Create a success portfolio


One way to impress interviewers is to provide them with a portfolio of documents that validate your success and your reputation.

Such a sales pitch, incorporating proof of success, is more convincing than uncorroborated promises of future productivity.

Providing hard copies of your documents, rather than electronic versions, allows your interviewers to make a decision about you immediately after your interview — without the task of downloading electronic documents.

A portfolio of tangible, eye-catching work will help you stand out from the pack. For example, I recently helped a GS-14 Web master prepare an interview portfolio that included printouts of Web pages he had produced. The result? He got the job, and his interviewers later told him that he had been the only applicant to show them work products, which bowled them over.

Your interviewers may use your portfolio to sell you to other decision-makers who don’t attend the interview. For example, I know a GS-15 communications expert who provided his interviewer with a chapter of a book he had recently published. The result? The communications expert got the job, and his interviewer told him that his chapter had helped him convince other managers that he was indeed the “go-to” guy in his field.

How to prepare a winning portfolio:

*Purchase labels and about 10 plastic portfolios with pockets as soon as you begin your job search. That way, you won’t have to do a last-minute, midnight run for these materials when you need them.

*Obtain each interviewer’s name and title when you’re invited to an interview. Then, immediately begin preparing a portfolio for each interviewer.

*Neatly label and annotate materials so that your portfolio will be self-explanatory. Emphasize key text, such as glowing praise, with a highlighter. Identify your contributions to group projects.

*Your portfolio’s first pocket should contain a well-formatted, hard-copy version of your résumé — not a printout of your hard-to-read online résumé. Your interviewers won’t necessarily read your résumé before the interview.

*Your portfolio should also feature your business card, reference list and impressive documents. These might include: reports, published articles, newsletters, press releases, Web pages, press clips or printouts of PowerPoint presentations that you wrote, that quote you or that cover your projects.

*Other documents could include enthusiastic annual evaluations; praising e-mails from managers, colleagues or clients; evaluations from conferences or trainings you organized; copies of awards and their justifications; academic transcripts; written recommendations from your references; programs from events and conferences that featured your presentations; explanatory maps, charts and photographs; and artwork or marketing materials you designed.

Caveat: Hiring managers are busy — always. So include in your portfolio only highlights that relate to your target job. This principle was violated by an applicant for a federal contracting job who brought to her interview what her interviewer described as “a huge, three-ring binder of sample contracts that was thick enough to choke a rhinoceros.” Because of its volume, the binder only inspired pity for the applicant, not a desire to hire her, recalls the interviewer.

Practice weaving your portfolio into conversation and requesting a minute to walk your interviewers through it. Include several quick descriptions of how your projects improved your office’s operations, enhanced its reputation or pioneered a new approach.

When you present your portfolio to your interviewers, position it for viewing by all interviewers, and point to it. Look up!

If possible, leave a success portfolio with each interviewer. You will thereby leave indelible impression of your achievements that will linger after your interview is over.

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.


About Author

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is Ask your career questions by email to or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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