Employers are skeptical and for good reason: Most have looked at hundreds or thousands of resumes, many making claims that eventually prove to be a stretch at best and outright lies at worst. In fact, almost every employer has a story about a person who looked good on paper but turned out to be the employee from hell.
"Every hiring manager has been burned at least once," says Rick Nelles, president of Career Directions, a Minneapolis-based corporate recruiting firm.
So when your resume crosses an employer's desk, he isn't likely to give you the benefit of the doubt where the claims on your resume are concerned -- he is going to want proof. One great way to provide that proof is a career performance portfolio.
A portfolio simply collects classroom, work, internship or volunteer materials in a nice three-ring binder to bring to interviews. During each interview, you can then show your portfolio to the interviewer and back up what you're saying about your education, skills and experience.
It's one thing, for example, to say, "I have excellent communication skills." It's quite another to support that statement with a portfolio including the guest column you wrote for the student newspaper, or the brochure you designed for your student organization.
"A resume proves nothing. It only makes claims," stresses Nelles, who writes about developing and using portfolios in Proof of Performance: How to Build a Career Portfolio to Land a Great New Job. "Your career performance portfolio is the presentation tool that will help you validate your job performances and resume claims."
At the same time, says University of Washington career counselor Kate Duttro, you can employ your portfolio as a facilitation tool in your interviews -- a resource to present yourself more effectively with something beyond your mere words.
"It will relieve some of your nervousness by putting the focus on an object -- your portfolio -- so that you don't have to draw all of the information you want to communicate out of yourself, in a situation where you're likely to be tense in the first place," says Duttro, who has researched and taught about portfolios for 10 years. "And because it's visual, it's much more easily remembered than a verbal statement like, 'Yes, I can do that.'"
Think you don't have anything worth showing off in a portfolio? Think again:
- The outstanding papers you've written for various courses will highlight your written communication skills, as well as your organizational and analytical abilities.
- The thank-you note you got from the manager at your summer job will help demonstrate your willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty in your work.
- The videotape of your final presentation in Speech 101 will give prospective employers a sense of how well you can deliver information to your peers and answer questions.
- The posters you whipped up on short notice for your student group's recruitment drive will give prospective employers a sense of your design abilities, computer skills and ability to meet tight deadlines.
- The photos you have of yourself volunteering to help build a Habitat for Humanity house over spring break will demonstrate your real commitment to worthy causes and serving other people.
Portfolio possibilities are limited only by your imagination and willingness to invest extra hours in a tool few other candidates will have.
"I can't guarantee that a portfolio will get you a job or that every employer will want to see your portfolio," writes portfolio expert Martin Kimeldorf in, Peterson's Portfolio Power: The New Way to Showcase All Your Job Skills and Experiences. "But I can say with confidence that collecting samples and crafting a portfolio showcasing your accomplishments will increase your power to communicate your worth to employers, customers or clients."
Ask a campus career counselor to help you develop your own career performance portfolio, and check out the Portfolio Library as a resource.