Career portfolios give you a competitive edge

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Editor's Note: Struggling to come up with achievements to include on your resume? We partnered with Dana Zaruba from the YWCA’s Westside WorkBC Employment Services Centre for a free webinar on February 11, 2016. Watch the recording here!

A career portfolio is a useful tool to give you an edge in your job interviews.

Having verifiable proof of your work and accomplishments in the form of a career portfolio will give you confidence and a competitive advantage over less prepared candidates. Today’s post is all about what a career portfolio is, how to build one and how to use it to your best advantage.

What is a career portfolio?

A career portfolio is a collection of items that show proof of the work you’ve completed, your education or training and any other documents that show who you are and what you’ve done. Your cover letter is a personal introduction, your resume is a written compilation of your education, work experience, credentials and accomplishmentsand your career portfolio as a collection of items that backs up or proves what you’ve written in your resume.

Why is it important to develop and maintain a career portfolio?

Telling someone you’ve done something vs. showing them real examples is like the difference between telling someone you can sing rather than singing a song for them. The majority of job seekers rely solely on their resumes and references and rarely show real examples of their work. A career portfolio is the support you need behind answering behavioural interview questions, giving your answer concrete proof of what you’ve done and when. It will leave employers with no doubt in their minds about your honesty, and will impress them with your organizational abilities and initiative. As mentioned in my previous post on Decoding the Job Posting, SHOW them…don’t just tell them.

Here is a list of items you can include in your portfolio:

  1. Copies of your educational qualifications: Degrees, certificates, trainings, grades, transcripts.
  2. Photos of your work: Use pictures of projects you’ve worked on, even if it was on a team. Photos of you teaching, leading, managing, doing….be sure to get permission to take or use photos, especially if you’re going to post them onto the web for job search purposes.
  3. Examples of your writing: blog posts, essays, magazine articles, copy, advertising, manuals, website information, instruction manuals, signage, anything where you’ve successfully demonstrated your writing abilities.
  4. Copies of awards or achievements: employee of the month, sales targets, educational awards, team sports awards, military awards if relevant, industry or peer awards, notes from professors or instructors.
  5. Thank you cards, emails or testimonials: Save emails from co-workers, employers, clients or students who thank you for the work you’ve done. Be sure to get their written permission before sharing or posting any personal correspondence and be sure to hide their personal contact information unless they are one of your references.
  6. Copies of positive performance reviews: Show evidence of achieving any goals you set for yourself in moving forward after the review.
  7. Photos of you: Work related events, trade shows, team building or volunteering events or crossing the finish line at the end of a marathon.
  8. Spreadsheets of documented numbers: Sales figures and growth charts, analytics, demonstrating how your contributions benefited the company. Percentage figures of reduction in losses, or increased revenues, successful outcomes.
  9. Copies of work flow and thought processes: Employers want to know how you think and solve problems so copies of mind maps, brainstorming sheets, lesson plans, outlines, proposals, and PowerPoint presentations.
  10. Video or audio files: Presentations you’ve given, You Tube videos, audio recordings of a speech you’ve made, a workshop you’ve delivered, interviews you’ve given or conducted. Bring them on a flash drive to show on a tablet if it’s relevant.

*Note on permission: Always get written permission to use any items that may be restricted through copyright or confidentiality agreements.

How to display your portfolio

Hard Copies. Put your documents together in a binder. Insert plastic page protectors, number each page with a sticker or permanent marker, insert your documents in the order that makes the most sense to you and then type up an index page and put a few copes of it into the first page protector in the binder.

Digital. Use electronic copies or scan documents and create a file to upload to your LinkedIn profile or other social media platforms, email specific pages or put everything on a website. Using multiple storage formats like flash drives, computers or the Cloud will help save important information should anything happen to the hard copies of your documents. You can also photograph documents and upload to the computer if you don’t have access to a scanner.

Websites like Wix, Squarespace and Wordpress are all cheap (or free!), easy-to-use options for building your digital career portfolio.

How to use your career portfolio

It’s really simple. Take your portfolio binder with you to a job interview. Keep it out of site and stay alert for opportunities to support your answers. This is where your whole job interview prep comes into play. Mention a particular achievement in a cover letter, prepare your answer to a behavioural interview targeting the same achievement and then provide visual proof in your portfolio to back up your answer. When an employer asks you a question, you can say something like:

“Oh yes, when I worked for ABC company, I ran a project overseeing the creation of a new _____…I have the outline/photos/documents…etc…here if you’d like to see it.”

Only show the documents if the employer says they would like to see them and don’t haul out your entire portfolio as it’s very easy to get distracted by a large number of documents. Only use a few choice pieces from your portfolio if they are relevant to the position and if the situation works. There is a fine line between wanting to show off your accomplishments versus the interview becoming a tedious “slide show” of holiday photos. Be discreet, professional and choose only the most important pieces to show at any given time. If your career portfolio is online you can also include a link to it on your resume.

Ongoing career development activity

Chances are you may not have all of the documents you wish you had kept. Many people don’t track their work at all while they’re doing it. Now is your chance to think of your working life as an ongoing, fluid, changing and growing experience. The best time to start developing a career portfolio is while you’re working, but gather what you can initially and build from there. Here are some things to keep in mind as you work and some ongoing tasks that will help you build a useful portfolio for your future.

    Track everything. Sales targets, goals and accomplishments. Track any time you exceeded expectations. Approach each job in terms of constantly assessing and recording your accomplishments.
  • Keep copies of everything. Make copies of emails or forward them to your personal email if you’re allowed to do so. Contact people right away for their permission to use testimonials and make sure to keep written, hard copies of that permission should anyone ever ask.
  • Take before and after photos of projects you’ve worked on.
  • Contact old educational institutions for copies of certificates.
  • Ask for copies of performance reviews, analytics and any figures or percentages that you can attribute directly to your professional input.
  • Count the number of clients you serve on a daily basis. Time yourself doing tasks, showing improvement as you gain experience.

If you’d rather not use paper, keep electronic files or take photos of everything and create a digital file instead. Just be sure that if you want to show a potential employer anything, you have a reliable portable device large enough to display.

Final words and one last, VERY important point

All of the information you train yourself to track can be used to support your position during performance reviews as well as for building a career portfolio. Very often, if we lose our job, we may no longer have access to any of the information that was readily available to us while we were on the job. This is why it’s so important to track your accomplishments as they happen.

Job hunting is often emotionally draining. Reviewing your client testimonials, thank you notes, positive feedback, awards and achievements can really help boost your spirits when you’re feeling stressed. Remind yourself of all the lives you’ve touched being of service to others over your lifetime of work. It will give you the confidence to keep going, stay motivated and positive.

This article originally appeared on the YWCA Metro Vancouver's blog and is reprinted with permission.

Dana Zaruba is a Career Advisor with YWCA Metro Vancouver’s Westside WorkBC Employment Services Centre. A published author, Dana has an MA in Counselling Psychology and more than 11 years teaching experience. To get free services and support in your job search from dedicated professionals like Dana, visit one of the YWCA Metro Vancouver's WorkBC Centres.

Please note: While we ensure that all links and email addresses are accurate at their publishing date, the quick-changing nature of the web means that some links to other websites and email addresses may no longer be accurate.

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