Special to AdultStudent.com by Barbara Ritter, M.A. *
Why Create a Portfolio?
- The traditional portfolio was used by artists, photographers, and architects to demonstrate samples of their work. Unlike a cover letter, resume, or application form, a portfolio demonstrates how one’s skills, experiences, and history match a position.
- Today, with many applicants for each job opening and with the necessity of screening individuals efficiently and effectively, the portfolio is emerging as an excellent tool to accomplish this task. A one page list of the "Portfolio Contents"sent with your cover letter and resume allows the employer to screen your qualifications quickly and then request items from your portfolio, if desired.
- The cost of training and maintaining excellent employees is high, both in terms of financial resources and time. A portfolio is a visible means of proving that one is well-matched to a specific position in an organization. Employers know that in the long run, time, energy, and resources will be saved by making the first choice the right choice.
Guidelines to Building a Portfolio
When one is ready to seek a job, is common to think ahead to the future: What will the job require in terms of skills? What will I need to know? What will I be doing? Rather than think of future requirements, building a portfolio is best done by concentrating on one’s past: What have I done? What skills have I mastered and practiced? What experiences do I have that have made me the quality person I am? What do I know? What have I done well?
By answering these questions and then aligning items that demonstrate the answers, an "accomplishments to date" of one’s past is created. This will serve as a material, visible presentation to a future employer. It will also put the owner of the portfolio in better control of an application and interview situation because the material to be discussed is chosen and familiar to the holder!
Another added benefit is that it is simpler to narrow the focus of one’s desires in future employment. That is, rather than applying for all kinds of openings that may look interesting (a very time and energy-consuming and sometimes defeating process), one can apply only for positions in which both that applicant and the employer will find true success and satisfaction.
8 Steps to Creating Your Portfolio
- Ask and answer the questions that follow. Leave nothing out in this brainstorming look at yourself. Don’t try to do it all at once, but take several days to return to your list and jot other items down as they occur to you. You may always trim your list down, but you don’t want to omit important characteristics that really are the essence of you!
- What paid employment have I had?
- What unpaid work have I done? (Volunteering, service, informal helpfulness all count).
- What courses have I taken (particularly a category, such as writing classes or acting classes) where I have gained skills and felt successful?
- What training have I had? This might include informal classes, seminars, groups of friends that gather with common interests (such as book groups), or specific programs?
- What life experiences have I had that I enjoyed, felt successful, and learned? This includes such things as travel (even family vacations growing up), living situations (such as summers on the water where boating or swimming were a part of the experience), a talent for cooking or baking, special collections of interest, and hobbies that have yielded you information, such as hiking in the woods that taught you about wildflowers, animals, and preparing for weather changes.
- What skills do I have that make me capable of accomplishing tasks? This includes abilities such as organizing, speaking, writing, driving, care giving, sensitive listening, dancing, woodworking, using tools, following directions, and noticing details, for example.
- Collect items that correspond to your answers to the questions.
Gather materials by scouring through your old school records, awards bestowed upon you for volunteer work, collections of hobby items, certificates, and photographs. Again, leave nothing uncovered! Faded newspaper articles that highlighted your achievement can be rewritten or copied. Collections too big to put into a portfolio can be photographed. How to fit something into the portfolio should not eliminate any materials at this point.
Once these items are collected, it becomes important to categorize them according to theme, skill, or qualification. It is at this point where you can start to see how one thing you have done is related to other things, or how one skill has built upon itself.
- Select how your items might best be displayed.
Some items lend themselves to easy display; a certificate or diploma, for example, can be copied and shown. Some items are more difficult, but with creativity can by shown. A collection can be photographed. A collage of photographs can be copied. A video tape can be edited with highlights of oral speeches, presentations, and dance or athletic competitions, for example. With computers, scanning and editing can be done to nicely demonstrate many performance-type achievements. Professional videographers, copy centers, and computer whizzes are available for consultation or to format this work.
