To Get a New Job, Make a Portfolio of Jobs Past and Present

Have you ever sat through a job interview and stammered, stumbled, or rambled through the question that goes something like, “Tell us about what you did at your last place of employment?”

Of course, that’s one that you should have seen coming, and yet it can be tough to succinctly recall your best, and only your best work, in the heat of the interview. Here’s the solution: You can head off any awkward answers on your part by having a ready-made portfolio of past work to present during the interview.

In an age of “resume-inflation” and outright fabrication, you need such hard evidence of your greatest accomplishments.

For someone in a creative profession such as graphic design or writing, this probably comes as common sense. But this advice applies to just about any type of job, and chances are that it will distinguish you from the herd of other applicants who go in armed only with cover letter, resume, and perhaps a bit of charm.

What types of things should go in your past-job portfolio if you don’t have the tangible work samples that say, an architect, artist, or Web designer would? Well lots of things. Consider the following:

Congratulatory “attaboy” or thank-you emails and notes from supervisors and customers
Photos of projects you completed
Certificates or other acknowledgments of training you received, either in-house or outside
Diagrams of work-saving processes you developed
Screenshots and URLs of online initiatives in which you were involved
Detailed (but a page or less) summaries of the noteworthy items that you list briefly on your resume
Once you have all this material gathered, you’re going to want a compelling way to present it. You might consider putting it on CD, with an attractive and tasteful cover (particularly if you’re in a “creative” profession). Placing it in an Adobe PDF file and emailing it is also a safe bet, since virtually every computer can read PDFs; if you do so, keep it to 10 pages or fewer. Brevity is your friend.

Without looking too hard, you can find numerous free online resume and portfolio-hosting services. The question you should ask is, do you want to risk that site being down the moment a hiring manager happens to check it out?

Julia Hartman, author of Strategic Job Jumping — 50 Very Smart Tactics for Building Your Career, recommends keeping a big, three-ring binder “book” of the types of items listed above.

Put yourself in the shoes of your potential boss at an interview. Would you feel more comfortable going on just the word of a candidate and some perhaps non-committal references of that person’s past employers? Or would you place more faith in the person with the thick book of projects that landed with a thud on your desk?

If you haven’t been saving all your potential portfolio material already, as listed above, start now. Check your old files and look online to see if there’s “evidence” that you can use to illustrate past achievements. Make it a discipline to copy such information and stash it (discreetly), every time you earn a new accomplishment. Before long, you’ll begin to amaze even yourself by how much value you add that you never really noticed in the past.

These days, employers aren’t merely looking for people who are competent. They want individuals with a proven ability to positively impact an organization and to exceed its goals. After all, having such employees gives them a competitive advantage.

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