Only four out of 10 entry-level candidates I interviewed over the past year offered to show me their portfolios. The fact a 19-year-old intern candidate recently brought in a rather impressive portfolio (btw, it helped him win the internship) led me to discuss the importance of portfolios with a couple of academic colleagues. One of them, Karen Russell from the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communications at the University of Georgia, blogs on subjects that will make you a more effective PR practitioner. I asked Karen to write about portfolios for Culpwrit. Also, check out Karen’s information-rich blog at www.teachingpr.org
Karen Russell, University of Georgia
For many years when I taught the University of Georgia’s PR writing course, I’d casually mention things like, “This would be a good piece for your portfolio.” When I started teaching our campaigns class, I’d remind the students, “Don’t forget to save copies of this for your portfolio.” Then I invited a guest speaker to talk to a class full of graduating seniors, and she asked a question I’d never actually thought to ask: “How many of you have a portfolio?” When only two of 14 students raised their hands, I almost collapsed from shock. Seeing the look on my face, one of the students said, “But I’ve been on several interviews, and no one’s ever asked me for one!”
Whether or not anyone’s ever asked you to see yours, having a portfolio will definitely set you apart from other job applicants: the truth is that many PR pros won’t ask for a portfolio because so many job applicants don’t go to the trouble of preparing one.
I’ve written two posts (April 2007, and April 2008), which links to a podcast and slides) about preparing a PR portfolio, which emphasize the nuts and bolts of how to put one together. It’s pretty simple, really. You just buy a binder, whatever you can afford; collect samples of your work; organize materials according to the kind of job you want; and showcase the results of your activities to show that you know how to get the job done.
Constructing a portfolio allows you to identify skills and experiences that you’d like to add to your personal PR toolbox — for this reason I definitely recommend starting your portfolio as soon as you decide to major in public relations. In fact, the most important part about the process, in my opinion, is that it forces you to consider your strengths and weaknesses as a job candidate.
Oh, and it just might help you land your dream job.