Why It’s Important to Have a Career Portfolio

We’re all familiar with the image of the recent Art and Design graduate showing up at their first interview clutching an enormous portfolio of work samples. Although the graduate has her art degree, in this profession, the interviewer almost always asks to see some physical examples of the work before a hiring decision is made.

Unless you’re in the arts, few of us stop to consider the idea of showing some of our previous work to a hiring manager. The interview itself should be enough, we feel. The strength of our handshake, the glibness of our tongue, cut of our suit and the brightness of our smile should be enough to wow the interviewer.

Yet increasingly, we live in an age of ‘instant’ visual information. Whereas a few decades ago we had to open a book or retreat to a library to find out facts about a subject of interest, now every conceivable topic is available online on the Internet at the click of a button.

Fascinated by elephants? You can Google their size and weight in seconds, read about the history of man’s interaction with elephants on Wikipedia, and go on YouTube to watch thousands of videos about this popular pachyderm.

When you’re applying for a job, the hiring manager will be similarly interested in you. However, whereas with our own interests we can gorge ourselves to our heart’s content with information, the hiring manager only has a narrow window of time to learn what he needs to know about you.

He needs to know just one thing: namely, can you do the job?

If you’ve done a great job on your cover letter and resume, that’s what has brought you this far. The next step – the interview – is where the main exchange of information takes place. There are some things in this one short hour which you cannot control: your chemistry with the manager, whether they are having a good or a bad day, any tough interview questions they may ask. But what you can control is the amount and quality of the information you present at the interview, and that’s where your career portfolio comes in.

Now, some people are naturally extroverts and have no problem launching into a blow-by-blow account of their career to date, when asked that common interview question: “So – tell me about yourself.” Most people (myself included) are not like that. Maybe you’re a little shy, or not fond of tooting your own horn.

A job interview is in itself a nerve-wracking situation for even the best of us, and after days of preparation, the last thing you want to do is to forget the name of your last PR company, or the fact that you increased your previous start-up company’s value by 500% in your first year of working there.

A career portfolio can take many forms, but at its most basic level it is a printed document which contains work samples from your previous jobs (or if this is your first job, it can show job-relevant coursework). I say printed because unless you’re asked for it in advance, very few interviewers will have equipment set up for you to load up slideshows and Powerpoint presentations. There may not even be a computer in the room.

As well as actual work samples, your career portfolio can also include charts and graphs you’ve made which show pertinent information, such as how your promotional contributions have benefitted previous companies.

Let’s say you’re a recent graduate with one internship under your belt, and you’re applying for a job in your local newspaper’s PR department. Your career portfolio might include: 

  • Press releases you wrote in college and the ensuing coverage they generated.
  • A color copy of a student magazine cover listing you as a PR writer for the magazine.
  • Letters of recommendation from members of the firm you interned with, complete with color photos of each team member.
  • Colorful graph showing how the readership of your college paper increased after you started promoting it online using social media PR techniques.

These are just some ideas, but with any luck you’re now thinking about how you can give your interview that extra boost by putting together a career portfolio. Good luck!

Reyna Ramli is a writer for CareerBliss.com, an online community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. When Reyna is not writing, she enjoys cooking, working out, and reading fashion blogs and magazines.


One thought on “Why It’s Important to Have a Career Portfolio

  1. Reyna, thanks for this article, and especially for pointing the difference between extroverts and introverts.

    Promoting yourself to your prospective employers these days literally means showcasing your career portfolio to them.

    I’d recommend everyone to start building work portfolio from a very beginning of their careers.

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