As a student, you have spent 3, 4, 5 or more years developing a learning, or academic portfolio which, depending on your course, will include reports, presentations, constructed items, essays, creative work, group assignments, and possibly a thesis or two. If you gathered all of these items together, you would find they amount to quite a lot.
When you are looking for a graduate role, hopefully you are thinking about how you might show some of these achievements to employers. This can make the difference as to whether or not you are employed in an increasingly competitive environment.
Selecting the right set of items for your ‘career portfolio’ can make the difference as to whether or not you are hired. (This might also be called a ‘job portfolio’ or a ‘professional portfolio’.)
What is a Career Portfolio?
A career portfolio is a carefully selected group of ‘artefacts’ that work alongside your resume/CV to impress the people who have the power to hire you. It provides the evidence to support your application documents (including your cover letter, and behavioural responses).
Think of your academic portfolio as all the things you have produced to get you through your course. After you have finished studying, your academic portfolio is complete; it cannot be changed or added to. Your career portfolio is about the future: how you will work. It is never finished, you are always adding to it, throughout your life. It is important to see it as a living, changing set of achievements that you can use to guide your career into the future.
Here are some other differences between the two kinds of portfolio:
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* Many RMIT programs do have learning portfolios that are linked to professional accreditation requirements, however employers are keen to find out all they can about you, which is why building a career portfolio encourages you to think beyond the base requirements.
It might not be obvious that you need a career portfolio. In fact, employers might not even ask for one. However, this is part of your job search toolkit and can add real value to your job applications. It also shows that you are keen, thorough and organised – all important attributes in future employees.
Your career portfolio will include items of work from your course, as well as other items that represent you as a well-rounded candidate for graduate roles. It may include:
- Written documents such as reports,
- Photographs and other images
- Audio files
- Web-based materials
- 3-D objects
These items are things you have produced yourself, or perhaps co-produced. They may also be items that say something about you, such as a photograph of you receiving an award.
Artefacts may be sourced from:
- Course work
- Cadetships, vacation work and overseas study
- Working life (including part-time and voluntary work)
- Community life (including leadership or office-bearer roles)
- Sporting life
Creating a career portfolio
Step 1: Select the right ‘artefacts’ to support your job applications
What will you show them? How many items are enough? How many are too many?
There are no perfect answers to these questions, but as a general guide, having somewhere between five and ten items in a bank that you can select from is a good number to work towards. It is better to have fewer items of higher quality than many low-quality items.
When selecting items, you need to be aware of what ’attributes’ employers in your industry value.
Keeping in mind the kinds of jobs you will be applying for, examine your academic portfolio strategically.
- Which items best highlight your abilities and achievements?
- Which items showcase your best work?
- Which samples match the qualities and capabilities employers will want to see?
- Which make you stand out (for the right reasons). Think about your unique strengths and what will provide ‘added value’ to employers. For example, an engineering graduate who has public speaking skills, or a nursing graduate who has volunteered in a developing country.
A good collection of artefacts will:
- extend beyond your course learning : think about everything you have done in the last 2-5 years (giving more weight to recent achievements): vacation jobs, cadetships can all demonstrate desirable attributes such as problem solving, effective communication, leadership etc.
- demonstrate a wide range of skills achieved in a range of settings
- include information about your general attitude to work and life, your behaviours and priorities. While the ‘hard skills’ you have developed, such as using a particular tool or program, might get you to the interview, it is usually the softer, less tangible attributes (such as working well in a team, the ability to problem solve and to work well under pressure) that will win you the job.
One of the best ways to decide what kinds of artefacts you should include is to do some research. Browse the websites of organisations you would like to work for, and take particular notice of graduate recruitment pages on the site. Look carefully at job ads for graduates, and for general employees – what kinds of attributes are highly regarded? If you can, attend graduate recruitment fairs and talk to employers on campus. Build a list of 10-15 preferred skills, personal qualities, characteristics and work attributes, and then think carefully about course work samples, situations from your part-time job, club or community work that demonstrate these things. If you are having trouble, ask your teachers, parents, work supervisors and other students to help you. Other people are often better at seeing what we are good at and measuring our achievements than we are ourselves.
Step 2: Select the parts to include
Generally, you won’t be dumping entire projects or lengthy items in your career portfolio. An employer or industry representative will not have the time, or desire, to read complex documents or to listen to detailed presentations. For maximum impact, you may want to simply describe the assignment in brief and highlight how you overcame a hurdle or solved a problem while completing it, and including a relevant paragraph or two (or a screenshot) that showcases the work. Avoid quoting marks or grades; employers usually don’t care if you received an A or a D for that report, and if you can show you valued the experience, chances are they will too. This is another of the key differences between an academic portfolio and a career portfolio.
Step 3: Set up your career portfolio
Variety makes for interest. Varied presentation styles are essential for graduates wanting to work in creative industries such as film or television, but everyone can create an interesting portfolio through mixing the style of presentation. (Please note: this does not mean providing twelve pages of writing all in different colours or fonts!).
