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If it’s true that a picture is worth 1,000 words, why don’t jobseekers come to job interviews prepared to show and tell?
One of the best ways to do this is with a “brag book,” otherwise known as a portfolio, leave-behind, or interview presentation binder.
While portfolios are expected in certain “creative” professions, jobseekers in many more “traditional” fields could benefit from preparing a brag book to use in an interview.
Putting together a brag book is also an excellent way to prepare for a job interview, as it can be used to reflect on what knowledge, skills, and abilities will be most relevant for the targeted position.
A brag book is also an excellent confidence booster. There’s just something about seeing all of your accomplishments in print that boosts your confidence and self-esteem.
A brag book is useful in a job search to:
Tangibly showcase your accomplishments
Document the breadth/depth of your educational credentials, training, and professional development
Set you apart from other candidates who are interviewed for the job
Give you a “prop” to make you more comfortable answering questions in the interview
Allow you to provide greater depth and detail about your qualifications than yoau can on the résumé alone
Posting a portfolio online can help set you apart from other candidates in a competitive job market. You can link to your digital portfolio on your LinkedIn profile as well as provide a link to the portfolio on your résumé.
The brag book is primarily designed to be used in the job interview — both to illustrate your qualifications and (possibly) as a leave-behind piece. Developing a customized brag book for use as a leave-behind can be a very effective strategy. It shows you prepared for the interview.
A brag book can also be used in your current job — for example, in a performance evaluation meeting or when requesting a raise and/or promotion.
Brag books support your qualifications as a candidate. The purpose of the brag book is to substantiate the information contained in your résumé and on your LinkedIn profile. Thus, your résumé and LinkedIn profile are the best place to start when compiling your brag book.
What to Put in Your Brag Book
How do you decide what to include in your brag book?
Review your résumé and identify any portfolio pieces that could substantiate your education, experience, training, or other qualifications.
Think about the responsibilities of the position you are seeking. Are there any skills that the position requires that you want to showcase your experience with — for example, writing, photography, social media, or leadership?
Here are some of the kinds of things you can put in your brag book:
A copy of your college or university transcript
Copies of the certificates or diplomas for trainings/workshops/degrees listed on your résumé
Example of major class assignments — report, presentation, or project (for recent graduates)
Documentation of knowledge of a foreign language (certificate, grade, or test result)
Performance evaluations (or excerpts of evaluations) from supervisors or managers
Work samples (projects, newsletters, photographs, case studies, proposals, surveys)
Papers/reports/publications you’ve authored
Samples of communication/writing skills (writing samples)
Evidence of computer/multimedia skills
Logs/lists/charts that document your performance
Sales information — but make sure you are not disclosing confidential information
30-60-90 Day Plan — what you plan to do in the first 30, 60, and 90 days on the job in your new position
Awards and Honors
If you mentioned an award on the résumé, include a copy of the certificate or photo of the trophy
Photos of individual or team participation in an event or award
Include copies of any thank you letters you’ve received, including letters and emails from customers and/or co-workers
Letters of recommendation from previous supervisors and managers
List of references
LinkedIn Recommendations — you can either select a few and put one on each page, or put together a page of Recommendation excerpts
Community or Organizational Involvement
List of professional affiliations, including leadership roles
Clubs or activities you’re involved with
Photos of events you helped organize
Newspaper clippings featuring you at work or your involvement in charity work or with a nonprofit organization
Other Documentation to Include
Personal statement or philosophy
Career overview (bio or list of positions/dates)
Photographs of you in action (on the job, or involved in volunteer activities)
Photo of you delivering a presentation
How to Create Your Brag Book
You can make an excellent hard copy (physical) brag book for under $30 — but you may decide to invest more, depending on how many pages/sections you include.
First, assemble any and all materials you are considering including in your brag book. Start a file of all of the documents that you may possibly want to include.
If you don’t already have them, contact previous supervisors and request letters of recommendation.
