This article first appeared on the Executive Secretary Magazine, and is reprinted here with permission.
As an administrative professional, how do you demonstrate your skills? How do you prove to others you know how to do the skills you list on your resume? What can you do to showcase your skills in a way that makes you immediately stand out from the crowd? One way is with a professional portfolio of your work and experience. Whether you are actively searching for a new position, demonstrating your value to the team, or simply documenting your career accomplishments, a professional portfolio will set you apart. Professional portfolios aren’t just for job seekers – every success-minded administrative professional should have one!
What is a professional portfolio?
Sometimes called a career portfolio, a professional portfolio combines samples of your work, your resume, documentation of your education and/or certifications, documentation of your skills and more. It’s a fantastic tool for job-hunting, for annual reviews, and for keeping track of your professional development and accomplishments throughout your career. In this digital age, you can also create online or electronic versions to showcase your work via the Internet or other electronic means. Ultimately, it’s a professional representation of you – it shows actual work products that you have completed.
Why do you need a professional portfolio?
Creating a professional portfolio allows you to market your capabilities in job interviews or performance reviews with lasting visual impact. Anyone can claim they have done something or have certain experience, but a real work sample with a brief explanation of what the project was, your role in it, and the final outcome is demonstrated proof. When you use a tool like this to document and showcase your skills, abilities, talents, and past performance, you will differentiate yourself. As an employee, you can use this tool to showcase your accomplishments and document the quality and quantity of your professional development at annual review time. As a jobseeker, it reinforces the information you share during the interview and continues the ‘sale’ after the interview concludes.
There is also significant personal value in creating a professional portfolio. It becomes a permanent, personal record of your accomplishments and the skills developed throughout your career. It establishes the habit of documenting your accomplishments and results. It becomes a wonderful self-evaluation tool and helps you identify career bests and areas for growth and development.
What should you include in your professional portfolio?
Begin by thinking about the various categories of your entire professional life that you might include:
- Work – Professional
- Education and Training
- Activities and Volunteer Work
- Personal – Interests (if appropriate)
Then brainstorm what types of things you might be able to pull together for each category. Here is a list of ideas to get you started. You don’t need every item listed here – simply start with what you do have and keep adding from there.
Work – Professional
- Thank you notes, letters of recommendation
- Testimonials from LinkedIn
- List of professional references
- Personality Type or Strengths Finder assessments
- Past performance reviews
- Work samples from current and previous jobs (non-proprietary)
- Class projects and educational development
- Processes or procedures created
- Sample forms or templates created
- Evidence of specific soft skills (writing, leadership, communication, conflict resolution)
- Evidence of specific technical skills (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, website development, databases, event planning)
Education and Training
- Training you’ve attended
- Course descriptions of training completed or certificates of completion
- Workshops, seminars, conferences attended
- Awards you’ve received
- Academic honors
Activities and Volunteer Work
- Non-profit / Charity work (personal or corporate)
- Volunteer work
- Photos from events you coordinated
- Leadership offices held in professional/community organizations or on related boards
- Community service project participation
- Proof of professional affiliations and leadership roles held
Personal – Interests (if appropriate)
- Special training or independent (self-taught) learning
- Learning a new skill (e.g. website development or Office 2010)
- Learning a foreign language
- Writing skills (e.g. showcase blog posts on a certain career topic or special interest you have, if appropriate.)
- Personal or professional mission statement
- Public speaking opportunities
- Flyers or newsletters you’ve designed or written articles for
- Research projects
- Travel or vacation planning projects
What do I do if I don’t have any work samples saved?
Recreate it. You don’t have to have access to old work samples when you can create some new work samples on your home computer. It may take a little time, but if you really want to demonstrate a specific skill, recreate that form, template, or document you wanted to showcase.
Undertake professional association committee work. Consider getting involved in a professional association and join a committee. A huge portion of my professional portfolio is work product I’ve created for my local International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) chapter – event planning components, project plans, documentation of procedures, monthly meeting coordination, leadership development training, and more! In fact, I have an entire binder that showcases only my IAAP involvement over the past 11 years. A large majority of the skills I highlight with my IAAP materials are the exact same skills I would highlight if I were pulling work samples from a past job.
