For years, creative professionals such as architects, designers, artists and writers seeking opportunities have used career portfolios — otherwise known as the job search portfolio — to communicate their abilities by displaying prior work, either done for employment or for leisure.

In today’s competitive, knowledge-based labour market, other professionals are discovering the value of a well-put-together career portfolio.

The act of putting together a career portfolio will help candidates from any industry reflect on their skills and create an occupational focus for future employment. It can help employees develop a marketing tool which is strategically laid out to influence a potential employer when making a selection.

Career portfolios can also help the employed or the re-entry worker with career transitions or the already employed get promotions or new jobs by identifying transferable skills. Not only does the portfolio work well as a marketing tool, it also helps to catalogue professional development information as you move through your career.

Career coaches and counsellors are increasingly recommending the career portfolio as an important job search tool to help job search candidates stand out from the competition in a competitive job market.

Once you have decided to create a portfolio, you must choose what to showcase. Start by including everything you can find that highlights your achievements.

Over time, you might choose to retire items from your career portfolio or create one online.

What to include

The overall objective of the portfolio is to provide support for the information included in your resumé. You don’t just have to speak about what you have done; you can also demonstrate what you have done.

To do this effectively, the career portfolio must be conveniently designed for travel and the material must be attractively displayed and easy to retrieve. In selecting items for your portfolio, ensure that the item has a clear purpose and is tailored to suit your audience.

In addition, remember that the visual presentation will reflect your professional standards, so categories need to be clearly defined and labelled and special attention paid to the fundamentals like font and layout.

Some of the key items to include in an effective career portfolio are:

* Your current resumé, which would include details on education, jobs and duties performed. You may choose to use a chronological or functional resumé format.

* Awards and honours, diplomas, degrees, unofficial transcripts or any other document awarded to recognise your education or outstanding work you have done.

* Membership cards, licences, training or technical certifications or any other documents that support your qualifications.

* Letters of recommendation, performance reviews, employment evaluations, “job well done” e-mails or letters and customer satisfaction surveys are all perfect examples that will showcase your work ethic or express the opinions of others about your work.

* Work samples and research output could demonstrate skills specific to the job for which you are applying.

* Sample publications, reports and papers written or presented are always a positive addition.

* Miscellaneous evidence of work and projects completed could include event programmes and photographs of events you have helped to plan or coordinate.

Present it well

Now that you know what to include in the career portfolio, here are some tips to keep in mind for completing and presenting your portfolio:

* Make copies of items for use in your portfolio. Do not use originals. If your portfolio gets lost or ruined, replacing them will not be easy.

* When displaying or showing your career portfolio, be sure to hold it for the viewer to see it clearly. You already know what is there, so avoid keeping it directly in front of you. It is a good idea to practise sharing your portfolio with friends, colleagues or career professionals and watch for falling content as you open and display your work.

* Explain items in the portfolio by talking about the projects they pertain to. Be sure to place these items not only in the historical context of what you have done, but in context of what you can and will do for this new potential employer.

* If you are opting to create your portfolio offline at first, use a medium-sized binder and sheet protectors as an easy way to get started.

* Remove, re-order or relocate materials as they lose their relevance or your interest changes. Your career portfolio is about cataloguing your past and also about relevancy to your future.