Thursday, 24 February 2011

Making your portfolio work for you at interview

It’s the job interview. You’ve painstakingly researched the company. You’ve arrived early, shaken hands vigorously and smiled sweetly. You’ve settled into your patter, you’re answering the questions well. And, just when everything seems to be going smoothly, the question arises: “Could we see your portfolio?”

The art of putting together a portfolio is relatively simple. The art of talking through your portfolio and really making it work for you is one that surprisingly few candidates master.

When clients put together a job description it invariably covers a wide variety of desired skills and experience. So when they meet you face to face you should never forget that they want to tick off as many of those boxes as possible. As a former PR I spent many an hour wading through files trying to figure out what to put into my sleek black folder. As someone with considerably less creativity than your average MP’s expense form my aim was never to produce something which was attractive on the eye. Instead I decided to focus on producing something which encapsulated a little bit of everything that I did in my role. Yet now, as I sit on the other side of the fence interviewing candidates at all levels, I am amazed by how many portfolios focus on one thing and one thing only – coverage. Worse still I feel deflated when I sit listening to someone ploughing manfully through the umpteenth piece of coverage they achieved for campaign X, as I know that’s how the client will feel as well.    

Running an interviewer through your portfolio is actually the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the true breadth and depth of your experience and skills. However, too many candidates talk generally about campaigns that have been done within their team, and then proceed to flick through pages of coverage in an effort to prove they were a success. Whilst this may be true it’s imperative to realise that to get the most out of your interview you need to use your portfolio material to make it abundantly clear what YOU have done, and YOU only.

No matter whether you’re early in your PR career or a seasoned practitioner, think hard about what is expected of you at your level, and how you can demonstrate that with one or two tangible materials. Think about every step of each campaign and every aspect of your daily job: What do you do? What are you responsible for specifically? How did your action and work affect specific campaigns? What were the highlights? And so on and so on.

So, as an example:
-      If a campaign started with a new business pitch or proposal show examples of where you were involved (maybe brainstorming ideas, maybe drafting part or all of the presentation). This could be a single campaign, a monthly proposal, or a PR plan for the entire year
-      If you played a role in campaign development, setting the strategy and objectives, and developing the tactics, then get all relevant examples into the portfolio. This is particularly important as it allows you to show that you understood exactly what each campaign was designed to achieve, to demonstrate the clever work you did to hit those objectives, and to then relate all this to the end result (see ‘end result’ below)
-      If you managed other team members and can bring this to life, do so. Even if you simply want to show how you manage your day with a to do list, it’s all relevant to the role for which you’re interviewing
-      If writing is a key aspect of your role show the full breadth of what you’re capable of. So this could be press releases, feature articles, executive profiles, case studies, blog entries, news alerts and much more. And if you want to show how you can take a story and adapt it to different audiences, put the same release or article in multiple times, and highlight how you achieved just that
-      If you played a role in budget management show evidence of how you manage this
-      End result: frequently this will be media coverage, but it could also be many other things, including a perception shift, an event, an increase in sales, social media chatter etc. So don’t just stuff your portfolio full of coverage for coverage’s sake. Look back at the objectives, look at who the campaign was aimed at, and include the most relevant examples of why it was a success
-      Reporting – not everyone’s favourite pastime but an essential part of any future role. Be it contact reports, monthly reports, multi-agency reports or annual reports, show what you contributed specifically
-      And finally, evaluation. Online or offline it’s a vital part of a PR’s arsenal, so demonstrate how you had your say

A portfolio that is well thought out and presented will help you position yourself as someone with authority and confidence. Someone who can succinctly and effectively show exactly what value they are to their business, and how they tick all the relevant boxes required for the job that is on offer. A portfolio which is full of pretty pictures but leaves you with little opportunity to sell yourself can be more damaging than good.

Ultimately the separation will not be “Who has the most jazzy material to present?” It comes down to “Who has the most to contribute to my company?”

- Tim Court

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