An old job-hunting tool is making a big comeback. For years, graphic artists, journalists, teachers, and other creative types have used career portfolios while job-hunting, but it is only recently that the idea has caught on for all types of job-seekers.
What is a job skills, job-search, or career portfolio? It is a job-hunting tool that you develop that gives employers a complete picture of who you are — your experience, your education, your accomplishments, your skill sets — and what you have the potential to become — much more than just a cover letter and resume can provide. You can use your career portfolio in job interviews to showcase a point, to illustrate the depth of your skills and experience, or to use as a tool to get a second interview.
This article will show you how to develop your job-search portfolio, key elements to consider in developing your job-search portfolio, and the best resources to explore job-search portfolios in more depth.
Your biggest time commitment will be the initial development of your portfolio, but once you’ve developed it, keeping it current and up-to-date should be fairly easy. Your two biggest decisions in developing your portfolio are determining the format of the portfolio and the organization of the portfolio.
Most experts agree that the portfolio should be kept in a professional three-ring binder (zipper closure optional). You should include a table of contents and use some kind of system — such as tabs or dividers — to separate the various parts of the portfolio.
Besides the traditional portfolio, if you have access to space on a Web site, you should also consider developing an online Web-based portfolio.
Once the development is complete, you then have to gather, write, copy, and assemble the material that goes in the portfolio. This process will not only result in a professional portfolio, but should help you be better prepared for your job search.
So, what types of things go in a portfolio? Here are the basic categories. Don’t feel you need to use these exact ones for your portfolio. The key to remember as you contemplate these items is that you want to give reasons for the employer to hire you — you want to showcase your education and work experience by showing examples and evidence of your work, skills, and accomplishments.
- Career Summary and Goals: A description of what you stand for (such as work ethic, organizational interests, management philosophy, etc.) and where you see yourself in two to five years.
- Professional Philosophy/Mission Statement: A short description of the guiding principles that drive you and give you purpose. Read more in our article, Using a Personal Mission Statement to Chart Your Career Course.
- Traditional Resume: A summary of your education, achievements, and work experience, using a chronological or functional format. If you need help developing a resume, visit Quintessential Careers: Fundamentals of a Good Resume.
- Scannable/Text-Based Resume: A text-only version of your resume should also be included. More information about this type of resume can be found at: Quintessential Careers: Scannable Resume Fundamentals.
- Skills, Abilities and Marketable Qualities: A detailed examination of your skills and experience. This section should include the name of the skill area; the performance or behavior, knowledge, or personal traits that contribute to your success in that skill area; your background and specific experiences that demonstrate your application of the skill.
- List of Accomplishments: A detailed listing that highlights the major accomplishments in your career to date. Accomplishments are one of the most important elements of any good job-search. Read more in our article, For Job-Hunting Success: Track and Leverage Your Accomplishments.
- Samples of Your Work: A sampling of your best work, including reports, papers, studies, brochures, projects, presentations, etc. Besides print samples, you can also include CD-ROMs, videos, and other multimedia formats.
- Research, Publications, Reports: A way to showcase multiple skills, including your written communications abilities. Include any published papers and conference proceedings.
- Testimonials and Letters of Recommendations: A collection of any kudos you have received — from customers, clients, colleagues, past employers, professors, etc. Some experts even suggest including copies of favorable employer evaluations and reviews.
- Awards and Honors: A collection of any certificates of awards, honors, and scholarships.
- Conference and Workshops: A list of conferences, seminars, and workshops you’ve participated in and/or attended.
- Transcripts, Degrees, Licenses, and Certifications: A description of relevant courses, degrees, licenses, and certifications.
- Professional Development Activities: A listing of professional associations and conferences attended — and any other professional development activities.
- Military records, awards, and badges: A listing of your military service, if applicable.
- Volunteering/Community Service: A description of any community service activities, volunteer or pro bono work you have completed, especially as it relates to your career.
- References List: A list of three to five people (including full names, titles, addresses, and phone/email) who are willing to speak about your strengths, abilities, and experience. At least one reference should be a former manager. Read more in our article: The Keys to Choosing and Using the Best Job References in Your Job Search.
And remember . . . once you’ve created your job search portfolio, be sure to take it with you to all interviews and use it as a tool to getting job offers.
If you still have some questions, here are additional resources that can help you build your portfolio:
- Go to our Books about Career and Job Portfolios.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com.
Don’t forget to check out all our Career Portfolio Tools and Resources for Job-Seekers.
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