Portfolios are powerful tools when looking for work. Resumes and cover letters are necessities, but portfolios take touting your best assets a step further because they provide tangible proof of your hard work, talents and accomplishments.
"Resumes are, in my estimation, yesterday's type of document," says Martin Kimeldorf, author of Portfolio Power. "Resumes lack credibility because people are taught how to market themselves," he believes. "They're necessary because employers require one, but they rarely read them to make a decision.
"Because portfolios are actual artifacts of your talents, I think it comes across as a more credible marketing tool," he adds. "Portfolios work. That's a secret that's been kept away from people."
Selecting Your Best
Ideally, portfolios are a work in progress. Because the work world can be unpredictable, it's a good idea to collect portfolio items as you earn certifications, complete projects and win awards.
If you're creating a portfolio from scratch, don't fret. Collect any and all work-related items you have. Look for pieces you've created like articles, drawings, designs, flyers, manuals or handbooks, presentations, programming examples and proposals, Kimeldorf suggests.
Consider adding awards, degrees, grants, letters of recommendation, performance reviews, scholarships and training certificates - anything that backs up your education, job performance or work ethic. Even e-mails or handwritten acknowledgments from co-workers or clients work well in a portfolio, he notes.
Don't have anything like that lying around? Don't worry. Brochures or products from past employers make simple but powerful additions to any portfolio, according to Kimeldorf. Use a caption to explain contributions you made to the brochure - maybe you wrote the text in the brochure or helped select the photos. Maybe you didn't directly have anything to do with creating the brochure. That's OK. Simply explain your connection to the services listed.
"Another example, the most common one people can access, is creating a sample of what you could do," he suggests. This technique works for anyone in any field, even college students who may have little or no work experience. Simply create a sample of what you could do if hired. For example, a computer programmer might create a sample database or networking solution. Those in customer service can create phone scripts for dealing with difficult customers or scripts for selling a particular product over the phone.
"You're showcasing what you could do. I think that's incredibly valuable. It will entice some conversation and get people to talk about what you have done."
Whatever your field, be creative, Kimeldorf urges.
He cites an educator with a strong track record for teaching deaf students by incorporating her amateur magic act in the lesson plans. At the interview, she flipped through her portfolio. Every page in the book was blank. "This is what these students were doing before I began teaching them," she said.
When she flipped through the book a second time, every page was filled with the students' work. "Nine months later this is what the kids are doing," she said.
The teacher turned a simple magic trick into a powerful portfolio - and brought a piece of herself to the interview. The
anecdote goes to show that quantity isn't near as important as quality when selecting items for a portfolio. Portfolios can contain as few as one or two powerful pieces or as many as ten work samples, Kimeldorf advises. But the pieces should send a message, not just fill pages.
"What's great from the perspective of the employer? What's going to ring their bell? You should assemble a portfolio with the potential employer in mind."
Getting It Together
Appearance is important. Kimeldorf recommends a professional-looking presentation, but it needn't be elaborate.
From simple photocopies with a nice cover to more expensive and elaborate art cases, portfolios can take a number of forms. However, Kimeldorf believes the format should follow standard guidelines.
A portfolio should open with a short introduction to the work included and a table of contents, he suggests. Let the viewer know what they are about to see and why it's relevant. Each display page should include a title across the top, a caption across the bottom and the item in the middle. The caption could be a paragraph about your contributions to the project.
"Because it's new, we don't have all these rituals like with resumes," says Kimeldorf. "Portfolios can come across in first person. You can write narratively, but you shouldn't overwrite. I think being authentic wins every time. If you're authentic, you're going to be picked for the job because you're a match."
Once you land that perfect job, don't stow your portfolio in the closet. Continue adding proof of your accomplishments, Kimeldorf advises, and take the portfolio to your annual reviews.
"When you go to [meet] with the boss, he might not be the person who hired you. You'll be able to say, 'This is what I've done this year' . . . Another powerful way to explain to somebody why you should get a raise."