By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting
The value of a well-constructed portfolio is priceless, having the potential to serve as a personal tool for organization and self-assessment and as a visual timeline of your work. About.com defines a portfolio as “an organized collection of documentation that presents both your personal and professional achievements in a concrete way.” Keep that definition in mind when constructing a portfolio, ensuring that each item is a concrete representation of your career growth. To clarify, personal achievements should not include field day participation medals and the like; instead, “personal” achievements should reflect your ongoing community involvement outside of work, including board memberships and volunteer recognition (or, if you are a very recent grad, relevant activities such as internships, clubs and coursework). This week’s Ask Amber will focus on how to build a portfolio from both your personal and professional achievements and how to make it work for you.
Building a professional portfolio
Personally, I find it very helpful to start by creating a list of personal and professional goals to keep at the front of your portfolio and recommend that others try this when creating their first portfolio. This list is mostly for you, unless you choose to share it with a supervisor or mentor, so be honest, set realistic goals and refer back to this sheet every time you add or remove anything from your binder; how is each item a concrete reflection of your progress toward those goals?
ManifestYourPotential.com suggests using your portfolio not only to highlight work samples, but also to store and show off certificates and awards. Remember, if you intend to use your portfolio for a specific occasion, you can always remove things that are not relevant and put them back in the portfolio for safe keeping after the event. In addition to awards and certifications, your portfolio should include writing samples/samples of your work (used with permission if they include sensitive information about past employers or clients), a perfectly engineered resume, and a list of professional references and/or letters of recommendation.
When to use your portfolio
While some debate the value of bringing a portfolio to an interview, the majority of sources I found do not deny the value that comes with creating one and keeping it handy. The trick is to have realistic expectations about what your portfolio can do for you. It’s a great tool to organize your prized work samples and awards for safe keeping, it provides proof, if needed, of certification, it is a physical representation of your career goals and growth, and it can make it easy to find your top quality work samples that relate directly to your field if requested by a recruiter or employer. Should you choose to take a portfolio to an interview, use it to review before the interview, making sure your elevator speech and answers are consistent with the skills and values you highlight in your resume. Organize your portfolio so that if a question comes up that warrants an example, you can flip to it lightning fast, without wasting time rustling through papers. Do not expect an employer to read your entire portfolio (or even an entire work sample to be honest). Point out any visual cues or short sections that illustrate a particular skill; if the person seems interested, you can always offer to send them a virtual copy of the document to flip through at their leisure. You get bonus points if you have an online portfolio or a LinkedIn account that houses the same/similar information that you can not only refer to, but that is mentioned on your resume/cover letter/work sample.
If you have a professional mentor or are in the process of finding one, this is a great topic to discuss. Your mentor should be experienced in the field you want to go into and preferably in a specific job you aspire to. If the person has interviewed for entry-level positions (again, preferably the type you are seeking), ask if they can give examples of how a portfolio was used and whether an online portfolio or physical portfolio is most useful. Even better, does your mentor have a portfolio? Ask to see highlights if the person is willing to share.
What are your portfolio tips? Do you have a portfolio? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.