Call your college or university and request a copy of your transcript. Or check the school’s website — some allow you to order transcripts online. If you have to, pay for a certified copy of your transcript rather than logging into an online account and simply printing out a list of classes.
Next, review your materials to prioritize what to include.
Create a logical order and structure for your brag book. This can be reverse chronological or by section. Start with your most recent accomplishment and work backwards.
Your brag book should be 10-25 pages in length.
If it’s more than 20 pages, it should include a table of contents, listing the documents that are included (although you do not have to number the pages).
Consider creating sections to make it easy to navigate. If dividing the brag book into sections, use professional divider tabs. You can purchase these in an office supply store. Generally, a 5-tab or 8-tab configuration is sufficient.
You can purchase a view binder from an office supply store. Choose the most durable (heavy-duty) option they sell — and opt for the “D” ring style instead of the standard “O” ring. (This makes it easier to turn the pages.) A 1” or 1-1/2” size is sufficient to start.
Have a cover made for your portfolio. Title it “Professional Portfolio of [Your Name].”
This is easily done on Fiverr.com (www.fiverr.com). For $5, you can have a flat image designed. Search for an ebook cover designer. This one was designed by a designer named Vikiana (www.fiverr.com/vikiana). Send along a high resolution photo of yourself.
For an extra $20, you can get both a front and back cover, plus a spine design.
Purchase clear sheet protectors — the kind you can slip sheets of paper into. Either top-loading or side-loading sleeves will work. Purchase the heaviest (strongest) ones they have — and make sure they will hold 4-5 sheets of paper. (You will include multiple copies of each page in one sheet protector, so you can give a copy to the interviewer — at their request.)
Have color laser prints/copies made of your photos and documents — or, if you print them yourself, make sure you choose the highest quality setting on your printer. Color prints are preferable to black-and-white.
Do not, under any circumstance, include original documents in your brag book (except for your résumé). This way, if you are asked for your transcript, for example, you’re giving the interviewer a copy (one of several you’ve made), not your only copy (your original).
Take the time to “polish” the materials. For example, type a key phrase or phrase from a performance evaluation on a single sheet, listing the name of the supervisor who wrote it and the date of the review. This makes your brag book more “scannable.”
Design your pages. Don’t just include a photo — to be sure to put a description of what’s going on in the photo, who is in the photo (identify the scene/setting/participants), and your role. Use captions to explain/highlight the specific skills or experience you are emphasizing (if the item is not self-explanatory).
Proofread and edit carefully. Review all the materials in your brag book for typos, spelling, grammar, and formatting issues. Have a friend or family member proofread it too.
When possible, tailor your brag book specifically for a desired job. If you use a 3-ring binder with page protector sheets, you can simply insert the pages you want to include for a particular job interview. For example, if the position requires public speaking skills, include a photo of you delivering a presentation to a large crowd. If the position does not require presentation skills, then you could leave that page out.
For maximum results, personalize the portfolio — especially if it’s a leave-behind piece.
The first page should include some or all of the following information:
Full contact information — your name, address, cell phone, email
Your LinkedIn URL
Job title and company name for the position being sought
Your photo (either a professional photo or a photo of you at work)
A few more tips:
Choose only the best examples of your work to include.
Carefully cultivate items to include that provide concrete evidence of your skills.
When in doubt, leave it out. If you are not sure if you should include a particular item, don’t put it in your portfolio.
Creating Online Brag Books
According to a 2012 survey conducted by Hams Interactive, 37% of hiring personnel use social websites to check on clients. A digital portfolio is one way to highlight what hiring managers will find about you online.
A digital or online version of a brag book has several advantages. Creating duplicate physical brag books is time intensive and can get expensive. Digital brag books can be copied and customized very easily. They are also easily shared with prospective employers. A digital brag book is also easier to keep updated.
Another advantage of a digital brag book is the multimedia capabilities — you can include video, audio files, photos, and document files.
