How to Prepare and Use a Portfolio for Your Interview

He was a mechanical engineer who had developed any number of creative process improvements over the years, saving his company millions of dollars. And he was proud of his work. In fact, when I first met with him to go over his history and begin the resume development process, he brought me a shoe box full of photographs and diagrams. I was so impressed with his creativity and enthusiasm that I suggested he create a portfolio to use during an interview.

A portfolio? He had no idea what I was talking about.

People in creative fields routinely prepare portfolios: teachers, graphic artists, writers. But portfolios can be used for almost any position, and for people at all levels: new grads to executives. If done effectively, a portfolio can give you a unique opportunity to showcase your talents.

It can run the gamut from a single sheet of paper as an adjunct to your resume, with graphics and a list of accomplishments, to a notebook full of original photographs and materials with succinct and creative headings. You might even create a leave-behind DVD of you at work doing what you do best. Below are some strategies for putting together a portfolio, and some suggestions on how to use it in an interview.

How to Create an Effective Portfolio

Keep in mind that your portfolio must present you as a professional. Don’t hurry the process, and don’t skimp. Contrary to the maxim, a book is almost always judged by its cover! Purchase a classy folder and use plastic sleeves to display and protect materials. It should be a nice size, but not so large that it’s awkward to carry or display.

Put the most impressive information at the front of the portfolio, because you don’t know how much time you’ll have once you get to it in an interview (more about that later). In fact, you can re-arrange the information for each interview, depending on the responsibilities of the position for which you’re applying.

Some Information to Include in Your Portfolio

It varies, depending on your areas of expertise and experience, but you may want to include some or all of the following:

  • Table of Contents, tabbed for easy access.
  • Your resume. Your transcript, certifications, awards, and/or licenses.
  • Evaluations of your work and/or letters of recommendation (only if they are glowing).
  • Newspaper or magazine articles that feature you and/or your work.
  • Writing samples.
  • Samples of brochures or business forms you’ve developed, or diagrams of some of the process improvements you’ve designed.
  • Photos with brief captions, and these should include samples of your work. For the mechanical engineer, it included pictures of his innovations on the plant floor. But they could also be photos of a company picnic or customer appreciation dinner that you coordinated.

Presenting Your Portfolio During an Interview

Bring the portfolio with you to the interview, and when you meet and greet your interviewer say, “I’ve brought along a portfolio with highlights of some of my achievements if you’d like to see it.” Then, at some point, the interviewer is likely to say something like, “Okay, show me what you’ve got.”

Now you are in the spotlight! You have the unique opportunity to give a sales presentation – about you, and what you can do for this company. It’s important to do this right, because you will only get one shot at it, so I recommend you put a lot of thought into your presentation. And try and keep it to about ten minutes.

Go through it page by page and practice your explanations prior to the interview. For example, “Here’s a photograph of the United Way Campaign that I managed for our company. That’s me in the clown suit, and the other executives are wearing costumes, as well. The campaign was the most successful in the company’s history, bringing together people from all levels. The CEO told me later that she’d never seen such a spirit of cooperation throughout her years with the company, and we broke all records for employee donations.”

If you don’t get the opportunity to go through your portfolio during the interview, offer to leave it behind. This serves two purposes: first, the employer may have the time to look over your work more carefully. It also gives you an excuse to drop in on him or her a week or so later to pick it up.

The mechanical engineer took my advice and put together a very impressive portfolio. He called me about a month later and said, “Anne, you won’t believe it. I got the job! The boss told me when he called to make the offer that I was the only one who had a portfolio, and he was very impressed with it. Thanks for the suggestion!”

(Resume writers LOVE getting those calls, by the way. :-) )

Need I say more? In a competitive job market, a creative and attention grabbing portfolio can make the difference.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2010, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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