Well-designed résumés and cover letters are essential job search tools; however, once you secure an interview, a portfolio makes the greatest impact for showcasing achievements, abilities, skills, and credentials. I’ve found few college students or even mid-level managers take the time to create and maintain an employer-ready portfolio.
Here are must-include elements and tips to ensure your credentials are highlighted more effectively than those competing for similar jobs.
1. A simple black binder works well. You don’t need to spend much money, just use a clean half-inch or one-inch binder and page protectors. Online portfolios are a bonus, but for interviews, a hard copy remains a must-have item.
2. An executive summary page and table of contents with section dividers. You should also provide context and a brief description of your role with each of the work samples you provide. And make sure they’re typed; hand-written examples are sloppy.
3. Samples of written work appropriate to your discipline. For public relations or integrated marketing you should include writing samples such as press releases, alerts, features, newspaper clippings, newsletter articles, flyers, brochures, posters, etc. If you’re using a copy of a newspaper article or newsletter feature, a clean photo copied version with the masthead is appropriate, just be sure to cut straight lines—sloppy mock ups show you don’t pay attention to detail.
4. Public relations or marketing plans you’ve created for class projects or real clients. These examples showcase your ability to work through the strategic and creative process in business. Just be sure to remove any confidential information.
5. Research. This might include a competitive analysis, media audits, sample SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, or other examples of how you have conducted research for strategic purposes.
6. Evidence of social media work. Include social media screen grabs. These might be from client work, a professional or personal blog or website, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook posts from internships, volunteer work, or student groups. Also include analytics.
7. Digital, graphic design, production, or editing work samples. These might include broadcast or online video you’ve produced, directed, or edited. In addition to a CD, include screen grabs so employers can easily refer to the work and skills you are illustrating.
8. Reference letters, certificates of appreciation, and kudos emails. For reference letters, ask professors, internship supervisors, or former employers. Overall, these examples highlight positive praise for a job well done. Also, evidence of association memberships, awards, or certifications showcases your leadership abilities.
9. Clean copy. It is essential the portfolio be free of typos and grammar issues. Make sure it is neatly organized and include a few stand-alone copies of your best work samples to leave with employers.
10. Links to an online version of the portfolio. This can be included with a thank-you note at the end.
Your portfolio should illustrate strengths, professional attributes, and abilities that will position you as the strongest candidate for your dream job. Keeping your collection of portfolio elements up to date and flawlessly compiled will ensure you are ready for any opportunities which arise.
Lorra M. Brown is an assistant professor of public relations at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. She serves as the M.A. in professional communication graduate program director, communication internship coordinator, and advisor to the Student Public Relations Association. Follow her on Twitter at @lorrabrownPR.