So, if you no longer have access to those work samples from your past job, getting actively involved in a professional association will not only help you generate some work samples you can include in your professional portfolio, but it will help you strengthen your networking skills and help you potentially find new career opportunities as well.
Volunteer. I’d strongly encourage you to consider volunteer administrative work for a local charity or hospital and generate some new samples that way.
Organizing your professional portfolio for use.
There are a variety of options for presenting your professional portfolio, but the simplest method is a three-ring view binder. You can simply create a custom cover and spine to identify it as your professional portfolio. It’s much easier to insert or remove items and reorganize things as you use it.
I recommend using sheet protectors for each piece of paper you include. It keeps your work samples protected, but it also makes the pages easier and more appealing to thumb through. If you use sheet protectors, be sure to use tabbed dividers for each section that are wide enough to extend beyond the sheet protectors for easy navigation in your binder.
Just as you should customize your resume for each job you submit it for, you should customize your professional portfolio for each specific use. This means you may reorder the contents so the most important items you want someone to see appear first. Job seekers may want their resume, education, and training sections to appear before their work samples. If you are using it for your annual performance review, you may choose to have work samples and training sections at the front of the binder with your resume and letters of recommendation near the back.
Make sure your professional portfolio is up to P.A.R.
When you include samples of your work, include a brief description for each work sample using a simple acronym – P.A.R.
P – Project or Problem: Briefly describe the project or problem you worked on.
A – Action: Describe the action you took. What was your role?
R – Result: Describe the outcome or result.
At the very bottom, you may also summarize or highlight the skills this project or work sample illustrates.
Here’s an example of a description that might be included with the actual work sample – a year-end project plan:
Year-End Project Plan Project
There were no documented procedures for how our department handled the annual year-end project. This project included so many elements that it was very easy to forget something without a written procedure to follow.
I took the initiative to create a detailed project plan to document the entire year-end project that our department goes through every year.
The tax and accounting teams said that my first year on the project was the most efficient year-end they had ever had.The materials have been used to train new department employees.
This project demonstrated my abilities to:
• Organize a large quantity of data.
• Facilitate document production to meet strict deadlines.
• Research changes and requirements on state forms.
Using your professional portfolio once you have it created.
Now that you have this masterpiece assembled, how do you actually use it? If you’re using it during a job interview, I recommend placing it on the table in front of you so you have it as a tool to refer to throughout the interview. If you find you get tongue tied in interviews, having your professional portfolio nearby can be the visual aid that you need to jog your memory about an experience or project you worked on. When appropriate, offer to show the interviewer the binder with the samples of your work that you have included. They may not have time to review it thoroughly, but many times they will thumb through it to get an overview.
I never recommend leaving your original or only copy of your professional portfolio with an interviewer. However, if you have a duplicate copy with you, you may be able to make arrangements to leave the duplicate copy for review and then arrange a time to pick it up later. This gives you a great reason to follow up with them after the interview.
If you are using your professional portfolio during your annual performance review, you may want to share it with your executive a few weeks prior to the review time period. This gives your executive a chance to go through the binder without being rushed. You may also want to keep it with you during the review for quick reference or follow up.
Once you have your portfolio created, make sure you continue to add to it consistently. Don’t wait until you need it for something; update it as you complete projects or think of new components to include. Each time you use it, evaluate what worked well and what you might change for the next time. Then make those changes right away.
Your professional portfolio will never be complete. This is a dynamic piece that you will continually update. Every time you use it, you’ll add new elements, re-order existing elements, and remove elements that aren’t specifically supporting your purpose for using this key career tool. Over time, you may even pull older pieces out and archive them so you’re always highlighting the most current and most relevant experience in your professional portfolio.
Don’t delay. Start today!
Don’t wait until life forces you into a situation where you need this vital tool and you haven’t started assembling it yet. No matter how solid or secure things may seem for you today, you never know what tomorrow holds. You must be prepared at all times. Adopt a proactive career-planning strategy that not only keeps your critical job search documents updated and current, but puts you in a place where you are always ready for the next opportunity when it presents itself.
When you put the time and effort into creating your professional portfolio, it becomes a powerful ‘sample of your work’ in itself. It’s never too late to create your professional portfolio. All that matters is you get one started – today!