E-Portfolios: Marketing You
October 23, 2012
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Electronic portfolios, or e-portfolios, are one of the newer innovations in the professional career world. Often hosted on a personal website accessible to potential employers or recruiters, the e-portfolio is a collection of items that show off the candidate's skills and talents. Gale Kilbury, a career counselor with the UIS Career Development Center, describes it as “a piece of your marketing plan about you.” Kilbury believes an e-portfolio is not only useful for enticing employers, but is also personally useful to the candidate as a way of collecting achievements and articulating skills. “I think it's good for all students, whether they're undergraduate or graduate, to gradually keep building a portfolio of what they think is their best work.” Through CareerConnect, the UIS Career Development Center's career management system, students can build an e-portfolio through a guided system provided by OptimalResume.com. Optimal will host the e-portfolio for up to two semesters after a student graduates, after which time it will continue to host it for a fee. Some professional areas, such as web design, readily lend themselves to visual, online presentation, but Kilbury believes the practice of keeping an up-to-date portfolio is good for all students, regardless of their professional aspirations. “Sometimes the e-portfolio is not about showing to other people, but helping you be able to articulate what you can do, and I think that's something we all struggle with.” Students should consider keeping class syllabi, course descriptions, employee evaluations, and other items that they may never show a prospective employer, but that will assist candidates when thinking about how their education and skills fulfill an employer's needs. “The more you can articulate what you can do for an employer and show that, the better,” Kilbury said. She recommends being creative and packaging a good presentation with plenty of color and wit to give prospective employers the sense that the candidate is not only highly skilled, but will integrate into the company's or organization's culture. This is where the flexibility of the e-portfolio really helps. With an e-portfolio, candidates have the opportunity to include audio, video, slide shows, and more – anything that can be digitized and presented in a website. For example, an e-portfolio could include video of an event planned and hosted, pictures of graphic design or web design work, or audio of a sales pitch. “It all depends on what you're wanting them to know about your skills set,” Kilbury said. “A lot of students don't understand the importance of skills to their career path. They're so embedded in the academics that they're not really working on connecting it.” Whereas the resume shows employers what a candidate can do, the e-portfolio “actually shows what you've done,” Kilbury said. But she makes it clear that a good e-portfolio is no substitute for a good resume, which is still the first contact most employers have with a candidate. “I do think a lot of recruiters still like to first see the resume. You need to tell people what you can do before you show them.” Moreover, she said, “If you don't have a very good resume, how do you expect to have a good e-portfolio?” “Unfortunately people today have to do it all,” Kilbury said. In addition to maintaining up-to-date print and electronic portfolios, candidates should have a one-page resume for networking and uploading, two-page resumes tailored for specific positions, and a professional social media presence on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Employers also have different expectations for candidates depending on where they are in their professional lives. A graduate student returning to school after an absence will be expected to have a clearer career trajectory, coursework specifically geared towards a particular path, and a history of successful workplace experience. Undergraduates, on the other hand, need to demonstrate the skills they have acquired through study and a promising work ethic shown through their GPA, extra-curricular and volunteer activities, honors, and endorsements from teachers and employers. “You're trying to meet everybody's requirements,” Kilbury said. “The prep work to really be able to promote yourself takes more than just right before [applying for a job]. It's a message.”