After you have gathered your materials and selected how you want them to be demonstrated, decide which (if any) are simply not important or relevant. However, do not eliminate anything from your portfolio that you consider an essential element of you or your achievements. When you present your portfolio, it does not have to be done in whole. For a specific position, you may want to include only 4 of 6 portions, for instance, if that is all that seems relevant to that job.
- Demonstrate that you have a demonstration portfolio!
This may sound like double talk, but it means that you need to indicate that you have a portfolio and what kinds of materials it contains. You will not be handing your portfolio out to many people at one time, but you need to let them know what you have. This could be done in the form of your resume, a personal brochure, or cover letter. You might have a heading in your resume that is called "Portfolio Contents," for instance. Then, by category, you could list the items it contains. Or you may choose to include a paragraph in a cover letter indicating you have a portfolio containing specific items that you will be glad to review with them at their request.
Compile a list of what the portfolio contains by category. This contents may be included inside the portfolio and also as an attachment to your resume or cover letter. You may wish to write a cover letter that describes some sample highlights from your portfolio and then note the portfolio may be requested in whole or part. In doing this, you have shown an ability to organize, confidence in your past accomplishments, proven demonstration of your skills and achievements, and a willingness to be helpful and available to a future employer.
- Duplicate your portfolio one time.
Be sure you have two complete portfolios in case one is loaned temporarily. However, unlike a resume, you need not duplicate your portfolio many times. It will be loaned, not given, to future employers. In some cases just listing what is contained in the portfolio is sufficient to secure an interview.
- Select a container for your portfolio.
This may vary as your portfolio builds. Office supply stores carry many inexpensive containers that would serve this purpose well. Accordion folders, small briefcase-type holders, or other similar carrying pockets are available. A portfolio does not have to be expensive, but does need to be lean and neat.
- Update your portfolio periodically and keep it current.
As you accomplish new tasks, keep material demonstrations of them. Once you begin thinking in terms of creating and keeping a portfolio, it becomes natural to think, "How can I include this in my portfolio?" You will begin to photograph, record, and collect proof of your work in many displayable ways.
- Use and enjoy your portfolio!
This is a tangible picture of you–your skills, experiences, accomplishments, qualifications, and interests. Use it to reflect on your past, know yourself, and move to your future!
The Electronic Portfolio
An Addendum to The Professional Portfolio
All of the information that can be collected for the portfolio can be placed in what is sometimes called an "electronic portfolio". This is an alternative to gathering paper (hard) copies of information; "electronically," or via a web page or computer disc, the portfolio information is accessed through a computer.
The easiest way to create the electronic portfolio is to use an electronic format from the start. That is, documents and resumes could be placed on the web page or disc as they are originated rather than trying to collect information and transfer it later to the electronic version later.
When a person is ready to distribute the portfolio to potential employers, several options for making the portfolio information available exist. First, a number of employers, newspapers, and agencies have web page postings. By going into these web sites, directions can be followed as to how to post one’s own portfolio on the web. Secondly, writing to employers with directions as to how to access one’s portfolio on one’s own web site can be included in the letter. This requires that the creator (owner of the portfolio) establish a web site on which to display the portfolio and how an interested employer might respond. (Assistance with doing this is available from anyone knowledgeable in how to set up a web site). Thirdly, the contents of the portfolio can be placed on a disc and the disc duplicated and distributed to potential employers.
The convenience of displaying the portfolio in this manner, the ability to reach many people, and the demonstration of technology skills are all evident by using the electronic portfolio format. Finally, the ability to be creative, colorful, and even three-dimensional are limited only by one’s imagination!
* Barbara Ritter, M.A., is Director of Vocational Education for Bethel School District in Spanaway, Washington. Her accomplishments include serving as director of a consortium of employers and educators that created a highly successful portfolio program.
© Barbara Ritter. Posted with permission.
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