One new, innovative way to create a brag book online is to use Pinterest (www.pinterest.com). Because Pinterest is a visual medium, search out images to represent career milestones — for example, a photo of you in a cap and gown with your diploma, and then a close-up of your diploma. Or a photo of you receiving a sales award, and then a scan of the award certificate. Pinterest also allows you to pin videos, so you can include a video of you making a presentation, for example.
Do you work with recognizable client companies? Assemble their logos in a collage labeled “Key Clients” or “Strategic Account Management.”
You can also create a PowerPoint presentation and save it as a PDF file that you can bring up on an iPad or other tablet device in a job interview. Here’s a PowerPoint presentation example:
Microsoft offers numerous free PowerPoint templates:
Before using a brag book in an interview, you will need to practice. Incorporate your brag book as part of your natural conversation. Role-play an interview with a friend, colleague, or family member, and practice referring to your brag book to answer questions.
At the beginning of the job interview, let the interviewer know you’ve prepared a “portfolio” that illustrates your qualifications and accomplishments. Offer to let him/her review it. If the interviewer declines, set it aside until you need it to illustrate a point or answer a question in the interview.
You can offer the brag book again at the conclusion of the interview. In general, you will not want to leave your brag book with the interviewer, unless you are specifically asked to do so. Being asked to leave it is a great sign that the interview went well.
However, don’t plan on getting a leave-behind brag book returned. If you don’t get offered the job, you can follow up and request the book back, but don’t be surprised if the interviewer can’t locate it, or says it’s been discarded. This happens. Instead, consider creating a specific leave-behind version of your brag book. You can have a bound book made at your local office supply store. Have your customized cover printed on cardstock, and have the book wire-bound or spiral-bound.
If you have not created a specific leave-behind portfolio and you are asked to leave a brag book with the interviewer, immediately start working on creating a replacement book. If you get the original book back, you’ll have a spare. This is also why it’s important not to include original photos or documents in your brag book.
Building your brag book from scratch will take some time, but you can start small and improve it over time. Keep it updated and when an opportunity presents itself, you’ll be ready to respond.
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Our memories are short. Can you remember all the details of the project you worked on last week? How about last month? What about a year ago?
One of the best ways to prepare for a time when you will need to share your accomplishments is to collect details of your achievements as you go along — and there’s no better time than now to start!
Accomplishments demonstrate your skills and experience. It’s one thing to claim you can do something — it’s another to prove you’ve done it.
In sports, we keep score. It helps us evaluate our progress compared to others. But in your career, it’s sometimes harder to measure your progress. If your current boss doesn’t provide performance evaluations, tracking your own accomplishments is even more important. You can track your metrics and communicate this information to your boss — you can provide it in an “end-of-year review,” and even if you only submit the information in writing, it can help you showcase what you’ve done and the value you add to the organization.
This guide will give you the framework to collect your accomplishments.
When to Collect Accomplishments
There are many situations when you can benefit from a review of your accomplishments — and it’s not just when you’re developing your résumé for the first time, or when it’s time to update your résumé.
Here are some other reasons for collecting your accomplishments:
For performance evaluations or an annual review
To set your personal and professional goals for the next year
Tracking the progress of projects you’re working on
To support your candidacy and qualifications in a job interview
When you want to make the case for a raise or a promotion
To remind you of your achievements when you’re having a bad day
When applying for recognition (awards or scholarships)
Quantifying your accomplishments also helps you stand out from others who do the work you do — whether you’re using the information for a raise or promotion request, or when seeking a new job opportunity. But accomplishments go beyond the basic job duties and responsibilities.
There is also value in simply collecting and reflecting on your personal and professional accomplishments. If you don’t “toot your own horn,” who will?
Tracking and Documenting Your Accomplishments
There are several ways you can collect your accomplishments:
Online. You can create a Microsoft Word file to document your achievements. (Be sure to back up your file regularly.) In your email program, you can create a folder for accomplishments and send yourself emails to store in that folder. You can also use an app like Evernote.
Offline. Something as simple as a file folder or notebook can be used to track your achievements. You could also use a diary.
