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Published: Wednesday, 6/12/2002

Strut Your Professional Stuff

BY CHANDRA ORR
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

Don't be shy when it comes to showing off what you do best. Portfolios can be powerful tools when looking for work.

Resumes and cover letters are necessities, but portfolios take touting your best assets a step further because they provide tangible proof of your hard work, talents and accomplishments.

"Resumes are, in my estimation, yesterday's type of document," said Martin Kimeldorf, author of "Portfolio Power." "Resumes lack credibility because people are taught how to market themselves," Kimeldorf said. "They're necessary because employers require one, but they rarely read them to make a decision."

"Because portfolios are actual artifacts of your talents, I think it comes across as a more credible marketing tool," he said. "Portfolios work. That's a secret that's been kept away from people."

PICK AND CHOOSE

Ideally, portfolios are a work in progress. Because the work world can be unpredictable, it's a good idea to collect portfolio items as you earn certifications, complete projects and win awards.

If you're creating a portfolio from scratch, don't fret. Collect any and all work-related items you have.

Regardless of what field you're in, there are a variety of ways to demonstrate your achievements.

Look for pieces you've created like articles, drawings, designs, flyers, manuals or handbooks, presentations, programming examples and proposals, Kimeldorf suggests.

Consider adding awards, degrees, grants, letters of recommendation, performance reviews, scholarships and training certificates -- anything that backs up your education, job performance or work ethic.

Copies of achievements, like a fork-lift certificate, add credibility to your work history says Maria Claus-Konoff of Claus Temporaries in Toledo.

Letters of recommendations with contact numbers - provided they are from recent sources - work well to instill confidence that the prospective employee has earned the trust of others, she says.

Even e-mails or handwritten acknowledgements from co-workers or clients work well in a portfolio, Kimeldorf said.

Don't have anything like that lying around? Don't worry. Brochures or products from past employers make simple but powerful additions to any portfolio, Kimeldorf said.

Use a caption to explain contributions you made to the brochure -- maybe you wrote the text in the brochure or helped select the photos. Maybe you didn't directly have anything to do with creating the brochure. That's OK, Kimeldorf said. Simply explain your connection to the services listed.

"Another example, the most common one people can access, is creating a sample of what you could do," he said. This technique works for anyone in any field, even college students who may have little or no work experience, he said.

Simply create a sample of what you could do if hired. For example, a computer programmer might create a sample database or networking solution. Those in customer service can create phone scripts for dealing with difficult customers or scripts for selling a particular product over the phone.

"You're showcasing what you could do. I think that's incredibly valuable," Kimeldorf said. "It will entice some conversation, and get people to talk about what you have done."

Claus-Konoff interviewed a babysitter who came with a binder of CPR and Red Cross certificates as well as up-to-date references. This was compelling enough, but her portfolio also included a sample daily plan of how she organizes the day for her and the children, which included a full day of story reading, regular meals, circle time and free play. Naturally, Claus-Konoff hired her.

Whatever your field, be creative, Kimeldorf urged.

He cited an educator with a strong track record for teaching deaf students by incorporating her amateur magic act in the lesson plans. At the interview, she flipped through her portfolio. Every page in the book was blank. "This is what these students were doing before I began teaching them," she said.

When she flipped through the book a second time, every page was filled with the students' work. "Nine months later this is what the kids are doing," she said.

The teacher turned a simple magic trick into a powerful portfolio -- and brought a piece of herself to the interview. The anecdote goes to show that quantity isn't near as important as quality when selecting items for a portfolio. Portfolios can contain as few as one or two powerful pieces or as many as 10 work samples, Kimeldorf said, but the pieces should send a message, not just fill pages.

"What's great from the perspective of the employer? What's going to ring their bell? You should assemble a portfolio with the potential employer in mind," Kimeldorf said.

GET IT TOGETHER

When assembling a portfolio, appearance is important, Kimeldorf said. The presentation should look professional, but it needn't be elaborate.

"You want to put together your best package," says Beth Ying Ling, President of Executive Business Centres, a Toledo resume service.

From simple photocopies with a nice cover to more expensive and elaborate art cases, portfolios can take a number of shapes. Choose a slim folder with a soft cover - as opposed to a binder - because it will take up less space and look neater, Ying Ling says.

Ying Ling recommends providing a table of contents for the work you include. Let the viewer know what they are about to see and why it's relevant.

Each display page should include a title across the top, a caption across the bottom and the item in the middle, Kimeldorf said. The caption should be a paragraph about your contributions to the project.

Don't write on your sample pieces, Ying Ling advises, since they should be originals and remain unobstructed.

"If you're putting something together that is that nice, you would bring it to show them and then offer to leave it, but it's expected that it will be returned to you," Ying Ling says. She points out that an artist brings their best work but certainly doesn't give it away to anyone.

"Because it's new, we don't have all these rituals like with resumes," Kimeldorf said. "Portfolios can come across in first person. You can write narratively, but you shouldn't overwrite. I think being authentic wins every time. If you're authentic, you're going to be picked for the job because you're a match," he said.

Once you land that perfect job, don't stow your portfolio in the closet. Continue adding proof of your accomplishments, Kimeldorf said, and take the portfolio to your annual reviews.

"When you go to stand with the boss they might not be the person who hired you. You'll be able to say, 'This is what I've done this year,'" he said. "That's another powerful way to explain to somebody why you should get a raise."

A dazzling portfolio might prove that you're highly skilled, but it can't do everything.

"The number one skill in my book is still personality, personality, personality," says Claus-Konoff.



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