A portfolio is a collection of papers and artifacts that can be arranged in a variety of formats to help communicate your worth and potential to employers. It contains visual representations of your skills, abilities, and accomplishments. The portfolio is both a product and a process because it helps you and employers assess you suitability for a particular job.
Why Use a Portfolio?
In today’s job market, employers are looking for accountability (proof of your skills , experiences and accomplishments).
A portfolio identifies transferable skills and allows you to guide an employer’s attention toward specific experiences and attributes that you possess.
It is no longer a tool only used by architects and artists. A portfolio is a self-marketing tool that should be considered by anybody who is looking for job opportunities or is building a career.
It can also be used when applying for entrance into graduate schools or professional programs.
For example, your portfolio’s contents and looks may be different if you are applying to a bank versus a summer camp. Just like your other self promotional material, résumé and cover letter, consideration needs to be given to who you are marketing yourself to.
Gather together all the items that best represent your education, experiences, skills, extra-curricular activities, characteristics & attributes, accomplishments, etc. Anything that you have kept from past experiences can be pulled together to display in your portfolio.
Education: Lab reports or term papers; academic certificates, diplomas, degrees, and awards; transcripts; syllabi or course descriptions
Experience: Works in progress or completed; reports; records of your involvement (at Western, in the community, etc.); professional memberships; photographs of you working in a job(s), or pictures that will reveal something you have organized or created.
Skills: Reports or other materials/documents you have created; performance evaluations that include highlights of your skills and accomplishments; skill or interest summaries that you have received from completed self assessments.
Extra-Curricular Activities: artifacts that show involvement and/or accomplishments in volunteer, athletic, social, or leadership capacities (i.e. clubs, student government, newspaper/radio, intramurals, competitions, etc.).
Characteristics & Attributes: Letters of recommendation from past supervisors, professors or coaches; letters of appreciation and thanks from people you worked with; performance evaluations that include comments from your direct supervisor indicating your traits or how you were a valued member of their team.
You may use a binder or a leather folder or you may have your portfolio on a web page or in a photo album. Be creative and know your target market! There are 3 traditional formats: chronological, functional, and thematic.
Chronological: information is presented in reverse chronological order – it demonstrates ongoing growth and development of your skills and accomplishments over time. Consider the following sections: Work Experience, Education, Awards and Certificates, Special Skills, and Accomplishments.
Functional: information is organized into skill sets or categories – it highlights experience and accomplishments in specific areas. Consider the following sections: Research, Organization and Planning, Communication, Problem-Solving, Leadership, Teamwork, and Community Involvement.
Thematic: information is based on abstract themes and can show how a project has progressed from start to finish. Consider dividing a large topic into a number of subcategories that reflect the progression of the project. Thematic examples may represent, for example: Workshop Design, Program Planning, Mentorship, Entrepreneurship, and Event Planning.
Tip: Most portfolios are presented with tabs that are labeled for easy browsing.
It is not appropriate for every situation, but when used correctly it can be one of your most powerful and effective job search tools. For example, use your portfolio in interviews to reinforce a point you have made. Selectively choose items to show a potential employer (material must be targeted!). It is a good idea to keep a ‘master portfolio’ – one that contains all your paperwork and artifacts – and, from this, select the items that are most relevant to each job you interview for.
Items to Consider Including in a Professional Portfolio
Job descriptions and descriptive material about organizations worked for (annual report, brochure etc)
Logs, lists or charts showing general effort (phone calls received, extra hours worked, overtime, volume of e-mail, case load, transactions completed, sales volumes)
Letter of reference, employer evaluations and/or reviews
Records showing how your students, clients, or patients did after receiving your services (evidence showing your impact on the lives and performance of others such as test scores, performance improvement data, or employment and promotion)
Samples from participation in professional organizations, committees, work teams
Surveys showing satisfaction by customers, clients, students, patients, etc.
Paper documents or replicas of actual items including: forms, charts, print outs (such as medical chart, financial statement or budgets, reports, marketing plan, customer satisfaction plan, evaluation sheet, budget plans, spreadsheets, charts)
Performance records (keyboard timing scores, safety records, phone logs, complaint logs, pay stub with hours worked highlighted, any record showing volume, amount, total time, response time, turn-around time, dollars or sales figures)
Technical directions, manuals, procedure sheets for specialized work, use of equipment, and detailed processes. This could include: sample pages from manuals, illustrations, technical drawings, blueprints or schematics, photos from workplace, schematics or directions for tools or equipment, operation sheet
Photos, video, slide show, or multi-media presentation
Actual item which can be handled in various ways: displayed in person one at a time or part of a display you set up