Thursday, March 13, 2014

Portfolio Development

What is a career portfolio?
  • A career portfolio is a collection of documents used to help individuals market their skills and experiences to potential employers. It is used to give proof to the strengths and abilities that the employer is looking for in potential candidates, and it is typically used during a job interview.
  • A portfolio is both a product and a process because it helps employers assess your suitability for a particular job, and it can continue being developed to highlight your most recent achievements. 

When is a Portfolio used? And what is it used for?

  • During a job interview to highlight professional skills
  • When applying to graduate schools or professional programs
  • To track professional development and career growth
  • During performance evaluations to provide evidence of your work

Why develop a career portfolio?

  • Assists you in presenting your skills which gives you an advantage over other job seekers
  • It increases your credibility – by providing documentation that backs up your resume
  • Draws parallels from what you have done to what will be desired on the job

Who should have one?

Portfolio Myth: Only very experienced, senior job-seekers should have a career portfolio.

Portfolio Fact: In the interview, your job is to support the information that is on your resume (the reason you got an interview in the first place!) Therefore every job seeker has the ability to develop and use their career portfolio in an interview.

A well-prepared Portfolio should:

  • Showcase your achievements
  • Document the scope and quality of your experience
  • Show your skills and abilities

What do I include in my Portfolio?

There are many sections that you can choose to include in your portfolio. Remember that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to develop your portfolio – a portfolio is meant to showcase your achievements, so highlight skills and experiences that you think are most applicable to the job you are applying for.

Sections to Consider for your Portfolio:

  • Education                                          
  • Experience
  • Community Involvement
  • Professional Development
  • Characteristics/Attributes/Skills
  • Extra-Curricular Activities

What to Include: Education Section

Post-Secondary education teaches you the theories, methods, and practical skills required for a particular field or industry. By including academic documents, you can demonstrate to potential employers that you have participated in developmental exercises and have received recognition for it.[1] You may choose to include the following in your education section:  
  • Academic certificates, diplomas, degrees, and awards
  • Transcripts
  • Lab reports or term papers
  • Syllabi or course descriptions
  • Licenses
  • On the job training or company training courses
  • Workshops or seminars

For Grad Students

The education section is important for students who wish to either apply to graduate school or who want to get into research positions. By targeting your portfolio to specific schools or programs (by including applicable assignments, transcripts, letters of recommendation from professors or TAs, etc.), you will demonstrate to the hiring committee that you have the necessary experience - along with documents to give evidence to your success. (Should we include anything else here? I thought it would be an important section)

What to Include: Experience

What kind of experiential documents should you be including in your portfolio? According to The Career Portfolio Workbook, employers rank personal characteristics as one of the most important features when hiring new applicants. This means that along with your transcripts and other academic documents, you should consider including letters of recommendation or commendations you have received outside of school. Your portfolio allows you to give evidence of your initiative so it may be a good idea to include all or part of the following sections:

Personal Characteristics. An example of this document would be something that indicates a desired trait, such as a perfect attendance record or award.  

Experiences. This section can highlight some of the experiences that may be relevant to the position that you are applying to. An example of this may be a marketing plan that demonstrates your extensive experience for a marketing position.

Accomplishments.  You can include documents that highlight your ability to do outstanding work in this section. Examples include awards that you may have received along with a brief summary of the award, or a picture of you receiving the award.

Knowledge. It may be a good idea to include a document that demonstrates useful knowledge that would help you excel in the job that you’re being interviewed for. Include documents that would help you stand out from the competition. 

Skills. This section includes documents that highlight what you can do rather than what you know. Examples include language certificates, computer skills, etc.

Your Skills

Knowing and understanding your skills is an important part of deciding the organization and content of your career portfolio. Completing a skills assessment can be a useful way to focus and select your main skills to include in your portfolio. You can begin a self-assessment on the Career Services website and clicking on Students and Alumni, Careers for Me, and Self Assessments.

In today’s competitive job market employers are interested in seeing proof of your skills. Documents that can be used include performance evaluations that highlight your skills and accomplishments, self-assessments or interest summaries, or your Experience Plus transcript. 

Experience Plus

Experience Plus is a variety of skill development programs that provides students with an opportunity to showcase all extra-curricular achievements on an official Brock University transcript. You can use your own Experience Plus Transcript to highlight on-campus jobs, volunteer positions, internships, workshops, awards, certificates, professional development opportunities, and skills. Login to your Brock portal to order your own Experience Plus Transcript. , or stop by Career Services to ask any questions.

