From time to time I’m asked if I think it’s a good idea for people to create and present portfolios for their job interviews. They’ve either heard of people doing it, or seen one that seems impressive and think it may make a difference in their own interview results.
So… are they worthwhile, and should you create one?
The answer… as with many other questions about your job search, is… maybe!
There are many advantages and good reasons to do one. As well as many pitfalls and reasons that it may do more harm than good.
Here are some observations and considerations for you to make as you decide:
Consider common practices in your field. Some careers demand it. Generally, if you are a graphic artist, photographer, a fashion designer, in advertising, or in other “creative” fields, portfolios are expected. You can talk about your artistic ability, however, the saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words”, certainly holds true. If you are an Insurance Actuary, Drill Press Operator, Call Center Manager, etc, there may not be a good reason to have one. However, don’t assume that just because people in your field don’t generally have one, that you shouldn’t either. There may be ways to use it to set you apart from the crowd.
Consider your presentation skills. Your ability to make it engaging will largely determine its value.
- How well do you “think on your feet”? Can you easily flip to a relevant page/slide and speak about it in an engaging way that doesn’t come across as artificial or contrived? You don’t want to make it seem like you’re trying to twist your answer to one of their questions in a way for you to make sure to get your portfolio in the conversation.
- Are you “dry”? If you typically speak in monotone speech patterns and have a tendency to ramble on, adding the portfolio, where you bore the interviewer even more than simply answering questions will likely create more of a negative impression than a positive one. However, if you are someone that makes presentations often and tend to engage people well, it can be an asset.
It’s gotta have substance! Creating a portfolio simply for the sake of having one, that doesn’t really add value to the interview process, will not be viewed worthwhile. It has to be able to present important skills, ideas, research, or other substantive information that is relevant and substantial for the position. Simply creating an expanded resume, that may include graphics of some sort, would likely be viewed as fluffy self-promotion.
It must be relevant. Presenting information about accomplishments or experience you’ve had in the past, but have little or nothing in common with the position you are pursuing will not help you gain the new role. It may be interesting and engaging in some way, however, it doesn’t prove in some way that you have unique skills or abilities to excel in the job at hand, it will not likely be viewed as worthwhile information.
Don’t create questions about your ethics! Often, when people present documentation of their experience or accomplishments, they bring information that may be proprietary to their previous employer. If it’s not, it’s important that it’s clear that it’s not. Even the perception that it might be, may cause the employer to question your ethics. Be proactive in making sure they understand that you haven’t crossed any lines.
Don’t create ‘solutions’ when you don’t have enough information. At times, people will create presentations of their solution to a problem or task that the company may be facing. In the hopes that they may be able to be viewed as a problem solver, they often show instead that they don’t have a grasp of the situation. There may be occasions where presenting a solution or plan for a particular challenge can be a way to dramatically set yourself apart from competing candidates. However, don’t attempt it unless you’ve had an opportunity to fully learn the nuances of the issue and have enough facts to make an informed recommendation. Providing solutions without fully understanding the facts will hurt, rather than enhance your credibility.
Successes. I have seen examples of portfolio presentations in interviews where it absolutely swayed the decision makers toward the candidate. They were done, and presented exceptionally well and hit directly on target…
- One was from someone interviewing for a sales manager position. During the first two interviews at the company, he was able to meet with superiors, peers, and sales people on the team he would be leading. He asked many pointed, and insightful questions about their successes and issues. He asked detailed questions to gain an understanding of the subtle factors contributing to their situation. He also thoroughly researched the company, industry, and their competition to better understand the market. When he was asked to return for further interviews with superiors. He brought a portfolio that he created specifically for this role. He explained what he learned, and he presented a 90-Day plan for how he would tackle issues and achieve their goals. He had charts, agendas, and examples of how he dealt with similar issues in previous roles he’d held. He made a compelling presentation, and left the portfolio with them when he left for them to review further. Because of his care to gather all the necessary facts first, his solutions were spot-on and he ultimately got the job.
- Another, was someone pursuing a marketing role. Similar to the first example, she used the first interview to primarily gather information. When she returned for further interviews, she brought a portfolio that highlighted her experience that specifically related to the challenges she would face in this particular role. She showed results and achievements that would be directly applicable in the position at hand. It creatively gave her an edge as compared to other candidates they were pursuing. She got the job.
- The same principles can be used for a variety of positions. An Accountant might present initiatives they took in previous roles to improve processes or to find issues. Or, an Engineer might present products or processes they’ve designed or improved. It’s critical that the presentations always be relevant, substantive, not proprietary information, and engaging.
Creating a portfolio presentation for your next interview might be just what you need to set yourself above other candidates. However, be careful that it’s done right and that it adds value to the process. Otherwise, it might be better to avoid it!
Harry Urschel has over 20 years experience as a technology recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives, writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search, and can be found on Twitter as @eExecutives.
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