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All About You

Conducting Your Job Search

Resume and Cover Letter

Your Portfolio

The Interview Process

Introduction to Portfolios


You have identified the perfect job, created an impressive resume, and written a strong cover letter. Are you ready for the interview? Not quite, because you are missing a key piece of the “get to work” puzzle that will complete your presentation package. You need a PORTFOLIO!

What Is a Portfolio?

Simply stated, a portfolio is a “show and tell” resume, a sophisticated scrapbook. It offers you a unique opportunity to present your accomplishments and skills, using them to your advantage. It allows you to elaborate on the sections of your resume of which you are most proud, and to include additional information about yourself that is relevant to the job for which you are applying. A Portfolio highlights your skills and abilities, and it documents your classroom, employment, and extracurricular achievements.

It is often said that it’s not “what you know,” but “who you know” that counts, and there is certainly a degree of truth to this statement. It is true that many job seekers find their jobs through networking (defined as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business”), highlighting the importance of “who you know.” However you make it into an interview, whether by networking or the traditional method of submitting your resume directly to the company, ultimately “what you know” – and how you communicate this knowledge – will be the key to getting the job.

In summary, a good resume will provide you access to an interview and strong verbal communication skills will enhance your opportunities to obtain an offer of employment. Insert a well-constructed portfolio in the process and you will now have a competitive edge that sets you apart from other applicants and will dramatically improve your chances of being hired for the job.

Why Should I Have a Portfolio?

Until recently, it was primarily people in the visual arts, performing arts, and education professions that used portfolios. Times have changed. Now job seekers across all industries have started to take advantage of the edge that a complete, well-structured portfolio can provide. It is a strong persuasive tool in the interview process when you can visually demonstrate evidence of your skills and abilities to an employer. As an example, in demonstrating your written communication skills, what better way to impress your interviewer than to provide actual samples that demonstrate your writing ability? If math is your strength, prove this by opening the appropriate section in your portfolio and presenting a copy of a state standardized math test. These are just a couple of examples of how the portfolio can be a valuable tool in your quest for the job.

The Portfolio: Its Other Uses and Applications

First and foremost, your portfolio will be a key component of your job interview presentation. Additionally, your portfolio can be helpful in organizing a college application, applying for scholarships, and documenting your professional growth. It is a living document that, if kept current, will continue to be of assistance as you progress in your educational experience and along your career path.

Web Resources about Portfolios

There are many useful web sites that include tips about creating meaningful portfolios. The following websites will give you additional information about portfolios.

This site presents portfolios as “A Secret Weapon for Your Internship Search.”

For professional portfolio tips, visit this Michigan State University Career Services Network site.

This Florida State University web site contains a Portfolio Preparation Guide.

This site provides education students with information to facilitate independent development of a professional portfolio.

Getting Started

It is important that your portfolio be visually appealing and easy to read. In spite of the old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” you will be judged on the overall look and layout of your portfolio.

To begin the process, you will need to decide what you want the portfolio to look like and what items will be included. Remember, your portfolio should be attractive, well organized, and relevant to the job you are seeking. It will serve as a reflection of who you are and highlight your skills and accomplishments.

Portfolio Organization

How should your portfolio be organized?

• Start with a loose-leaf binder with a see-through cover.
• Design a cover sheet that includes an interesting background or graphics, with your name and appropriate photo prominently placed. (Your cover sheet can be computer generated or designed by hand.)
• Use sheet protectors or plastic sleeves. Do not three-hole punch items.
• Use copies only, not originals.
• Use index tabs or title pages to divide each section.
• Keep the portfolio to a manageable size.
• Omit page numbers to make it easier to add and move items.
• Use the same font, font size, and style for all headings, in order to give your portfolio a consistent look.
• Include a summary statement for each example.

Click here for examples of portfolio cover sheets.

How Do I Decide Which Items to Include in My Portfolio?

When choosing an item for your portfolio, first consider its purpose and value in communicating the intended message. Ensure that all documents are relevant to the interview and will help “sell” you to the employer. Avoid redundancy, and customize your documents to highlight your proficiencies in the required job skills of the job that you are seeking. Include only samples of your finest work, exclude any personal memorabilia, and thoroughly edit to eliminate any errors. Finally, for each section, provide a divider and include a summary statement for each displayed example.

How Should I Organize the Contents of My Portfolio?

Now that you understand the fundamentals of the physical organization of your portfolio, let’s focus on what information needs to be included and how it is displayed. As mentioned earlier, you will have different sections in your portfolio. They may include:
• Table of Contents
• Resume
• Basic Skills
• Thinking Skills
• Personal Qualities
• Experience
You already have your resume completed, so place it in the portfolio. We have included Basic Skills, Thinking Skills, and Personal Qualities as sections in your portfolio, because they are qualities and skills that employers look for in their employees. The results of numerous studies emphasize the fact that employers want employees who can:
• Communicate effectively
• Solve problems
• Work well with others – and are responsible people.
The final section of your portfolio will include your experience, paid or unpaid work, and volunteer activities.

Sections of Your Portfolio

Basic Skills

A major portion of your portfolio will focus on demonstrating the following basic skills:
• Communications (speaking, listening, reading, and writing)
• Mathematics
• Science and technology
To demonstrate that you have the basic skills, your portfolio may include such items as:
• An official copy of your transcript
• College acceptance letters
• Scholarship letters
• ACT, PSAT, SAT, or other standardized test scores
• Honor roll certificates
• Other certificates of awards or honors
• Samples of your writing
• Personal statement for college applications
• Documentation of technical or computer skills
• Letters of commendation
• Letters of appreciation
• Letters of nomination to honors and academic organizations
• Newspaper articles that address your academic achievements
• Evidence of completed courses in technology
• Certificates received from Regional Occupational Program courses
• A list of computer software programs that you use
• Articles that you wrote for the school newspaper, club newsletter, or yearbook
• Budget proposal
• Golden State Examination Academic Excellence Award
• Science fair project notes and pictures
• Sample of PowerPoint presentations
• Copy of “Who’s Who in American High Schools” certificate
Remember, this is your opportunity to show off the accomplishments you are proud of and that will help you get the job offer!

