Show and Tell: Presenting the Perfect Portfolio

Even the portfolio has gone digital, but when it comes to job interviews, old-style portfolios still rule.

Whether you’re changing companies or leaving behind internships for that first professional gig, the portfolio is a key marketing tool.

Here are some thoughts on compiling a strong presentation of sample work. I’d love it, and I’m sure readers would, as well, if you’d share what’s worked for you and your portfolio in the comments.

Organization is critical
Interviewers who take the time to review a portfolio – and plenty don’t spend time on this – expect to see a professional presentation. Grammar and spelling must be correct. Graphic elements should be appealing. And a portfolio shouldn’t be overburdened with too many examples – edit judiciously.

Showcase a variety of talents
Pick a half-dozen good pieces, including one that shows off writing and editing skills, another that displays strategy and concept, a third design, and others from your most successful programs or campaigns.

Target a specific job
Take time to consider what the company is looking for and what the position is all about. Then, move the most relevant pieces of work to the front of your portfolio.

Highlight important clients
If you’ve recently worked for an industry-leading company or brand, make sure those samples are close to the front. It shows the caliber of work you’re capable of and that a prestige brand hired you for your expertise.

Call out your contributions
Don’t just stuff a brochure into a portfolio sleeve. Highlight or use arrows to indicate exactly what you want your interviewer to see or understand about the work you did. This is especially important on group projects. You deserve credit for your contribution, but if you had no input into or responsibility for delivering the graphics or a video package, you should be clear about who did what and which work is yours.

Have a leave-behind
There’s rarely time during a job interview for a panel to actually read through examples of your work. If you photocopy your best work and hand it out before you leave, the panel will have something tangible to remember you by when they make the hiring decision. (For online portfolios, share your best pieces and then list and link to other samples, such as press releases or magazine articles.)

Tell a story
Consider Don Draper’s Kodak Carousel pitch in “Mad Men.” He sold the clients because he had a complete, organized package structured as a story, including visuals. Whether you organize your portfolio chronologically (newest to oldest or past to present), by skill set or by client, prepare to lead interviewers on a tour. Know what to highlight and where stunning graphics can tell the story for you. Build a sense of excitement through your own enthusiasm – not only about how terrific your work is, but also about how effective it was at engaging the audience and meeting the client’s goals.

LinkedIn Recommendations: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

Recently, there’s been some sniping at LinkedIn recommendations in the social channels, with naysayers comparing them to ‘60s love-ins.

Are these public accolades crucial for jobseekers? Are they mandatory for having a robust profile on LinkedIn? Do they help or hinder you when climbing the career ladder?

Why You Should 

LinkedIn offers recruiters a one-stop shop when searching for potential candidates and recommendations are an important tool for promoting yourself. On LinkedIn you can now list everything from your professional experience to skills, education, projects, associations, honors, and events you plan to attend in your industry. You have space to summarize your expertise in narrative form as well as capture the essential “you” in a headline. There’s nothing wrong with using the Recommendations feature to give your profile an extra boost when a headhunter reviews it – references are excellent objective, third-party endorsements of your skills and professional demeanor.

Note that last thought: Recommendations are about your professional self. You should ask only those you’ve worked with directly for LinkedIn recommendations – this list includes managers, team members, clients and business partners who’ve had real insight into your skills and approach to tackling big projects.

LinkedIn recommendations are perfect for contractors. If a client enjoyed working with you and was thrilled with the outcome of a project (a big chunk of work, not small stuff, like writing a press release), ask them right away if they’d be kind enough to share their thoughts on LinkedIn. It’s far more awkward to approach clients a year or two later – when they’ll be less likely to recall specifics. Positive references are a major part of business development for contractors.

Treat recommendations like every other feature on LinkedIn and make sure they include searchable key words. After all, if you want to move up the ladder, it helps recruiters to see that you have the experience they’re searching for. There’s nothing wrong with helping out a generous endorser by providing a little direction. After all, it’s hard for most folks to write a reference from scratch. So, when you ask for a recommendation, include suggestions in bullet point format and use key words that shine a bright light on both your skill set and your on-the-job behavior.

Why You Shouldn’t

Mom always thinks the best of you, but that doesn’t mean she should gush about you on LinkedIn. Unless you actually worked for your mom, cousin, fraternity brother, or other assorted relatives and BFFs (and here we’re talking a job in your profession, not babysitting or editing a buddy’s PoliSci paper), you should only ask those you’ve worked with directly for LinkedIn recommendations. This is where the grousing about recommendations is coming from. Glowing references from people who don’t have insight into your work may be great for the ego, but recruiters can spot them for the fluff they are from 100 miles away.

Recommendations are either too broad or too specific. When asking for references in the offline world, you’re expected to brief your former boss or colleague on the required job qualifications and remind them why you’re suitable for the open position. In the world of LinkedIn Recommendations, your endorser can only offer a reference related to the past work you’ve done for him or her, and guaranteed it will be too detailed about your previous work or too general to be helpful for future job searches. These types of recommendations become generic. When savvy professionals want to climb the corporate ladder, they customize everything – resume, cover letter, portfolio and appropriate references – for the next job. Whereas LinkedIn recommendations are all about the jobs you did in the past.

