Friday, August 31, 2007

Constructing a PR portfolio

What is a PR portfolio?
A portfolio provides prospective employers with evidence of your ability to do the job. Traditionally, the student gathers materials into a binder (use plastic page covers) and brings it to job interviews.

What items are included?
You can choose from a wide array of items based on your interests and career goals. Examples include:
The one thing I do hear is that prospective employers like to see variety--items geared at different audiences or different media; things from different jobs/internships/volunteer projects; and so forth. And the most important thing of all is to choose only your best work. Quality is vastly more important than quantity.

Note: PR newbies can include course work. As a professional once told me: "We know they're students." If you include group project materials, you should specify what you actually did.

How do I organize it?
I've heard different advice on this. First, where to put it. Richard Bailey says at Leeds Met they use large artist's portfolios. One of my former students recommends not spending a lot on a leather-bound book ("We know they're students" comes to mind again here.) The main thing, I think, is making sure it's clean, neat and well-organized.

As for organization, again, there is room for creativity. Some people organize contents by job or project. Others organize by type of material (press releases together, Web content in another section, etc.). Your organization will reveal something about your personality as well as your job interests. If you're a traditional person looking for a job in a conservative sector like banking and finance, bright colors and weird fonts aren't going to work.

Some people give the portfolio a theme and use section dividers that are tied to the theme (for example, a theater theme or an architecture theme)-- I don't actually recommend this because they tend toward the cutesy rather than the professional; and I heard a story (possibly apocryphal) about a person who used a "bomb" theme with lots of "dynamite" and "explosives" throughout. Not a good idea in the post-9/11 world. But the theme approach has worked for some people.

However you organize it, recognize that organization is vital. Most employers say that they only skim over a portfolio, often while they're interviewing you. Those with obvious errors--grammatical mistakes, crumpled pages, poor design--get tossed aside, while good ones may get only 15 minutes. Make the most of your short time.

What about electronic portfolios?
The computer-savvy student can put most of these same items online and provide the link in your cover letter. However, you've got to consider security issues. Don't put personal information online (yours or anyone else's -- references, professors, teammates from group projects, etc.). Convert writing and design samples to PDF files. Provide links to your blog or other social media, or to news stories that ran because of your work. You will probably want to keep a print version to take to the interview as well.

When should I start working on it?
Now. I can say that without equivocation because no matter what stage you're at, you can be doing something. If you're just starting out, think about what kinds of materials you want to include and set about making sure you have them -- volunteer to plan an event and save all the materials; write for the school paper and cut the clips; get an internship that involves media relations or B2B. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE! I've had so many graduating seniors tell me, "I did this or that but I didn't keep it." If you're almost ready to graduate, you have less time but you may be more aware of the exact type of job you want and can therefore focus your efforts on that industry (such as arts, politics, or healthcare) or function (such as media, investor, or community relations). I titled this post "Constructing" because I want to emphasize the idea that you can have a plan and build a portfolio that suits your career goals.

See also: 2003 Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune article on portfolios.

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Comments:
As someone interviewing folks with portfolios...online is great, but ALWAYS bring a printed version. And focus on work you can speak to in detail. If it looks cool, but you had less to do with it, leave it out! Interviewers are trying to get an idea for what you can do.
 
In conjunction with our colleagues in advertising, our program hosts a portfolio workshop each spring and one question that crops up each time: "should I include my graded assignments with faculty comments?" My feeling is, why not? Karen, what do you advise your students?
 
Christine, actually I advise mine to clean it up and then put it in the portfolio. I think a potential employer seeing a paper full of my scrawls and another potential employee's clean copy will form a more negative impression, even if unintentionally, of the messy one.

BTW, can I participate in the workshop?! :-) Sounds like fun.
 
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