Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Job Search Portfolio

Editor's Note: Thanks to careers expect Carmen Croonquist, MSW for this information.

Have your clients asked you about portfolios? I have been working with portfolios for the past eight years, and am convinced that it is an excellent tool to use during the interview process, as well as for performance reviews. They provide "proof" to a potential employer that the individual has the skills and personal attributes to do the job. Job seekers who use portfolios tend to generate more job offers at higher starting salaries! Here are some guildines about portfolio development, pricing, and most importantly, how to use the portfolio effectively.

The visual appeal a portfolio offers is highly important. Rather than a notebook, I would suggest finding a professional-looking, zippered 3-ring binder. Office Max and Office Depot tend to have a good selection of varying styles; both vinyl and leather options. Try to find
one with a D-ring type of 3-ring binder, as it keeps the materials upright when presenting the portfolio contents. Other supplies: non-glare sheet protectors, tabbed dividers, professional looking paper (for section pages), and cardstock (for mounting photos or creating captions).

Basic Portfolio Guidelines:
Like an effective resume, a portfolio needs to be tailored to the field or industry that is being targeted. You will want to collect a variety of work samples from this executive that can help him demonstrate the skills and experience he has listed on his resume. Because employers are interested in learning about an individual's personal attributes and work style, examples that illustrate this can also be a good addition. Portfolio samples do not need to be restricted to paid employment, as we acquire skills and accomplishments from volunteer and community activities.

Encourage your client to look at his calendar. How is his day spent? What types of activities is he engaged in daily, and at different times of the year? What are some challenges he has faced, or problems he has solved? Ask him to begin locating and collecting work samples that reflect the skills and activities he enjoys.

Typical Contents:

  • Cover page
  • Table of Contents
  • Section Dividers, based on the Table of Contents
  • Resume
  • Letters of reference
  • Positive performance evaluations
  • Certificates of degrees completed and continuing education
  • College transcript (optional)
  • Anything that reflects involvement in professional organizations
  • Mission statement
  • Management or leadership philosophy
  • Goal statements
  • Anything that depicts leadership, communication, organization, strategic planning, financial management, marketing, teamwork, positive interpersonal traits, technology skills, etc. -- the contents will vary depending on the person's experience and the industry being targeted.
  • Testimonials/thank-you's (from clients, colleagues, supervisors, etc.)
  • Pictures that demonstrate skills or involvement
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Samples of projects or reports
  • Awards/honors
  • Reflective statements/captions

Selecting & Sorting:
Items selected for the portfolio should be based on how effectively your client can demonstrate the personal traits, knowledge, accomplishments, transferrable skills, and experience needed for his particular field.

Recommendations on the length of a portfolio vary. I believe you can have an effective portfolio that is only 15-20 pages long. I would recommend keeping it under 50 pages, if possible (using both sides of the sheet protectors, and not including the section dividers). If the portfolio is too large, it can become unweildy, making it difficult for the job seeker to locate the item he or she would like to present (especially when under the duress of a stressful interview).

Organize the sections according to areas of skill, knowledge and experience -- reflecting the key areas of the targeted position/industry. Create tabs for each section that match the table of contents; you can also prepare summary pages at the beginning of each section.

I would suggest developing captions or reflective statements for work samples that are not "stand alone" items --i.e., the ones that wouldn't make sense without explanation to someone unfamiliar with the job seeker or his/her experience.

Using the Portfolio:
The portfolio is intended to be used to facilitate a dialogue during the interview process. Don't expect the employer to look through the entire portfolio, nor wait to be asked about it. Respond first to the interview questions being posed, providing concrete examples (I like the "STARR" technique). If there is a portfolio item that can back up the example being used, the job seeker should say: "I have an example of this in my portfolio." Don't ask whether or not they would like to see it -- pull the item out of the portfolio and hand it to the interviewer (s).

This can be a GREAT way to engage everyone involved in a panel-style interview. Don't overuse the portfolio; only show selective examples. You may want to do a practice interview with your client to make sure he is comfortable with it and has had some experience using the portfolio.

This is a tricky area for me to offer you assistance, as I presently do not have my own portfolio business -- I primarily do presentations and workshops on the subject. Think about how much time it will take to pull it together and how much your time is worth. The amount you charge for resume preparation can be a good guideline. Determine what parts of the portfolio
you will do, and what the client is responsible for. Will you be writing some of the documents for your client? Will you only be assembling it and doing the "finishing touches"? This can impact the price. You could also offer some type of "package deal," including a resume, portfolio and mock interview.

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