Kimeldorf Library Portfolio Library Martin Kimeldorf
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My Portfolio Experience


In today's resource-scarce world there is never enough people, time, or money to get the job done. We find the level of competition constantly escalating in this very human race. If you enter the "race" for professional opportunities you'll face the ultimate sales job: convincing an individual or a committee to invest in you as either an employee, small business owner, or life-long learner. You'll want to experiment with new and effective methods for communicating your worth. A Professional Portfolio just might give you the edge.

If you are ready to explore innovative approaches for presenting your talents in a unique attention-gathering manner, this book will suit you well. If you want a powerful tool for proving your potential, then try telling your story with a portfolio.

Before you can fully appreciate what a portfolio might do for you, consider the problems faced by the people who husband the limited resources available. Mangers with job openings, bank officers overseeing small business loans, and admissions staff or scholarship committees in higher education are inundated with requests. Somehow, they must find a way to make excellent decisions for their respective employers. Otherwise, if they make too many mistakes, they could become the next applicant. Once you understand their dilemma, you'll be able to see how a portfolio helps solve problems for both the applicant and evaluator.

Let me illustrate this with a recent hiring experience of mine. One of our support staff quit a few days prior to the start-up of a new cycle of work. I had approximately 48 hours to hire a replacement. I did the usual preparations, networking with people about any available qualified individuals and developing a list of interview questions designed to probe the candidates in increasing depth. While the timeline was less than ideal, it is a far more typical situation than you might imagine.

I was amazed to see who showed up. In these desperate times I found myself interviewing people possessing many more qualifications than those listed in the job description. One person had taught college, another served as an administrator, and still others had years of experience. Selecting the single best candidate became a vexing task. I knew from past experience I did not want to limit my choice to the individual offering the best answers to the interview questions because too often this results in choosing the person who is best with words, as opposed to the one who would perform best on the job. Like a thirsty man searching for water, I scanned for any additional clues. As a result, anyone who brought something besides "words" to the interview table received my undivided attention. Two candidates showed up with collections of reference letters. Ah, here were additional, external opinions I could add to my own intuitive examination of the candidates.

Now imagine how I would have reacted if someone had brought in a portfolio. Suppose I could leaf through a binder containing an employee evaluation sheet with high marks for "flexibility" and "thoroughness." The next page might contain a letter from the United Way applauding fund raising efforts which exceeded the established goal; serving as a testimonial to the interviewee's initiative. A certificate from a workshop on mentoring would tell me that the job seeker possesses people skills and an interest in coaching or serving others. A print out from a database designed by the candidate illustrates technical skills. As I question further, I learn that the individual is a self-taught programmer, demonstrating the capacity to solve problems as a self-directed learner. What more could I ask?

If you can prove your capabilities or demonstrate your talents in a convincing manner, then you vastly increase your chances in today's labor, school, and business markets. To prepare yourself, think of the entire process as a trial where you must present evidence of your potential. By making your Professional Portfolio "Exhibit A" you just may influence the jury enough to win your next case.



I came to the professional portfolio concept in a rather circuitous manner. The story of this process illustrates how a Professional Portfolio can weave the various strands of your lifework experience into a compelling story which will convince others of your potential worth.

After earning my degree in liberal arts, I was ready to spread my wings, and leave the sleepy college town in the Pacific Northwest for the bright lights of New York City. After arriving, I tried different day jobs ranging from bank teller to machinist. This allowed me to spend the rest of my time gorging on the Big Apple's cultural life. I continued my personal studies of playwriting, art, and technology. And, because my uncle and aunt were well connected to the creative souls dwelling in Greenwhich Village, I had many opportunities to see how artists lived their lives. I had the chance to see the works of many gifted people, some of which were displayed in portfolios.

Their careers often seemed fragile, impermanent, and dominated by freelance or temporary assignments; counter-pointed by an occasional exhibit, opening night production, or a book contract. Many lives were played out on a rocky road, accompanied by doubt, drugs, and dreaming.

