Let’s Talk About Portfolios

About 5 years ago there seemed to be a dramatic increase in the number of candidates bringing portfolios to interviews. What had been a practice primarily for marketing and creative types became more frequent across other professional lines. At least that was my experience. More individuals began to see the benefit of having samples of their work with them as proof of their abilities. Portfolios contained all sorts of samples of the candidate’s work: letters, reports, art work, database screen shots, spreadsheet formats, event invitations, articles, newsletters.

Providing potential employers with an opportunity to see first hand the work you’ve done has its advantages. It can be reassuring to have more than an applicant’s word, or the word of a reference, to consider. That said, those choosing to share a portfolio should take a few points to heart before doing so.

The first thing to consider is how much content to provide. If it makes an audible thump as it hits the interviewer’s desk, it’s probably overkill. Portfolios should be a sampling, not all, of your previous work. You want to give the person a general idea of your abilities without committing them to hours of reading your autobiography.

Second, be aware of what content is relevant to the job you are applying for. Showing off samples of work unlikely to be associated with the position is wasting time and risks sending the message functions other than those offered are of greater interest to you.

Third, be mindful of confidentiality. If the samples provided contain sensitive information it could lead the interviewer to conclude you lack judgment in protecting a company’s privacy. It is safe to assume samples from your next employer will end up in your portfolio. Few companies are going to be comfortable with the idea of former employees floating around internal documents, competitive information or financial details.

Fourth, any work represented as yours absolutely must be. Getting caught lying about what you’ve done is disastrous and embarrassing. As with any aspect of your job search, keeping it honest is the best choice. Honesty and integrity are still of great value to employers. Employers are open to training employees on the things they don’t know. They aren’t open to reforming liars.

Finally, your portfolio should highlight your abilities without revealing all of your ideas for ingenuity. You want to hold enough back so the company has incentive to hire you versus simply taking your ideas and implementing them without you.

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