progress along your career path.
A complete, well thought out and structured portfolio has numerous advantages. For one, it is a strong persuasive tool in the interview process to visually demonstrate evidence of your skills and abilities to an employer. Another advantage is that all your career related documents can be found neatly in one spot. This is very handy when you want to add that letter of recommendation or new certificate, and easy to refer to if you need to access any career documentation you might need.
Your biggest time commitment will be the initial development of your portfolio, but once you’ve developed it, keeping it current and up-to-date will be fairly easy.
Having a portfolio means you can back up what you are saying in a job interview with evidence. For example, when talking about your exemplary communication skills you can back your words up with actual samples that demonstrate your writing ability. Projects you have worked on such as workshops, PowerPoint presentations and articles for the company newsletter can all be included in a portfolio.
An important point to remember is that the portfolio is a tool. It is used in job interviews to back up or illustrate a point, not to simply hand over to the interviewer(s) to have them flip through.
And so how do I start my portfolio?
A black professional three-ring binder (zipper closure optional) is a safe option. Make sure it looks professional as it will be coming with you to your job interviews. A table of contents is important and an orderly system which identifies the various sections, (e.g. mission statement, education, professional development), using tabs or dividers.
Gather and assemble all your materials that you want to include in your portfolio. Wondering what to include? Think about documents that showcase your education and work experience by showing examples and evidence of your work, skills, education and accomplishments.
Ideas of pieces to include are:
- your branding/mission statement which sheds light on the guiding principles that drive you and give you purpose, your work ethic, organizational interests, management philosophy, etc. and listing goals can be included (ie: where you see yourself in five years time)
- your skills, qualifications and abilities, including a list of accomplishments highlighting your achievements in your career to date, samples of your work (e.g. Powerpoint presentations, reports, workshops you’ve developed, reports, publications, brochures, news clippings etc)
- testimonials, letters of recommendations and thank you notes from clients, colleagues and supervisors are always nice to include; some people even include favourable job reviews/evaluations
- photocopies of awards, licenses, certificates, degrees and scholarships
- any professional development activities; for example, provide a listing of professional associations and conferences attended and any other professional activities
- information about volunteer jobs and community service activities, especially those that relate directly to your career, can be included
- a copy of your current resume plus a scannable/text-based resume in case one is required (I would put the scannable resume in the portfolio’s pocket if it has one)
- a reference list should also be included with the names of 3 to 5 people (including their full names, titles, addresses, and phone/email) who are willing to speak about your strengths, abilities, and experience; at least one reference should be a former manager
Besides the traditional portfolio, you should also consider developing an online web-based portfolio. Make sure your online presence/branding corresponds to your resume and your portfolio. The information should be similar online (ie: LinkedIn and any website you use for a portfolio) and back up what is in your resume.
The career portfolio is a great job hunting tool that sets you apart from other candidates, and if prepared correctly, it may help land you the job!