Three Categories of Skills  

1. Self-Management Skills 
  • These can be called “personal qualities”
  • These can be subjective (based on your personal feelings or opinions)
  • Examples: Hardworking, loyal, caring, patient, tactful
2. Transferable Skills
  • The majority of our skills are transferable skills
  • These are skills that are developed in one setting (or job) that are transferable to another setting (or job)
  • Are best described by using action verbs
  • Examples: Planning, researching, coordinating, communicating
3. Content Skills
  • Content skills refer to a specific subject matter that may require specific technical or procedural knowledge

Tips for Developing Your Portfolio

  • Have a clear focus
  • Ensure that it is attractive and that the visual presentation reflects your professional standards
  • Design each section so it is easy to scan (using sufficient white space, consistent font, style and spacing)
  • Sequence the contents (in order of importance to your audience)
  • Ensure it is grammatically correct and error free
  • Use clear sheet protectors to protect the quality of your documents
  • Remove materials as they lose their relevance and replace with more current materials
  • Remember to keep a backup copy (in case anything is misplaced)

Choosing a Format

  • It is important to choose a format that best reflects your skills and experiences. The three main formats to choose from are:

1. Chronological

2. Functional

3. Thematic

A portfolio that utilizes the chronological format will display information in reverse chronological order. This type of portfolio demonstrates ongoing growth and development of skills and accomplishments over time. Sections in this kind of format usually include Work Experience, Education, Awards and Certificates, Special Skills, and Accomplishments.

A functional portfolio organizes information into categories or skill sets. This allows you to highlight accomplishments in specific areas. This format is a good choice for those who have extensive experience in a particular area. Sections in a functional portfolio typically include Research, Organization and Planning, Communication, Problem Solving, Leadership and Teamwork.

If your intent is to display information based on abstract themes or showing how a project has developed from start to finish, then a thematic format may be best. When creating a thematic portfolio, it may be a good idea to subdivide larger topics into subsections in order to reflect the progression of the project. Sections in a thematic portfolio include Workshop Design, Program Planning, Mentorship, Entrepreneurship, and Event Planning. 

Bring your Portfolio into the Career Services Resource Centre for a review any time Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm! You can also complete our Portfolio Development workshop online to help further enhance your skills!

Here is a great complementary article about Portfolio Development written by our friends at Cosmic Coaching Centre:

Career portfolios have long been popular in the education and advertising fields, but they are also now becoming more and more significant to job searchers who aim to be marketable in the job market. In comparison to a resume where your relevant work experience is briefly summarized, your career portfolio contains all the necessary documentation in relation to your qualifications, experience, and achievements. In short, a career portfolio can be compared to a unique business card that lets potential employers how your work experience, skills, and education can benefit their companies or organization.
If you don’t have a career portfolio yet, here are some tips to help you create an effective one:

Letter of Introduction
The letter of introduction is a very important element of your portfolio  because this is where potential employers can get an idea or first impression of you as well as what you can do for them. What you should do on this part is to give a brief outline of your relevant skills, reasons you are applying for the job, your career plans or goals, and good reasons they should hire you. Keep the tone personal yet informative. Be sure also to emphasize your best achievements.

Biographical Information
Your resume should be in the first section of your portfolio. By including your resume, employers will have an easier access to the basic information about you, like your employment dates and contact information. Don’t forget to include at least six references as well, which may include your former employers, teachers, and even coaches.

Work Samples
The main section of your portfolio will be the second part where you should have a one-page letter that summarizes all the huge projects you’ve handled and whatever accomplishments you’ve had in your career. It is essential that you show how your abilities and skills will be relevant to the job you are applying for.

Latest Accomplishments
In the final section of your career portfolio, make sure that it reflects how you and your work are valued by other people. You should include in the last section of your portfolio all the letters of praise you received from the various organizations you have volunteered or worked for. Do not hesitate to include also your awards or honors you have received. If possible, you would also want a former professor of yours to write a letter about you. Take note, however, that whoever this person is, he or she should not belong to your references who may be contacted by employers.

After you have prepared your supporting documents, you can now think about how you should present them. There should be a table of contents, captions, and tabs that will make it easier for interviewers to find specific information or materials in your portfolio. Finally, you would want to include an essay that will outline the main purpose or objective of your portfolio. Also mention how the materials to be found inside actually relate to your career goals and career pathways.

Jami Coughler, Senior Career Assistant
4th Year Public Health [Honours] '14
BA: Sociology, Criminology Concentration [Honours] '11

[1] The Career Portfolio Workbook, Frank Satterthwaite and Gary D’Orsi (2003)

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