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Win the Interview with Your Career Portfolio

By Laura DeCarlo

Tapping the Hidden Job Market (PULL)Smart job seekers know that they have to prepare for the interview to know how to sell themselves, handle challenging questions, and overcome concerns in their histories or experience levels.

However, only about 3% to 5% of active job seekers have catapulted their way to the top by the savvy strategy of creating and leveraging a career portfolio.

So few job seekers use portfolios because most job seekers do not realize the value, do not know what to put in a portfolio, or just do not want to take the time to assemble one.

Because so few use a career portfolio, this is a fantastic way to stand out in the interviewing process.

However, there is also another added gold star for your career in maintaining a portfolio – you are better able to talk about your accomplishments, more prepared for updating your resume since the information is at hand, and ready to position yourself for your next promotion or annual evaluation! Why wouldn’t you want to spend the little extra time it takes to create a powerful portfolio?


What Is a Career Portfolio?

For many, it will be a 3-ring binder with plastic page protector sheets and categorized tabs where you record the milestones of your career. For others, it might be a virtual web portfolio that can be viewed on a laptop or a tablet or stored on a CD for portability and review.

The elements of a portfolio can vary widely but frequently are composed of items such as:

  • Resume (customized for the opportunity).

    If appropriate, include organizational charts, corporate annual or quarterly reports, customer surveys, product/service reviews, and other public material indicating the quality and success of your employer (current or former).
  • PDF version of your LinkedIn Profile.

    Include this ONLY if your Profile is complete and demonstrates both the quality of your work and your understanding of the importance of positive online visibility. If the Profile is not complete, be careful about including it. Read LinkedIn Job Search Guide for help creating and maintaining an effective Profile.
  • Cover letter.
  • Reference page.
  • Copies of letters of recommendation.
  • Copies of educational certificates, certifications, licenses, and degrees.

    Also include relevant classes you have taken even when you didn't earn a certificate, license, or degree (yet).
  • Copies of class transcripts and/or report cards (for new/recent grads or recent classes).
  • Copies of awards, honors, or other forms of recognition.
  • Veterans can include badges, ribbons, and other honors received.

    A copy of your DD-214 may be appropriate with your Social Security Number blocked out.
  • Samples of your work.

    These could include a report you wrote, a print out of a spreadsheet you designed, a project summary, a flowchart, etc.

    If relevant, don't hesitate to include work done as part of volunteering for a charity, school, government, or other nonprofit organization.
  • Summaries of projects.

    Describe the projects you have worked on, particularly where you succeeded. As much as possible, quantify your accomplishments and/or the results of the project.
  • Positive employment evaluations.
  • Add other documents that demonstrate the quality of your work, qualifications for the job, and interest in furthering your career.

Your portfolio leaves room for creativity so do not be afraid to include resources that demonstrate your expertise. For example:

  • A new graduate with a programming specialty might include a list of every programming function he can perform with a certain tool or language plus samples of some code.
  • A sales person might include a sample newsletter he created or photos of himself receiving trophies when there are no paper awards to insert in the portfolio.

Consider what would be good examples of your work and include them.

DO BE CAREFUL not to reveal anything confidential from your current (or a previous) employer.

Take advantage of this fantastic opportunity to stand out from the competition. The portfolio will: 

  • Show samples of your work to the employer. If you are a new graduate, this is of further value in demonstrating hands-on abilities gained from coursework and projects.
  • Help you visually add to your interview answers - a major bonus if you are nervous or concerned about your ability to communicate your value effectively in the interview process.
  • Provide an impressive method of showcasing your accomplishments, training, and experiences.
  • Do the talking for you!

Bottom Line

It is never too late to start saving and/or creating documents for your new portfolio! It will be worth the effort next time you find yourself competing for your next promotion or new job.

How to Successfully Answer Typical Job Interview Questions:

Laura Decarlo About the author...

Laura DeCarlo is recognized as the career industry’s ‘career hero’ making a difference to both job seekers and career professionals as the founder of Career Directors International. She possesses 11 top-level certifications in resume writing, career coaching, and career management; 7 first place resume and job placement awards; and has written three books on interviewing and job search including Interview Pocket RX, Interviewing: The Gold Standard, Resumes for Dummies,and Job Search Bloopers. Follow Laura on Twitter at @careerhero.

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