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Creating Your Personal Portrait

Posted At: April 15, 2009 12:48 PM
by Amy Hannah Burkhalter

Has someone ever asked you to sum yourself up in one word? Perhaps you thought of one of these all-encompassing words: extraordinary, resilient, intelligent. Or maybe it seemed impossible to confine yourself to a single word. If you were forced to choose, you would probably just pick one word that you felt would represent you the best.Think about creating a portfolio with this same approach, granted you have more than one word to represent yourself. A portfolio gives you the opportunity to show some examples of your capabilities. There are many things to consider when choosing pieces to include and how to present them.

Here are some things to include no matter what style you choose to use:
-Writing samples
-Design work
-Any work for clients (class or club oriented)
-Any quality published work (If it got published it most likely includes quality content.)
-Research! Research! Research! (Always look up information on the employer’s Web site and tailor your portfolio to them.)

Here are some arguments that you should consider when constructing your portfolio:

Print versus online
There are advantages to each of these ways of presentation. For example, many interviewers would rather you walk in with a print portfolio. This is a great way to explain each piece and talk about different projects in which you have been involved.The print portfolio is also an additional way for you to present yourself professionally. In an e-mail interview with Susan Daria, an instructor in the department of advertising and public relations at The University of Alabama, Daria encourages students to produce a few “take away” items for the prospective employer to remember you by and keep with your résumé. Daria also noted that these pieces, along with your entire portfolio, should be tailored to the specific employer.

Jim Bakken, account supervisor at McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations, LLC, said you should professionally present your portfolio in some type of case or book. He agreed with Daria in saying you should be able to leave some type of sample such as a printed bound book if you cannot leave your entire portfolio.
On the other hand, many professionals like an electronic portfolio because it is easy to receive as a PDF (Portable Document Format) attachment or as a link on a Web site. Online portfolios are easily sent to a large number of prospective jobs or internships, especially those out of town. According to Bakken, you should only e-mail a few samples of writing to any prospective employer. You do not want to bombard them before you even meet. Also, some companies like to see you are aware of the online community and see contributions you have made to the exchange of ideas.Daria said one secret to students would be to save your work in at least two locations such as a jump drive and a computer. That way if one gets lost you always have a back-up.

Quality versus quantity

It is not about the numbers. You should choose quality work, whether that be 15 writing samples or three, just make sure they are all error free. It is about the content. You can pick pieces that have been published, or if you do not have any published work, you can use examples from class. Remember if you worked as a group on a project you should note that and be prepared to explain your exact contributions.
Bakken said, “A lot of being able to do what you are supposed to do to make a portfolio strong requires going out and getting a lot of diverse internship experience. Don’t bank on building your portfolio based on your class assignments. If you do that, you are on par with every other person who had your major and did the same coursework. Internship experience is what sets you apart.”
Bakken continues, “I’m not saying to avoid using things you wrote for school all together. If your strongest stuff that shows your ability as a writer is from school, you need to use it. Just make sure to show that you went outside of school as well, and balance out your portfolio so it isn’t all schoolwork.”
Daria encourages students to include between 10-20 quality pieces. When asked about the kinds of pieces to include in your portfolio, she said, “Start collecting pieces early and know that your portfolio is a work in progress, just like your career. You will grow and so will it. Some of your proudest pieces will one day be replaced by even better work in the future.”
Standard versus creative
Many interviewers like to see a variety of different works. It is up to you to present it in the way you would like to be perceived. This is a lot like message framing. You pick one message that you would like to represent you and sell it. However, don’t come across as cheesy by using gimmicks to get you noticed. Daria said this type of attention-getting is desperate and won’t make you stand out in a good way.Bakken said it is important to include diversity in your writing samples such as feature stories, Web articles, brochures, newsletters, press releases, fliers, etc. Bakken went on to reiterate the importance of internship experience to allow your writing to be published, whether it be in a magazine or on a Web site.

All in all, you have the opportunity to construct your portfolio to highlight your strengths, represent yourself and show your variety of capabilities. Daria said it is important to make your portfolio consistent so you can let the employer know you are aware of the benefits of branding. Although a portfolio is important, it is just one portion of selling yourself as a candidate for a job or internship.
I have found some other great portfolio tips from the following sites:

Constructing a PR portfolio
By Karen Miller Russell, Teaching PR Blog

Creating a Winning Marketing/PR Portfolio
By Barbara K. Mednick, Star Tribune Sales and Marketing

PR portfolios: Putting your best work forward in the new year 
By Susan Balcom Walton, PR Tactics and The Strategist Online

PRSSA Job Center

Take a look at Rachel Esterline’s online portfolio:

E-mail: Susan Daria

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