A Job Search Portfolio (some would call it a Career Portfolio) is really an updated form of an old job-hunting tool most often associated with graphic artists, journalists and teachers. To the delight of hiring managers, it’s making a comeback among the most highly polished and accomplished job seekers.

The fact that a job candidate is able to present an interviewer with a portfolio says to a potential employer that you are serious about wanting this job and that you really are as good as you say you are. Perhaps more importantly, it makes them think “I’d like to harness this kind of talent, enthusiasm and determination to work for me”.

Why Have a Job Search Portfolio?

In addition to the information it provides to prospective employers, having a portfolio enables you to:

  • Expand on any or all areas of your resume.

  • Prove your skills and abilities. (Instead of just talking about them during an interview, you can show actual samples and the commendations they generated.)

  • Organize all your work- and education-related documents.

  • Stand head and shoulders above the rest of the applicants.

  • Be more creative than with your resume and cover letter alone. You can use a variety of paper, graphics and colors to display your documents to their best advantage.

You’ll actually be creating two portfolios: a “master” (the one you never give anyone) from which you will select specific items for your “tailored” versions (the ones you leave behind). The latter will be customized to each job for which you’re applying.

What Goes Into Your Job Search Portfolio?

Your portfolio will give future employers a robust understanding of who you really are! So what you choose to include in it will be a matter of personal taste and choice. Generally, start by including anything and everything that is important, relevant and unique to your professional life, everything you are proud of, that you worked hard for, and that you’ve been recognized for.

Here are some ideas to help you get started.

  1. Create/design your cover page. (Be sure your name and address appear here in case it ever gets misplaced.)

  2. Once you’ve organized your sections, drop in a table of contents directly behind your cover page so your reader can quickly locate specific information.

  3. Organize your portfolio into sections using dividers with computer generated labels. (Don’t label them by hand.) Your sections could include any or all of the following:

      • Your career goals or personal mission statement.

      • A copy of your resume.

      • A list of your skill, abilities and marketable qualities and competencies. Include the name of the skill, your performance, and the personal traits that contribute to your success. Also include specific experiences that demonstrate your ability to apply the skill.

      • A list of your major accomplishments to date and how they were valuable to your employer.

      • Testimonials, letters of reference or recommendation and performance appraisals. Copies of e-mails, thank you letters and handwritten notes complimenting you on well-done work. Include kudos from customers, clients, colleagues, past employers, etc. (Whoa! Be sure you save some goodies for your second interview. You will be asked for references later on in the process.)

      • Samples of your work. These would include documents you’ve designed – brochures, flyers, reports, etc.

      • Research, publications and reports, showcasing your multiple skills. These demonstrate your communication abilities.

      • Academic transcripts, licenses and certifications.

      • Professional development activities – lists of the professional associations to which you belong and conferences you have attended.

      • A summary of community and volunteer work you’ve done and recognition you’ve received.

      • Company announcements of promotions, awards, etc.

      • Flyers, conference brochures or other material describing presentations, workshops or seminars you have presented.

      • Photographs representing projects you’ve been involved in. (Company newsletters are a good source.)

      • Samples of any published articles.

      • Research reports on work you conducted.

Magically, your professional brand has just become visual and tangible!

Be creative and unique! Adding a touch of humor is a good idea as long as it doesn’t distract from the serious nature of the rest of the material.

Assembling Your Job Search Portfolio(s)

You’ll need access to a document scanner, a high-quality printer, a good copier, and ample workspace. If these are unavailable at home, check out the Copy Max section of your local Office Max store. You’ll find the material and equipment you need, as well as design support if you feel you need it.

  • Put your “master” in the highest quality, most professional looking binder you can afford, preferably one that is zipper closable and at least 1 ½ inches thick.

  • Put your leave-behinds in less expensive, but still very tasteful, binders.

  • Put the sheet(s) for each section in non-glare plastic page holders.

If you don’t have time to customize your job search portfolio for a particular interview, take your master copy with you and advise the people you speak with that you will follow-up with a version customized for them – a great reason to make a second visit.