How To Build Winning Portfolios For Any Job And Industry by Leslie Juvin-Acker
August 13, 2015
When putting together a portfolio, it’s natural to look at our old work with a groan and say, “What can I possibly do with this mess of information?” no matter what your level, trade and industry may be, anyone can assemble a compelling professional portfolio that can land you your dream job.
Having designed and taught a course on professional marketing material materials to international MBA students at INSEEC Business School and consulted a variety of professionals having from ten plus years of experience all the way to students and young initiates, I know that it is indeed achievable for all professionals, regardless of trade and industry, to tell a compelling professional story that will land dream jobs.
FREEDOM: UNLEASHING PROFESSIONAL POSSIBILITIES
It is typically overwhelming to look at the task of organizing all of our past into a logical and cohesive story, let alone grasp the overarching idea of the career and the direction we aspire to move toward. BREATH! There is a method to the madness!
When people look at their experience and the idea of a building portfolio, some imagine themselves shackled and chained to their past, afraid that by putting down their experience into hard copy they’ll just be attracting more of the same. Not so! There is actually a lot of potential and freedom in building a portfolio because it helps to see and understand where we’ve been in order to develop a sense of direction for where we want to go. And through the process we can identify the patterns (those we want to continue and those we want to break), the growth (lessons learned and challenges overcome), and the creative potential (how we can use what we’ve learned to create something new) in our body of work.
PERSPECTIVE: TELLING THE STORY AS A FLY ON THE WALL
No matter the type of trade or experience, organizing the artifacts (images and case studies) can be overwhelming. Try taking on a different perspective on approaching this task: relive the experience objectively by stepping outside of oneself and imagining the experience as a fly on the wall.
Removed from the emotional attachment of the experience, we can
then objectively look at what happened from the beginning to end and tell the
story from the perspective of a third person. This way, we can approach the experience
from all angles by telling what happened from a variety of perspectives: who
was involved, what were the core issues and problems, how did we
(ourselves/team) come to the solutions, how did this particular case study
affect other departments (such as sales and product development) and the public
(customers and clients) and what were the core lessons and results from the
experience that we took away as a professional.
INSPIRATION: DEVELOPING THE MAIN THEME OF THE PORTFOLIO
The best portfolios have a theme. Either the theme is centralized around a core idea (working with a specific spirit or vision for the future) and/or profession (the same job title or reorienting for a different one). Either theme can allow us to get more of the same type of work or help us reorient towards new goals such as a career or job change.
Usually, this theme comes at the end of assembling and telling the story as an AH-HA moment. I’ve heard it said in a variety of ways, “Oh, all this time, I’ve been working towards this specific career path all along,” or “I’ve been striving for driving technological innovation in this industry,” or, “This is the type of problem solver/creator/leader I am.”
I totally get that some of readers will hesitate to say that they’ve got a pre-planned, consistent theme amongst their collection of work, but there is, believe me. It’s about getting meta and looking at the spirit we put into our work - it can be as simple as designing innovative and life changing products, orchestrating the best talent to create the best human resources, or creating paradigm changing stories through marketing and communications. It’s that consistent passion we bring into our work on a daily basis that serves as the theme and whatever feels right to you is most likely the winning theme.
FUTURE: GETTING FROM HERE TO THERE
After having shifted through the gold and the crap, illustrated the professional journey through a different perspective, and cemented the whole body of work with an overarching theme, the overall portfolio is ready to inspire its reader to imagine how they can’t go forward without us.
Once everything has been assembled, it’s time to go back and write the summary page based upon the highlights of each experience. By highlighting how we’ve overcome challenges and adversity with positivity and forward thinking in addition to nurturing our career with care and focus, we’re able to inspire readers to think of ways that they could use our leadership abilities.
An excellent portfolio demonstrates prioritization, focus, long term career “nurturing”, a positive attitude, and a fierce determination throughout all experiences. And most importantly, a great portfolio bridges the gap from where we are and where potential clients/employers are and takes us both into the future together.
Coach Leslie’s Questions
To Ask Yourself:
1. Break down each experience: What are the key challenges that I overcame? What were the skills, lessons, and experiences that I gained from the problems? What were the end results for the client/company? What measurable outcomes did I/my team achieve?
2. Am I trying to get more of the same kind of work or a different kind of work with my portfolio? What is the goal of this professional marketing tool?
3. Looking at each experience individually and then collectively, are there any key highlights from each that demonstrate a common theme? What is the overarching story I’m trying to tell. Does my portfolio inspire the reader to envision me at work with them?