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It's Not Just for Creative Types
If a "portfolio" conjures up images of a big, black artist's case chock full of renderings, then you need to update your thinking. This job tool is no longer the sole purview of creative professionals. A type of portfolio is often required when you enter college to substantiate grades and support your academic potential. Along the same lines, a career portfolio gives you a competitive edge when you move into the workforce, change careers, climb the corporate ladder or bid to provide consulting services. It is a collection of tangible documents and artifacts which validate claims that you make about yourself. It is an important tool for any career-minded individual.
Before we get to the reasons why it is absolutely imperative to start and maintain a career portfolio, here is a sampling of items to include in one:
- Career goals
- Project summary reports
- Samples of work
- Performance reviews
- Awards and honors
- Volunteer/community service projects
- Newspaper clippings
- Professional activities
- Letters of recommendation
Although many people wait until the need arises to gather and present this information, that's not the best way to approach this daunting task. (Hint: It's not overwhelming if you start early and have a process to update it on an ongoing basis.) Furthermore, you should still build and maintain your career portfolio, even if you love your job and can't imagine working anyplace else. Here's why:
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1. In-depth Understanding of Self and Goals
The process of gathering, analyzing and presenting your work history, educational experiences, volunteer and extracurricular activities will get you in touch with where you have been and where you are going. It will solidify your goals and desires, much like preparing a journal, scrapbook or vision board brings clarity to your dreams. You may identify areas where improvement is needed--weaknesses will just pop-out--as you contemplate your experience and goals. For example, if you want to move into a management position, then you need to show the ability to lead and manage people. If you have not done this on the job, then you should point to volunteer activities or classes you have taken. Build your case and document it in your career portfolio. On the other hand, you may notice a specific trend in how you have approached your career to date and decide to head in another direction. Analyzing the tangible documents in your career portfolio will help you find a new career path.
Perhaps the most measurable benefit experienced by creating of a career portfolio is that confidence and self-esteem is enhanced. You are well-prepared for any discussion with a potential employer or client. Even if you don't take it with you to an interview, you will be better able to answer questions with depth, examples and passion. Why? You've done your homework! And, that is sure to pay off in a job interview.
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2. Aid in Interview Setting
The traditional use of a career portfolio is as a point of reference in an interview setting. When you sit down with a hiring manager, you will be asked a wide range of questions. Rather than relying entirely on a potentially faulty memory (and possibly providing vague answers,) you can point to details in your career portfolio when asked a question. The interviewer will be impressed with your preparation and you will be viewed as credible.
Following are some possible questions and corresponding uses of a career portfolio:
- Are you a team member? Point to projects, including those of a volunteer nature.
- What experience do you have giving presentations? Show examples of presentations you have made.
- Describe your project management qualifications. Provide status reports, timelines and awards.
- Have you ever improved a process or developed a new idea? Turn to examples where you have been creative.
- Tell me about yourself or tell me about your accomplishments. Pull out your binder and let the show begin.
There are endless questions and information that can be addressed with a career portfolio. In the book, "Tell Me About Yourself," Katharine Hansen provides an extensive outline of potential questions. In the end, you need to anticipate the types of questions that will be asked in your line of work and gather the documentation that will support your answers.
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3. Internet Searchability
Whether you are on the hunt for a new job or constantly in presentation mode as a consultant, the Internet has a significant impact on how a job search is conducted. Potential employers and clients must be able to easily find you and assess your qualifications. Most employers rely on the Internet, at least partly, for much of their initial screening. An electronic career portfolio that allows you to be easily located and presents appropriate information about your qualifications will give you a leg up on the competition. Consider this: If there are ten potential candidates out there and eight of them have detailed information the employer likes that was easily accessed in an electronic form, guess which people will be called for interviews?
An electronic career portfolio draws from a paper-based portfolio. It can be part of a network, such as LinkedIn, or stand alone. In some cases, it is a dedicated personal website. Regardless of the ultimate format used to present your career portfolio, the takeaway is to gather and maintain information about your professional successes at each stage of your professional life.
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References and Resources
- Hansen, Katharine. Tell me about yourself storytelling to get jobs and propel your career. Indianapolis, IN: JIST Works, 2009. Print.
- Satterthwaite, Frank, and Gary Orsi. The career portfolio workbook using the newest tool in your job-hunting arsenal to impress employers and land a great job. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Print.
Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/991216