Using the Newest Tool in Your Job-Hunting Arsenal to Impress Employers and Land a great Job

1. Who should create a career portfolio?

Simply put, anyone who is interested in getting a new job or advancing in their present job is likely to improve their chances of career success if they know how to put together and then present a well-targeted career portfolio.

For starters, the process of reviewing and then choosing items to include in your portfolio builds confidence because it gives you a strong sense of who you are -- what you are good at, what you like to do, and how you can make strong contributions in a new job or career. Even if you arrive at a job interview, and, ooops!, you have forgotten to bring your portfolio, you're still ahead of the game because of the confidence you will have knowing who you are and how you can add value. You will know that there are things you have done that give evidence of the kinds of skills and qualities that interviewers are seeking in job candidates. This confidence will come through in the interview as you field questions about yourself.

Of course, it's better if you do remember to bring your portfolio, because having the ability every now and then to show a document that backs up the things you say about yourself adds force to your statements. Particularly useful is having documents on hand that give evidence of personal qualities you have that employers are seeking in job candidates. Our research indicates that employers tend to give very high priority to personal qualities that they believe add value on the job. Properly chosen portfolio items can make these intangibles much more tangible in the eyes of the interviewer.

It all comes down to knowing how to pick the right documents for your portfolio and knowing when and how to present them in an interview. Our book focuses on just these things.

2. How do informational interviews help you assemble a portfolio?

A career portfolio is only effective in an interview if it is properly targeted. You have to know prior to going on a job interview what it is that the job interviewer is likely to be seeking in a job candidate. So, before going on any actual job interviews, it is very useful to go on several informational interviews where you actually conduct the interview and ask the person you are talking with to help you identify the very things that a job interviewer is likely to be seeking in candidates for the kind of job you are seeking. Once you know this, you'll have a much better idea how to target your portfolio for the particular jobs you are going after.

In our book we discuss in some detail who you should try to make an appointment with for informational interviews, how to get those appointments, the kinds of questions to ask, and some very important 'do's and don'ts.' Most importantly, DON'T start asking for a job, when the person you are talking to only agreed to meet with you for an informational interview! The person you are interviewing already knows perfectly well that you are in a job seeking mode. And, by the way, if you do the things you should do in an informational interview, this person might very well start thinking of you as someone they'd like to hire.

3. Should you continue to update your portfolio even after you have the job?

Only if you are interested in protecting and advancing your career! A properly targeted career portfolio can help you make the case for promotions and raises during performance reviews in your current job.

Once you develop the 'portfolio habit' of collecting items that document qualities you have displayed, skills you have developed, and things that you have achieved on the job, you will be in a stronger position to go for raises and promotions.

4. Can you tell us about how a portfolio can be used by someone changing careers?

For starters, the process of collecting and assessing documents that are candidates for inclusion in your portfolio is likely to give you some strong ideas about the career you should really pursue. You'll notice that there are certain things that you particularly like to do and are good at. The skills that you are highly motivated to use can suggest a new direction and can be the building blocks for a new career.

The next step is to do some informational interviews to make sure that the new career that you are considering is right for you. These interviews will give you a very clear idea as to what job interviewers in this new field will be seeking in candidates.

Once you've successfully completed these steps, you can prepare a targeted portfolio what will enable you to showcase the transferable skills and value-adding traits that you have that can be effectively applied to a new career. The key is to pick the right documents and to rehearse the process of 'translating' for the interviewer how the skills and traits that you have demonstrated in your current field would enable you to quickly add value in this new field.

5. You use in your book the example of a homemaker? Tell us how a home worker can use a portfolio?

Successful homemakers demonstrate on a daily basis an amazing array of highly useful (and highly underpaid!) skills. If at some point a homemaker decides that she or he wants to get a full or part-time paid job or wants to be selected for a particularly desirable volunteer position, having a properly targeted portfolio can do two things.

A well targeted portfolio provides the transitioning homemaker with items that can be useful props for discussing transferable skills. And perhaps even more important, having a portfolio builds confidence. Knowing you have portable proof that you have what it takes to be successful in a new venture tucked under your arm makes those early job interviews much less intimidating.

6. What kinds of materials should you use for your portfolio? A 3-ring binder? What about dividers?

This may surprise you, after all the good things I've said about portfolios, but the best strategy is to arrive at a job interview with something in your hand that does not look like a portfolio carrying case! You don't know going into a job interview if the particular person that will be interviewing you is going to be receptive to being shown items from a portfolio.

You should never bring more than a dozen or so items from your 'master portfolio' to an interview. So you don't need a huge carrying case. A good strategy is to carry your portfolio items in something that looks like nothing more than a briefcase. A three-ring binder with a leather cover that can be zipped shut provides a discreet way to carry portfolio items.

During the course of the interview, there will be occasions when you can say, 'May I show you a document that supports the point I've just made?' If the interviewer seems intrigued, you can progressively show more items from your portfolio throughout the interview. If, on the other hand, this particular interviewer is simply not interested in seeing items from your portfolio, the fact that your portfolio is discreet makes it easy for you to back of from showing items.

How you organize the targeted portfolio that you bring to an interview is entirely up to you, but many people find dividers with tabs and sheet protectors a useful way to set things up so that you can quickly put your hands on the item you wish to present. It doesn't create a good impression in a job interview if you have to endlessly fish around in your briefcase to find the document you want.

7. How can you protect your career with a portfolio?

Continually updating your portfolio is a very good way of enhancing your ability to find someone in the marketplace who would be willing to hire you if you need to move on from your present job. In the book we discuss three important 'portfolio habits' you need to develop to enhance your employability.

  1. Continue to learn about the qualifications that are needed for jobs you might be interested in pursuing in the future.
  2. Pursue activities that will enable you to develop documentable qualifications that are needed for desirable jobs.
  3. Get and/or create documents that verify things you have recently done that demonstrate an important skill or other job-relevant qualification.

Focusing on the above portfolio habits will give you a strong sense of 'career security'!

8. What is the most daunting task in creating a portfolio?

Getting started. That's the most daunting task for most people. People often have the misconception that creating a portfolio is going to require a lot of boring work. The truth is that once you get started, the process can be quite exhilarating as you begin to realize, gosh, there's a lot of stuff I'm good at and proud of. In the book we provide lists of sample items to stimulate your imagination and we give five fully developed examples of portfolios for people in different life situations to help you think through the sort of portfolio that would work best for you.

And if you need a portfolio, like yesterday, we have a chapter, entitled, 'Portfolios on the Fly: Creating a Portfolio in a Few Hours.'

9. What trips up most people as they try to create a portfolio?

Failing to realize that a portfolio is always a 'work in progress' can be a problem. There are always going to be nice-to-have items you've thrown out, never got, or that you simply can't find. This may bug you, but the person who is interviewing you for a job doesn't know or care about these missing 'precious' items. The best strategy is to focus on the good things that you do have in your portfolio. In a job interview if you can present two or three items from your portfolio that help you make the case that you are the best person for this job, you are definitely playing a winning hand.

10. Is there anything else you want to add for readers of this website?

Just do it. Get started on that portfolio. You'll find the process is fun and the results very rewarding.