Developing Your Portfolio

Well, the semester sure started with a BANG for me. A kidney infection and ten days of recuperation in Charleston have left me feeling stronger and ready to tackle the work I have ahead of me. Just in time for the midterm season too.

A few weeks ago, I received a golden opportunity to have my resume analyzed and torn down by someone who I – and many, many others – consider to be an expert in this field. I immediately jumped on it and just made it into the pool of candidates. A week later, I got a video response in my inbox. I knew my ego would take a major hit, so I didn’t open it for three days.

Fortunately, I was wrong and the person was very honest but also very kind about it. I appreciated the unexpected bits of praise that were thrown around in the response. Before they looked into my resume though, they asked me what job I was aiming for and if I had a portfolio to accompany it.

I have my portfolio on this website, which is a fantastic representation of what I have been able to get done in roughly 2 – 3 years. As great as that portfolio is, it doesn’t zero in on what I want to sell myself as – a marketer. My first question was “is the portfolio I have on my website something I could sell as a ‘marketing portfolio’?” The answer is no, it is not.

When applying for marketing positions, I usually take quite a bit of time to develop a project specifically for the company I am applying for that relates to a hole in their marketing or audience, one of their current goals, or a potential client. The projects vary by company, but that’s the gist of it. So far, it’s been great for me. Even though I didn’t get every position I applied for, I was still building my portfolio. I just didn’t know it.

So, I pulled together what I could into a makeshift file and called it my portfolio. It’s not my strongest work, but the realization that I needed to start compiling my past samples in such a way was perhaps a better achievement. It helped me to understand a few key elements of applications that can be used for almost any position:

  1. Your portfolio should be easy and efficient for the reviewer to look through. Use your best 5 – 10 works depending on how long you’ve been in your career.
  2. Focus on what they are looking for. Really narrow the details of the job posting or description. A custom or even semi-custom portfolio for each application could help tip the scale in your favor.
  3. Building a portfolio takes time. If you’re 18, like me, your portfolio might be small and that’s ok. The best thing you can do is continue to apply for jobs, continue to learn new programs and skills that you can put into use in those applications, and save every last bit of work you do.

Resumes are great, but portfolios are even better. Put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes, figure out how you want to present your abilities, and make it happen. Understanding what control you do have over your applications will help you refine them and make better impressions.

Best

Eloragh

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Why You Should Seek Criticism

Most students will experience their first job interview between the ages of 14 and 16. They will show up in an ill-fitting but passable professional outfit and hand over a disappointing resume consisting of their GPA, community service credit hours, and honor roll mentions. Their mother will be so proud, and she should be. 

A recent graduate from the entrepreneurial program Praxis gave this fantastic quote about first jobs in a recent podcast:

“Don’t be precious about your first job. Your first job exists for two reasons — to help you learn and to help you make money. That’s it. You don’t have to love it. Adopt a mindset where you’re there to learn. That’s what makes it fun even if you weren’t initially excited about it.”
– Emily Cozzens

Talkin’ ‘Bout Praxis

This piece of advice was something I wish I had heard when going into my first job as a dishwasher at a local bar when I was 16. I remember halfway through their season, it got so hot back in the dish pit that I passed out. I was embarrassed when my dad practically forced his way to my bosses office to demand that I was put in better working conditions. Admittedly, I had been burnt out (literally and figuratively), but there was an immense value in the gritty, exhausting work I did in the back of the kitchen. My parents were definitely proud, but they could never have matched how it made me feel. 

As time has gone on, I’ve found myself seeking jobs that would help me move forward in the career I want to build. Sure, my dishwashing job was fantastic for building my character and giving me confidence in my abilities, but no employer looking for a marketing director will care about it. I was searching for a job that would help me build my resume. That was my first mistake. 

I had an interview today for a position I am incredibly excited about. Regardless of whether or not I get the job, the conversation I had with the interviewer was fantastic, but not in the way you’d think. Towards the end of the call, they began to politely explain what they would have done if they had applied for the position I was aiming at. I had been dreading this since the beginning of the interview because I knew I felt unprepared. School has had me on a tightrope, but that’s no excuse for not doing my homework on the company. 

As the interviewer went on about what I presume to be what I did wrong, I found myself smiling. Once they had said their peace and given me some amazing advice, I knew my chance at the position was fairly slim, but I felt satisfied with ending the call. I wasn’t happy that I hadn’t gotten the position, I was happy that I knew what I did wrong. After applying for internships, part-time jobs, and summer positions for months with no replies, I finally had an idea of my errors. It was as though a weight of ambiguity had been lifted off of me. 

When you seek criticism from those who know what they are looking for, they will all tell you a few of the same things:

  1. Your resume is wrong.
  2. We don’t care about references.
  3. You need to show us that you’re prepared to work before you get the job.

Applying for positions or opportunities is not about how bulky your resume is, or how many references you can gather, or how beautiful your cover letter is, it’s about doing the work for the interviewer. I had heard this concept repeated to me a million times, but it only seemed to click today. Looking for positions that will “add to your resume” is worthless if they don’t also add to the skills you have. What do you think an employer wants? A piece of paper they have to read and then decipher if you’re the best candidate or a piece of work relevant and specific to the job you’re applying for that tells them more efficiently if you’re what they want?

Take the best of everyone’s advice. Take what you want to take. Most people who share thoughts and opinions don’t expect them to make a huge impact. Seek criticism and seek it shamelessly. We are so afraid to admit that we’ve failed, and even more afraid to ask for help. Be humble, but be confident. You’re not worthless because you don’t know how to do something. You’re more valuable when you seek and accept guidance because it allows your mind to exist in an open, flexible state. When you seek criticism, your ability to hear others thoughts, perspectives, opinions, problems, and ideas will expand. Seeking criticism is not about beating yourself up, it’s about being willing to learn.

Traditional schools will tell you that it’s your resume, your references, and your cover letter that will get you through the door. That’s what they’ve told me for years, and as soon as I tried to implement it, I learned how flawed and ineffective it is. Seek criticism from every employer who turns you down. 90% may never respond once they send you a rejection email, but that other 10% are the employers who want to see growth within the skills of the job market. They care about your improvement because you represent the future of your field. Any good business owner will want to ensure their prosperity in the future, which means letting you know how to improve when you apply again.

Criticism is a beautiful part of life. When you can learn to accept and absorb the information others are willing to share with you, you will understand how much empathy and passion comes from those people. The people who are willing to take time, even a small portion of it, to help you with a part of your life that is truly impactful: your career. Value those people, let them know that you have used their advice, appreciated it, and heard it for what it was. Critics are the better educators, for they know what they want and are not afraid to say so.

Eloragh

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