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Portfolios - Showcase Your Skills

By Heather Isaacs

One of the greatest challenges that employers face when hiring new employees is getting a sense of candidates’ skill levels. The resume gives some introductory information, but a wise employer wants to find out if the skills and accomplishments listed on the resume are accurate self-appraisals of candidates’ skills. So a portfolio becomes a tool for the savvy job-seeker to stand out from the competition and leave few doubts as to his/her capabilities. This article will talk about different formats for portfolios, content and how to use portfolios in interviews.

Portfolio Formats

Portfolios can exist in various forms depending on your career field and technical skills. If you’re new to creating a portfolio I would suggest a traditional format of paper documents collected in a zippered binder. Other formats include CDs, efolios, and web pages. You may also choose to do a combination of these formats as it can be nice to send a web link to a prospective employer before the interview and then have some actual samples for “show and tell” at the interview. Bringing actual samples also takes pressure off the interviewer in case s/he wasn’t able to view the e-version before the interview.

Portfolio Content

What kinds of things can you include in a portfolio? That will depend mainly on your career field and then on what skills you want to showcase. A little self-assessment is important to decide what should be highlighted. A graphic artist could have pieces demonstrating skills in design software from initial conception to finished products. A career counselor could show assessment tools, workshop outlines and intake forms. A carpenter could have pictures of completed projects, measured drawings and customer recommendations. Here are some suggestions for organizing materials in paper or electronic form:

Education and training- diplomas, CEU certificates, transcripts

Work samples- projects, publications, photographs of work- an extra touch is adding captions that explain the item

Commendations- press releases, thank-you notes from clients, performance reviews, awards

Community involvement- volunteer activities, sports teams, civic activities

Extra copies of resume and list of references (paper form only)

The important thing to keep in mind that making a portfolio is not like making a scrapbook. The pages (for paper forms) should be easy-to-read with clear captions and relevant material. Electronic pages should also be streamlined- bells and whistles can be distracting to the viewer. Think about the image that you want to project and choose material accordingly. Like items on the resume, items in the portfolio should be chosen for the strength of the accomplishment or skills displayed. Choose items relevant to your career goal that you can tell stories about in the interview. This leads us to how to use the portfolio in an interview.

Using Portfolios in Interviews

Now that you’ve put together this marketing tool, it’s time to figure out how to use it in the interview process. Here are a number of ways to share your work with employers:

On your resume add a line at the bottom “portfolio available for review” or “portfolio available at..."

If you have an email address for the employer, send the link as a quick contact message

Call the company and ask if it would be okay to send some work samples in addition to your resume- make sure these are copies and not the original items in your portfolio

Bring your paper portfolio to the interview and as questions come up that are good times to show items in your portfolio, use the page to add to your story. You can say something like “I have an example of a successful budget kitchen project in my portfolio. Let me show you the end result.”

At the end of the interview, offer to leave copies of selected pages with the employer to review on his/her own time

At the end of the interview offer to show the portfolio and explain some of the materials inside (this has a risk of running out of time before you’ve had a chance to show your work)

Portfolios are similar to thank-you letters in that very few people use them to their advantage in the job search. The process of putting together a portfolio can be a real confidence booster as you review past accomplishments and achievements. If you feel that you don’t have anything to out in a portfolio right now, then set a goal for yourself to collect 10 items that you could use in an interview to sell your skills. You may have to create some projects as part of this process or do some networking to get work samples by taking on small projects for people but then you’ll be on your way to acquiring a powerful interview tool.