Click here for some samples of the examples you might want to use to demonstrate your “basic skills”.
Remember, this is your opportunity to show off the accomplishments you are proud of and that will help you get the job offer!

Thinking Skills

Include items that will demonstrate the following:
• Learning
• Reasoning
• Creative thinking
• Decision making
• Problem solving
Examples of thinking skills include:
• Web sites created
• A program from an event you helped plan
• A list of conferences and workshops you have attended and a description of each
• Samples of flyers, newsletters, or brochures that you have designed
• Description of a class project you completed utilizing “thinking skills”

Click here ffor some samples of examples you might want to use to demonstrate your “thinking skills”.

Personal Qualities

Included in this skill set are:
• Being responsible
• Having self-confidence
• Possessing appropriate social skills
• Being honest
• Having integrity
• Demonstrating adaptability and flexibility
• Being a team player
• Being punctual and efficient
• Being self-directed
• Possessing a positive work attitude
• Being well groomed
• Being cooperative
• Being self-motivated
• Demonstrating good time management
These skills enable workers to work well with their peers and supervisors, to make sound, critical decisions, and to add value to the workplace. These skills also enable workers to contribute to the group and enjoy a greater degree of job satisfaction. Examples of evidence of positive personal qualities include:
• Completion of a project done within a time deadline
• Joining a new organization
• Running for an office
• Leadership recognition as a class officer
• Recommendations from employers you have worked for who can attest to your character
• Recommendations from teachers and other school staff who have knowledge of your behavior on completing assignments and taking tests
• Photos or newspaper clippings showing you as part of a team whether it is related to sports or a class project.
• School transcript showing good attendance and lack of tardies
• Web site, PowerPoint, newsletter, or other creative assignment completed with minimal direction from a teacher or supervisor
• Certificate of appreciation for a service learning project
• Documentation of extra-curricular activities
• A well-organized, attractive portfolio

Click here for some samples of examples you might want to use to demonstrate your positive “personal qualities”.


Now that you have identified examples of your employability skills, it is time to add the final section to your portfolio: YOUR WORK EXPERIENCE. Whether you have had a paying job or done volunteer work, you have developed work readiness skills. Remember that paid work experience includes such jobs as babysitting, pet sitting, house sitting, housework, landscaping, and general maintenance. To document your work readiness skills, you can include items like the following examples in your portfolio:
• Certificates or other documents of employer recognition
• Business cards from past employers
• Copies of performance reviews
• Lists of skills you gained on the job relating to:
o Communication
o Responsibility
o Team Participation
o Time Management
o Customer Service
• Descriptions of projects you completed
• Letters of recommendation from co-workers and employers
• Pictures of you on the job.
Don’t forget that unpaid or volunteer work experience can also be strong evidence of skills and abilities that are needed for the desired job. Include examples of volunteer experiences in your portfolio:
• Websites you developed for your school, church, or someone’s business
• PowerPoint presentations you produced for a charity
• Certificates of Appreciation for participating in a philanthropic project

click here for some examples to use in your experience section.

Electronic Portfolios

You may want to create an electronic portfolio. An electronic portfolio can be used to your advantage, because an employer can review your portfolio whenever it is convenient, not just during the interview. You can present your electronic portfolio on the Internet, CD-ROM, floppy disk, or zip disk.

Whichever way your electronic portfolio is delivered to an employer, if you include a “mailto” link, then they can contact you easily by clicking on the link and typing in a message to you. It is a good idea to provide that link, as you want to make it easy for the employer to contact you for an interview!

To create your electronic portfolio, complete your traditional portfolio first. Then, include your Microsoft Word files in electronic form. You may need to use Adobe Acrobat for some large graphic files. Finally, you may need to use a scanner to scan some of your pictures, newspaper articles, and certificates for inclusion.

As with a traditional portfolio, be sure that your electronic portfolio is well organized. If you post your portfolio on the Internet, be sure to put the web address on your resume and in your cover letter heading. Obviously, you must avoid placing any personal information whatsoever (other than your name) anywhere on your website. Never include links to inappropriate websites in your electronic portfolio. Other web security concerns will apply if your electronic portfolio is online, especially if you include a way to contact you. Always be wise about Internet predators.

Just as you did for your traditional portfolio, make sure that your initial “cover” page is clean and enticing. Be sure to have friends view the page from their computers before it is finalized. Remember that not all computers read fonts, colors, and images in the same way.

If you are interested in producing an electronic portfolio, visit this Ball State University Career Center site.


Now that you have completed your portfolio, be sure to practice presenting it. Ask a family member or friend to listen to how well you tell your story. The best portfolio in the world won’t help you, if you don’t know how to use it effectively during an interview! So, practice, practice, and practice!

However, used correctly, not only can your portfolio help you answer some interview questions, it is also your opportunity to demonstrate to an employer just how terrific you are. You’re not just telling them; you’re showing them! You will need to update your portfolio regularly with your new accomplishments, experience, and skills as you gain them.

Your portfolio will then continue to be a valuable tool throughout your advanced education and your chosen career.

Introduction to Portfolios
- Basic skills
- Thinking skills
- Personal skills
- Experience