Lake Superior State University
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Putting Together a Powerful Portfolio

Taken from "Planning Job Choices 2000 43rd Edition"

Janet Neely, director of the career center at Boston Conservatory, has a somewhat unusual suggestion for students who come seeking help. "One of the things I suggest they do is have a portfolio of their work," Neely says, explaining that she believes that job seekers who neatly organize excerpts and explanations of projects, papers, scholarships, press clippings, and awards in a folder or binder can set themselves apart from other candidates. Robin Hammond, a career specialist at Arizona State University says, " A portfolio demonstrates their research, their focused efforts, and their organizational skills."

Portfolios have been around for years, mainly used by job seekers in art, architecture, and journalism. The concept of people in other fields using them is relatively new, but it's catching on fast. Students in four-year and two-year schools and graduate schools are finding them very valuable.

"Portfolios include every aspect of a student's education, and beyond," says Barbara Hurley, dean of student affairs at DeVry Institute in North Brunswick, New Jersey.

Making the Pieces Fit

So what's in a portfolio? How can you put one together?
Neely, who works with performing arts students, advises them to include a resume and cover letter, a photograph, favorable reviews or excerpts of reviews, and newspaper and magazine articles and photographs describing their work. In her previous role as assistant director at Boston University's School of Management, she advised students to include a resume and cover letter, writing samples, class projects, and copies of award certificates. "Include anything that's reflective of your ability to achieve," she says. "Anything that's going to add value or elicit additional conversation." She also advises students to place those items in a three-ring binder, so "You can add things and take things out." Your portfolio should be reorganized and edited to suit the job and the company you are interviewing with.

Hammond tells her students to include a table of contents that lists the items contained in the portfolio. "The strongest elements we recommend are short, abstract pieces of work," she says. "More and more employers are looking for writing samples." Hammond also advises students to research a potential employer's needs, incorporate any work they've done that relates, and include explanations of the significance of each portfolio item. "The portfolio should be able to stand independently without the student having to explain what each page is," she says.

Hurley, who works with students in a variety of technical fields, advises them to include laboratory work, synopses of term papers and essays, and documentation of awards and honors.

"We encourage students to realize that the portfolio is a dynamic document," she says. "It will change from employer to employer."

Getting Noticed

Once you've prepared a portfolio, you need to learn how to use it to its best advantage. Neely teaches her students how to gracefully point to a portfolio to help answer questions during the interview. "Be prepared to talk about the portfolio elements," says Hammond, who stresses that it's important to be familiar with the contents.

In conclusion, portfolios are a well organized and impressive way to present yourself during on interview, but you have to sell it right away, don't just sit there with this thing in your lap.


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