Job interviews used to be about showing up, answering questions and being polite and professional. Now, with how competitive it is to get a job, successful candidates need to also focus on proving their usefulness to the company and their uniqueness as professionals.
Portfolios -- visual representation of previous work -- have been go-to job search tools for copywriters, graphic designers and artists for years. But the benefits of a portfolio can be reaped by any serious job applicant, regardless of the industry. While they shouldn't replace résumés, portfolios can help bring your experience to life.
Here are some benefits:
1. People like pictures. It's simple but true: Instagram and Pinterest wouldn't be successful if it weren't. You can draw people in by showing an interesting visual representation of your previous work experience and volunteer activities.
Did you volunteer for Habitat for Humanity? Use a picture of you helping to build a house. Did you do work on a social media campaign? Use a picture of some of your tweets and posts. Did you work the front desk for a pharmaceutical firm? Use some of the firm's pictures of people its drugs have helped (Always give photo credit and be sure that the photo is available for public use.)
The purpose of the photo is to catch someone's eye and draw him in to learn more. The more interesting the picture, the better -- just be sure it's relevant.
2. People like stories. Once you've drawn someone in with a picture, use a paragraph to tell a story about what you did at a company or in a volunteer position. Make sure you focus on how you benefited the company and made a difference. Use this story to answer the questions, "How did I help this company/organization meet its mission?" and "What did I do differently or better than others have done?" Keep it to just a few sentences, but keep it interesting. Remember, you've always got your résumé to fall back on for bullet-point details.
3. Portfolios let you feature your strengths. When you put together a portfolio, you're guiding a hiring manager through the story you want to tell. Instead of having to give all of your job duties equal weight (like on a résumé), you can feature the elements of your background that make you most interesting and most useful to the company with which you're interviewing.
The interviewer is in the position to decide whether you get the job, but it's up to you to guide the discussion toward the things about you that make you the best candidate.
So, how do you build a portfolio? You'll want both an online and a print one. Sending a link to an online portfolio with an application or cover letter lets you show off your skills before an interviewer meets you. A print portfolio lets you show off your skills in person.
For your print portfolio, you can go to an art store and simply pick up a presentation case with clear archival pages (kind of like old photo book pages) in which to put samples. In a pinch, you could even use a good-looking binder.
For your online portfolio, sites such as wix.com, imcreator.com, virb.com and squarespace.com let you create your own site with a gallery/portfolio section and a place for a bio about yourself. Some offer free services, while others cost a small fee.
Portfolios are an effective way to help you direct the conversation about yourself as a job candidate. But, right now, not that many people outside of the creative industries are doing it, which means that creating your portfolio is just another opportunity to stand out and prove what an insightful, strategic and unique professional you are.