Tit-for-tat recommendations aren’t credible. Ever receive an email like this from a friend: “If you’ll write a recommendation for my LinkedIn, I’ll do one for yours”? A dear friend made this request and, unbidden, sent along the reference he’d already submitted to LinkedIn. To this day, it sits out there in the Ethernet, still unassigned. Why? Because I haven’t worked with this person in two decades. He has no experience with or perspective on my current professional life, nor I his. The recommendation discusses how gung-ho I was as a 19-year-old; it’s generous and charming, but in no way describes how I present myself professionally today. Glowing recommendations from friends are too obvious; recruiters discount them out of hand. Also, each reference must link to a specific job on your profile – that’s how LinkedIn organizes its Recommendations feature. Generic praise isn’t much help, and friends who aren’t colleagues rarely have more than this to offer regarding your capabilities. Awkward is the word for these situations. You don’t want to hurt or lose a friend over something like this. The best way to respond is to agree to write something for your friend and if your friend produces a recommendation that matches Point 1 and/or Point 2 above, then don’t assign it on your LinkedIn account (your friend is unlikely to notice). That way, you’ve responded with kindness and professionalism, offered your friend support when he or she needed it, and avoided making your profile look like it’s participating in a love-in.

Check out this related post for tips on being a savvy LinkedIn user:

The Social Full Monty: Are You Being Transparent on Purpose or by Accident?

Is it Okay to Take an Admin Job to Get Your Foot in the Door?

Since today is Admin Professionals Day, I thought I’d address a sensitive question that seasoned PR, marketing and communications folks often hear from recent graduates, looking to get experience in the field:

“Should I take an Admin job to get my foot in the door with an agency or company?”

My answer is a definite “No.”

(This advice comes with the caveat that, even as we climb out of recession, jobs continue to be scarce, so if you desperately need to work and the only option is an Admin position in your industry, take it – and check out the tips at the end of this article.)

My response is never meant to dismiss the role of administrative professionals. They work exceptionally hard, multitasking across dozens of projects and requests, while keeping the office, its people, client relations, business processes, and technology on track and operating smoothly. They are the lifeblood of our workplaces, we couldn’t get by without them, and the fact that there is only one day a year that honors administrative pros is the real shocker, to my mind.

So why the big fat “No”?

It’s precisely because we depend so much on admins that these situations become fraught for everyone involved. The disconnect happens because the person who accepts the offer for an Admin position when they’d rather be at a higher pay grade (let’s call this person the Non-Admin-Admin) expects to take on development work – projects that will position the Non-Admin-Admin for a promotion to Associate. Meanwhile, the agency or department has enough administrative tasks to bury a battalion of Admins, which is why it posted and interviewed for people with specialized administrative skills.

Frequently, the Non-Admin-Admin has enough experience to be an Associate (there just isn’t an opening right now), but doesn’t know some of the necessary requirements for an Admin job, whether that’s maintaining databases or the delicate dance of keeping everyone scheduled and organized so they can focus on their work. When the Non-Admin-Admin doesn’t want to be an Admin, it’s painful all around, and everyone in the office ends up unhappy.

If you find yourself working as a Non-Admin-Admin, and you’re frustrated with the lack of forward momentum, here are a few key suggestions for career advancement:

Know your company’s promotion policy
Make sure you know the official HR policy on applying for new jobs and in-place promotions (don’t just rely on your manager or hearsay). Do ask people who’ve been promoted (from Admin to Associate, from Associate to Manager) if you can schedule a brief informational discussion with them or offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for some career mentoring. People love talking about their accomplishments, so find out what kinds of skills they needed to learn or projects they took on that enabled managers to see them in a promotable light.

Put a review process in place
Got four-to-six months before you’re eligible for promotion? That’s not an eternity in corporate life, and so not the time to sulk or fill the office with eau de bad attitude. Embrace this time with gusto and schedule a meeting with your manager pronto. Tell him that you see yourself as an Associate in six months, and that you’d like to put a development plan in writing that you’ll both review on a regular schedule. Ask for your manager’s honest assessment so that you have a realistic idea of the skills and behaviors you’ll agree to work on. You can ask questions to clarify, but this isn’t the time to argue with the boss. You’ll need her to sign off when you’ve achieved everything in your plan and are ready to move on.

Accept and excel at your Admin job
This one is absolutely crucial. There’s no question that the ability to succeed at a higher grade will be judged on success as an Admin. The prospect who leaves work undone, doesn’t support the team, acts as if administrative tasks are beneath him or her, shows up late, or, worse, winds up being disciplined for poor performance, will never be eligible for a promotion and may even find themselves unemployed. How you perform at your current position counts for (or against) you when you apply for your next job.

Volunteer for professional-level projects
This is the best way to learn new skills and practice new behaviors. Remember, you still need to keep your current job running like clockwork, but projects are a great way to learn more about the work you’ll be doing and make new allies who can help you navigate your career path at the company.

Learn new technology
Many small agencies and big companies are struggling to manage the additional workload of social media on top of all the existing client work. Learn the company’s blog publishing tool or how to post to its Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest accounts, and you may become indispensible. You’ll be doing the kind of work expected of an Associate and be seen in a new light.

Support your agency’s clients
Are the office’s exempt employees volunteering this weekend at a client’s charity walk-a-thon? Have they been spending lunch hours running around getting people to sign a petition for the client’s pet cause? Once you become an Associate, your focus will be on the client. If there’s a way to jump in now – as a development project, free from concerns about overtime pay – grab it. Like the previous two examples, this will give you the perfect chance to do work at a higher grade level and show everyone what you have to offer.