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Why Career Portfolios Are Your Best Friend (And New Secret Weapon)

Written by Dana Iskoldski

When I say that having a good portfolio is a major game-changer, I speak from experience.

After all, mine landed me a second-round interview with a Fortune 500 company. And although I didn’t end up getting the job (read about my unfortunate incident here), creating a portfolio was the best career move I’d ever done.

Before you picture the oversized briefcases you’ve seen your artistically-inclined friends assemble for prestigious university program interviews, don’t. A career portfolio is just a material presentation of your experience and abilities in whatever format works best for your field. And whether you’re an engineer, a designer, or a business student, you can send a powerful image to potential employers by creating one.

Why You Need a Portfolio

  1. You can’t afford not to bring one along. Between 4-6 candidates are interviewed for every position, and only 1-3 are invited back for a final sit-down. You need to seriously impress employers by taking your interview to the next level, and unfortunately your charming self won’t be enough.
  2. Science. 65% of people are visual learners, and you’d be doing your interviewer a disservice if you didn’t do everything in your power to help them understand your value.
  3. To avoid just talking the talk. It’s nice to hear about that conference you organized, but it’s even better to see photos and testimonials to elevate your account of it.
  4. A great support system in an interview. If you’re not good with on-the-spot narrating, a portfolio will distract your audience and help you structure your explanation.
  5. It shows the initiative employers look for. Reaction to your portfolio: “This is for me? Wow, you really went the extra mile.” #hired

I Want One. Now What Do I Do?

Good decision! You’ll thank yourself for it soon. Let’s go through how to make it happen:

1. Use a Format that Works For You

Your portfolio will be styled based on not only your industry, but on what you’ll be presenting to your potential boss. For example:

  • A 3-ring binder/presentation cover with printouts of your previous work. Pros: easy and quick to make, inexpensive, employer will get to hold it. Cons: won’t show videos, not interactive, some industries may think it’s old-school.
    Note: if you’re going to print in colour, print at Staples. Their colour paper is higher quality and your pages will come out more vibrant.
  • A booklet like this one. Pros: creative, aesthetically appealing, you can make this interactive, your employer can keep it. Cons: more of a time/money investment required, not great for multimedia showcasing.
  • An iPad. Pros: easy to put together, interactive, shows off your tech skills, free to make. Cons: you need a tablet, employer doesn’t have anything to keep after the interview. Note: if you’re interviewing with Microsoft, don’t bring an iPad.

2. Make a List of Relevant Points

This portfolio should be short and sweet, so for the love of all things success, don’t bore your interviewer. If you showcase everything you’ve ever done, it will be obvious that you’re shooting blanks. For every piece in your portfolio, ask yourself: does this piece significantly enhance the message I’m sending? If not, toss it.

3. Include the Basics

This includes a resume, transcripts, special assignments, a reference list, contact info, etc. Anticipate your interviewer’s needs.

4. Get Creative

How you organize your portfolio, the way you highlight your skills, and what special details you add to is all completely up to you. There’s no single right way to do this, so I encourage you to play around until you find what works best for your set of experiences.

Now that you’ve got some practical tips on perfecting your portfolio, I wish you the best of luck with your interviews. Not that you’ll need it, of course.

Got tips for creating a top notch portfolio? You know what to do below.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.