When you receive a “kudos” email, forward a copy to your personal email account. To help you organize it, tag or label it with a specific subject line (like “Kudos”).
If you receive notes of appreciation from customers, coworkers, or your company, compile those. You can make a copy and keep it in hard copy form, or take a screen shot and keep a digital copy.
You should also print out and/or take a screenshot of any LinkedIn Recommendations you have on your profile. These are an important part of your accomplishments record as well.
Other ways to document accomplishments:
Collect news clippings (the digital equivalent is setting up a Google Alert for yourself)
Create a brag book or portfolio.
How often should you update your accomplishments? As often as necessary. For some, that may mean weekly updates (for example, if you’re working on a series of projects); for others, that could mean a quarterly assessment. The most important thing is to take the time to do this on an ongoing basis. Put an alarm or task reminder on your calendar so you remember to set aside the time to track your accomplishments regularly.
Writing Up Your Accomplishments
Accuracy in collecting your accomplishments is critical. Quantify the scope and scale of the achievement in terms of percentages, numbers, and/or dollars. Be as specific as you can.
Make the statements as powerful as possible. Include action verbs in your accomplishment statements — in fact, try leading with one. If you are having a hard time thinking of your achievements, you can also review the verb list to brainstorm your accomplishments.
Here is a list of accomplishment-stimulating verbs:
[column-group] [column] Accelerated
Entertained [/column] [column] Enticed
Found and corrected
Professionalized [/column] [column]
Recognized/Recognized need for
Worked closely with
Wrote [/column] [/column-group]
To come up with accomplishments:
Take a look at your past performance reviews
Think about any awards or recognition you’ve received
Answer the questions at the end of this guide
The most important part of the accomplishment is outlining your results. To be most effective, however, you also need to provide context for your accomplishment. There are several different formats to do this.
Here are three common formats: STAR, CAR, and PAR.
An example of a STAR statement would be:
Recruited to revitalize an underperforming sales territory characterized by significant account attrition. (Situation) Tasked with reacquiring accounts that had left the company within the last six months. (Task) Developed contact list for lapsed accounts and initiated contact with decision-makers at each company. (Action) Reacquired 22% of former customers, resulting in $872,000 in revenue.
An example of a CAR statement is:
Manufacturing plant recently had its third accident, leading to a line shutdown. (Challenge) Updated internal safety plan and instituted new training program for production employees to reduce accidents and injuries. (Action) Plant has been accident-free for the past nine months — the longest it has been without accidents in plant history. (Result)
A sample PAR statement would be:
Nursing home employee morale was at an all-time low, and long-time employees were leaving in droves. (Problem) Identified that new scheduling system was not well received by either new hires or long-time employees, resulting in significant dissatisfaction with employee schedules. Instituted new “employee choice” schedule system that increased employee cooperation in determining ideal staffing schedule and improved employee satisfaction as a result. (Action) Reduced turnover by 15%, saving more than $12,500 in hiring and training costs in the first three months after implementing new system. (Result)
Can you quantify your accomplishments through any of these superlatives?
Think about achievements in these situations:
Current job/most recent position
Previous work experience
Summer jobs/work-study positions
Educational experiences (internships, class projects, group projects, study-abroad programs)
Involvement in sports or other extracurricular activities
Consulting or freelance projects
Social networking accomplishments
When collecting accomplishments for a job search, consider the key areas of competency required for success in the position you are seeking. What are the key components of your job? You should be able to identify accomplishments directly related to this expertise.
Ask yourself: What does the person in this role need to actually do and accomplish in order to be considered successful?
This may include accomplishments related to:
Processes and Procedures
Here are some questions to help you come up with additional accomplishments.
What is unique about how you do your job? __________________________________________
Now that you’ve collected your achievements, it’s the perfect time to set some goals for yourself. Another key part of accomplishments is using them to take a “big picture” approach to your life. Take some time to reflect. Finish these sentences:
I learned: _____________________________________________________________________
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