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Portfolios in College Career Centers

  In the late 1980s, many colleges and public school systems began injecting portfolios into the curriculum, evaluation process, and career development services. In recent years, college and university career centers began advising students to include adding a portfolios to their job search arsenal. The following examples from Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio illustrate this phenomenon.

In the mid-1990s Gail Dunham began a pilot project at Michigan State University using a portfolio curriculum developed by the National Occupation Information Coordinating Council (located in Washington, DC). The curriculum guide was tentatively entitled Life Work Portfolio. The initial summer experiments were successful and evolved into a training opportunity for a larger cadre of students. Students in the following areas were invited to develop a portfolio: Medical Technology, Engineering, Mentoring Programs, Residential College honors students and Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management. Dunham enthusiastically wrote, "This is just the beginning, but we hope we can use this program to help students better prepare for the interviews of the future." She felt the portfolio would be particularly valuable for students in the liberal arts.

Thom Rakes was working as an Assistant Director in the Career Center, at University of Missouri, when he began promoting both print and online portfolios. Rakes advised his graduates to take a portfolio along on their interview. He encouraged students to include samples from class projects, internships, coops, summer, part-time jobs, volunteer work, and service learning opportunities. Thom believes that "employers today are expecting some work experience in addition to the degree."

Rakes is one of those rare experts who not only advises his students to use portfolios, he also puts that advice into practice for himself. During an online interview, he wrote:
I am a career development staff person on a college campus, and am in the midst of my own job search. Last week as a finalist for a campus position, I brought a portfolio book with me to the interviews. The book contained my resume and work samples showing budgets, proposals and reports developed; booklets, articles, handouts, web pages, flyers, etc. I referred to the portfolio booklet throughout the in-depth interviews, and left it with the potential supervisor at her request.
Thom Rakes later reported that he had been offered the job!

In 1995 Dr. Steve Iseman (Assistant Professor in Communication Arts and Public Relations) collaborated with Nancy S. Sheely (Assistant Director in the Career Placement Center) on a portfolio project. Together they produced a how-to document for graduates at Ohio Northern University. They advised their students that a professional employment portfolio could provide the job seeker with a competitive edge. Echoing themes earlier in this book, the team wrote:
The material will show what makes you different from the other applicants for a particular position. A well-prepared portfolio provides "evidence" to the reviewer of your accomplishments, skills, and abilities; it documents the scope and quality of your experience and training... A portfolio is designed to do one thing -- to support you as you market yourself! It is limited only by your imagination. It is possible for someone in any major to successfully develop and utilize this tool!

They went on to suggest that a portfolio could range from several pages to a single page which graphically supports and accompanies one's resume. They further advised their students to secure feedback by tapping into the advice-rich university environment. They concluded their treatise with the following advice: "Have a faculty member and a staff member at the Career Placement Center review and critique your portfolio for presentation and content. Then have it reviewed by a professional working in your career area. This is very important; these professionals know from first-hand and current experience, the expectations of professionals in your career field! Possibly, an alumni might be willing to assist or you may wish to contact an employer with whom you would like to develop and foster a relationship for future reference. The key is to ensure that your information and evidence is on-target and that the presentation is impressive."

Just as the way we work is changing, the way we school ourselves is undergoing a similar reformation. Fueled in part by the constant destruction of traditional jobs and construction of new ones, a clientele is growing around the need to go back to school for re-training, or upgrading of skills. Life-long learning has arrived! But how do you fit continuing education into a busy lifestyle?


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