Using a variety of formats also makes it easier to demonstrate a range of attributes, especially the more intangible ones. For example, create a diagram or flow chart to demonstrate how you solved a problem, or create short video of a presentation highlighting your public speaking skills.
Your professional portfolio is not a static document. Examine it regularly and modify/update it as your abilities, knowledge and achievements grow.
Step 4: Display your career portfolio
Display your items in a way that flows for the reader – there should be some internal logic to it. You might find it beneficial to ‘introduce’ each item with a sentence (or voice over, if you are presenting your portfolio in audio or video format). People will remember it better if there is a sense of flow, or story, to the construction of the portfolio. The two main ways this is done is chronological (time order) or thematically, according to topics.
- you take care with presentation – it must be professional. Officeworks etc. has a fantastic range of services at relatively little cost;
- written documents contain correct spelling, punctuation and grammar and that the language is easy to understand. (You will need to think about the differences between academic and business/professional language);
- audio is recorded using a quality platform and does not have distracting background or white ‘noise’;
- images are clear, sharp and visually appealing;
- your portfolio is accessible: It is not much good having a great portfolio if no one can find it. For example, it is no good having an artefact embedded behind passwords on the RMIT website that makes it impossible for an employer to access.
A paper-based portfolio is a good start, but there may be more appropriate methods for displaying your career portfolio. If you will be using images, multimedia or 3-D images, paper may be limiting.
Creating a digital presence is quite easy and inexpensive today. We encourage you to use these tools. Here are some examples:
- LinkedIn: All graduates should have a LinkedIn account; employers and recruiters will look for you there, and may even ‘headhunt’ you. You can use this format to showcase your projects, join relevant groups and contribute to discussions , as well as for recording paid work and volunteer roles. Most importantly, LinkedIn can also be used to attach career portfolio items; a variety of media platforms is available that are easy to edit and update. To maximise your digital presence you can cross-link your LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts. You can also link these to other websites, including your own.
- Facebook: Many graduate employers like to connect with candidates using Facebook. You can use Facebook effectively by adding regular updates containing your thoughts and responses to journal articles (keep them polite, non-gendered, non-discriminatory and non-political). If you prefer, create a professional Facebook presence that is separate from your personal one, but do make sure that your privacy settings on your personal page restrict the people who can view it, while making your professional page open to a wider audience.
- Twitter: This dynamic social media site works best with regular updates and interactions. It can also serve to ‘slow-feed’ your portfolio items individually over time, helping you to maintain your presence in the Twittersphere.
- Website or Blog: If possible, purchase a .com or .com.au domain name which contains your own name, so it is easy for people to find it and remember it. For example, albyframe.com or johnsmith-graduate.com.au. These are not expensive but must be renewed each year. Or, for one that is totally free, go to wordpress.com and create one there e.g. johnsmith-graduate.wordpress.com – you can also build a simple website quickly and easily using this platform.
- Youtube: Make sure your presence is polished and professional, and that it reflects you, your knowledge, skills and achievements in a good way. Be aware of background distractions (e.g. untidy shelves, people walking past, and additional unwanted noises).
- Articles in journals or other publications: Having a link to something you have created, or contributed to, when recruiters and employers google your name is extra impressive.
- Conference and other presentations: You may be surprised at how easy it is to get an abstract accepted. If you don’t want to do it on your own, try asking a professor or mentor if you can co-present with them.
Using your Career Portfolio
Your career portfolio can be used in many ways, even if employers don't specifically ask you to provide it, you should still have it handy when you are undertaking your job search activities. Be ready to use it proudly, it will certainly give you an advantage at the right time.
The act of preparing your career portfolio is a valuable exercise in itself, because while you are gathering information you are thinking about your set of unique offerings in preparation for writing applications and attending interviews.
Also, having all your information in the one place makes it easy to find and refer to. Specifically, think about how you might use your career portfolio in these situations:
- Resume/CV: While a resume must be short and succinct, which makes it difficult to insert portfolio items, there is space for short ‘career highlight’ statements that summarise some of these. This can make your resume stand out, as well as prompting the reader to want to ask questions about them in an interview. You can also provide a link from your resume to your online career portfolio.
portfolio makes this so much easier – you already have the information at your fingertips, all you have to do is select some examples from it.
- Interviews: Take along some portfolio examples in paper-based format (this might be simply bound or pages inserted into a display folio) to leave with the interviewers. This will guarantee they remember you after the interview is over.
- Networking activities: Sometimes, it may be appropriate to take along your career portfolio to networking events, however even if it is not, you may meet someone who is interested in what you have to say and would like to see your portfolio in a follow up meeting, or else you might send them a copy.
- Joining Industry or Professional Associations: Some associations require a portfolio of evidence in order to accept you as a member. Holding membership to a respected association can extend your employment opportunities, as well as introducing you to other members.
- Job Applications: Many graduate jobs require you to provide examples of particular skills.