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 the following points to heart before doing so.

1. Avoid content overkill. If it makes an audible thump as it hits the interviewer’s desk, it’s probably more than you need. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Keep it honest. 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.

5. Save something for later. 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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Lisa joined the Michigan State University Alumni Association as Director of Alumni Career & Business Services on May 1, 2012. Her primary focus is to develop effective networking and resource channels for experienced alumni interested in professional development and job search strategy assistance. Additionally, Lisa works directly with corporate, education, foundation and government partners seeking to attract qualified talent, retain and develop good employees, and establish collaborative relationships in line with their established goals and objectives.

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  1. Computer Publishing Concepts 10 March, 2014 at 13:16 Reply

    Lisa: I was advised when I took a portfolio class at the other university I got my graphic design degree from was to show for only one piece of work to show thumbnail sketches and a rough. I was told that employers like to see the thought process. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but AIGA Detroit (AIGA is the most prominent group for graphic artists) has student portfolio days at the various colleges – they rotate each year.

    What you are trying to show is how you handle a particular design challenge.

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