Jan 01 2001
Every librarian should develop a well-organized portfolio. A portfolio is a conversation starter and represents “proof” of your qualifications.
By portfolio, I mean a collection of items that reflect a person’s talents and accomplishments. Portfolios assist at interviews and also at performance appraisals. They bridge the gap between question and answer. Career counselors and recruiters agree that most employers respond more favorably to a presentation that includes tangible examples in addition to verbal explanations.
For the job-searching librarian, a portfolio is one means of stimulating meaningful conversation during an interview. Also, if you are conducting a long distance job search, the portfolio is a tangible way for the employer to better get to know you. Look at the want ad or job description and identify what the library is seeking in terms of experience and qualities. Next review your employment, education, and personal background for instances when you demonstrated the desired skills. What do you have that tangibly demonstrates these abilities? Did you complete a relevant project during library school? Did you perform a similar responsibility in a non-library environment? Did you receive a letter of appreciation for a skill?
For the librarian at performance appraisal time, the portfolio exemplifies why you should receive superior ratings. Review the past year and identify how you have improved the library or department by even one percent. Did you have stated goals to achieve? What do you have that shows achievement of these goals, in part or in full? Training evaluations and e-mail thank-yous also have relevance here.
To build the portfolio, you will need to collect these materials and store them all together for future use. The portfolio is not a static item, but one you adapt to work in various situations — just as you tweak your resume for different opportunities, you also tweak the portfolio. For either the interview or the appraisal, examples of materials to collect include: letters of recommendation, certificates of training, writing samples, projects (work and school), photographs of displays or events created, artwork samples, book reviews written, awards received, training modules developed, and related volunteer efforts.
Next, decide upon the format that will work best for you: print or electronic. If a position requires significant computer or web skills, then an electronic portfolio saved as part of a web site or as a file will be a more impressive product. For the majority of librarian interviews, though, a physical copy is the preferred format. The goal is to have a portfolio that is easily portable and accessible. Consider creating both a print and an online portfolio, however, so that you have a URL to give out to prospective employers — or one that they may run across in an online search for the perfect job candidate.
For the print format, I recommend using a bound set of document protectors that include six to twelve pockets. These are sold at most office supply stores. The six-pocket portfolio allows display of twelve items. If the position is highly desirable, then plan to leave the portfolio with a potential employer.
You should design a professional cover page for the front cover of your print portfolio which lists your name and the enclosed contents. Start with a title such as “Portfolio of Terry Right,” followed by a bulleted list of contents. Do not go overboard with graphics; think streamlined. The first item inside your portfolio is always your resume. This is your introduction. Next, arrange the remaining items according to your greatest strengths first then move on. (For performance reviews, you may want instead to arrange the items according to goals and objectives met.) Two to three items representing your skill areas are sufficient. If you plan to leave the portfolio with the interviewer, then put only high- quality copies in the portfolio rather than originals.
Once the portfolio is ready, how do you make it work for you? Present the interviewer with the portfolio at the start of the interview or at the question-and-answer period. Explain to the interviewer that this portfolio represents your skills and experience and that you think it demonstrates what you have to offer the library. In most cases, the interviewer will be impressed and you will have demonstrated initiative and organization as personal traits. Tell the interviewer that you will be happy to answer any questions regarding the items. The portfolio also helps job seekers who have difficulty with self-promotion. Ideally, the interviewer will leaf through the portfolio as the interview takes place. If this does not happen, then at the point when you are asked if you have any questions, ask if you can explain the contents to the interviewer.
For the past ten years, I have incorporated the use of a portfolio in both interviews and performance appraisals — and the results have always been favorable. At performance appraisals, I have concrete reasons for pay increases and promotion expectations. As a supervisor, I have requested that employees create one for my perusal. Whether you choose an electronic or print version, compiling the portfolio will reinforce your knowledge of your assets, and incorporating it will boost your confidence.
Patricia Weathers-Parry, MLS, EdM. Prior to becoming a librarian, Patricia worked as a career trainer and counselor assisting Americans in Germany and Saudi Arabia with the career transition back to the U.S. Her background also includes advising at American universities overseas. Currently she is a reference librarian in Rhode Island.