After three years, I was enticed with a scholarship to return to Oregon and enroll as a future teacher in Industrial Education. This came at the right time because I had concluded that I would probably always need a day job, while pursuing my dreams at night. I relished the career change opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed my studies of technologies: plastics, metals, mechanical power, wood, and electronics. At last I felt I understood the crucial infrastructure supporting our contemporary way of life.

In preparation for seeking employment as a teacher, I knew I wanted to convey both sides of my background: the liberal arts and technology education. I wanted to work for a school which would appreciate my interdisciplinary bent, my deep desire to integrate the aesthetic eye with the skilled hands of a craftsperson. In the middle 1970s I chose to communicate this with my first Professional Portfolio. It contained a summary of all my college classes, letters of references, and notes of appreciation from parents and colleagues. In addition, I included poetry written by my at-risk students, photos of products I had created in the university's technology labs, an essay I wrote about careers and the changing nature of work and technology, a list of my play productions, and articles from newspapers featuring the alternative education program I coordinated for the campus YMCA/YWCA. By the end of the 1970s I returned to earn a masters degree in special education, adding more pages to my portfolio.

I've never had a problem securing an offer during an interview. I attribute a large part of that success to my portfolio presentation because it allowed me the opportunity to go beyond the routine interview questions. I believe that the artifacts in my portfolio speak volumes about the kind of the employee I know I can be. I have also used samples from my portfolio to secure offers for writing books on job finding, leisure, and community service.

I addition to my career, I found that a portfolio could assist me in my personal growth and explorations. In the late 1970s I crafted my first Personal Portfolio containing sketches, plans, and technique sheets supporting my studies of wood carving. More recently, in 1993-94, I assembled a portfolio for my first painting exhibit. Portfolios have become valuable companions on my journey, serving me well in the hunt for work, pursuit of play, and the search for meaningfulness.

In retrospect, I can now see that work lives in the 1990s bear a remarkable similarity to the artists I came in contact with during the 1970s. Today the word "work" has become an uncertain proposition for most people. Due to automation, competition with cheap foreign labor, mergers, increased bankruptcies, budget cuts, our entire world of work has changed in ways that sometimes overwhelm the individual. Like the artists I met in Greenwhich village, our careers have become defined by doubt and dreams.

Joyce Lain Kennedy has long commented upon the changing tides that regularly churn up the labor market seas, leaving job seekers gasping and struggling in their wake. Where once you could locate centers of employment opportunity in a nearby industrial park or a megalopolis teeming with corporate headquarters -- much of this has changed. Kennedy graphically blueprints the "new-age employment realities" when she observes in Hook Up, Get Hired, The Internet Job Search Revolution:

The high-rise downtown office buildings with company names etching the skylines are being replaced by low-rise suburban business parks [where] about one-third of the companies lack signs because proprietors don't want people walking in to ask for jobs they can't offer.
It's not just a problem of finding a good job; many people wear out their soles (and their souls) just hunting for a living-wage job. Kennedy is currently suggesting that people try the Internet as a job search tool. She summons us to pursue our dream of meaningful employment, and then offers practical advice, "In a new and unfamiliar era, job seekers need every available search tool they can lay their hands on." Amidst all this change, the recipe for success remains unchanged: add eight yards of thick skin to a ten gallons of persistence, and season regularly with the spice of innovation--be it a modem, portfolio, singing telegram, phone research, or any new angle which best expresses you in a unique way.

Creating a portfolio takes you back to the centrality of your purpose. Sometimes this means looking at your personal wanderings and at other times casting a critical eye upon the trajectory of your professional life. As you sum up the story of your experiences, hopefully you'll find a way to give an account of your life which appears attractive to the critical people who have the power to hire you, fund your project, or grant you a scholarship.

This document has been excerpted from PORTFOLIO POWER, The New Way To Showcase All Your Job Skills Experiences   by Martin Kimeldorf   (with a Forward by Joyce Lain Kennedy).
This material is being shared online with permission from the publisher, Peterson's:   1-800-225-0261.


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