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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:
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.
How do you decide what to include in your brag book?
Here are some of the kinds of things you can put in 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.
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:
A few more tips:
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.
The least effective way to find a job is to apply for advertised openings, sending your résumé online through a company employment portal or a third-party website. You are just one of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of applicants, and even a standout résumé will have a hard time cutting through the clutter if the number of applications reaches in the triple digits or higher.
To increase your chances of securing an interview, you need to bypass the company’s Human Resources department and get your résumé in the hands of the hiring manager. The hiring manager is the person in the company with the ultimate authority to offer you the job. In a small company, it might be the owner or the individual who reports to the owner. In a larger company, it might be your future direct supervisor or a specific department manager.
There are two ways to get your résumé directly to the hiring manager — by email or by snail mail (postal mail). It used to be effective to fax your résumé to a hiring manager, but that has largely fallen out of favor. In many cases, you should actually email the hiring manager and send your résumé and a customized cover letter to the hiring manager via mail. Although you may be tempted to skip this step, or only send an email, you’re going to get more attention as a candidate if you put in the extra effort and actually mail a hard copy of your résumé and cover letter. Few applicants will go to the trouble to do so, so it can really help you stand out.
Note: Send your résumé and cover letter on a quality paper stock (not just the typical copier paper that’s probably in your printer). Mail them, unfolded, in a plain white or manila 9×12 envelope. Make sure you affix enough postage. (Yes, it may cost you $2 to send your résumé by mail, but it can really help you make a strong first impression.)
Address the cover letter and the envelope to the specific hiring manager for the position. But how do you find out the name of this person, if you don’t know it?
Here are some ideas:
Type in the company name:
This yielded several results, including the ability to search for “People who work at PayPal,” “People who used to work for PayPal,” two Company Pages, and two Groups related to PayPal.
We’re going to take a look at the official PayPal Company Page.
On the right side of the page, it identifies there are 11,181 PayPal employees on LinkedIn. Click on the blue “See all” link.
Next, we’re going to try to find a specific department manager — for the Fraud department in Omaha, Nebraska. Click on the “Advanced” link at the top left hand side of the page under the word “Search.”
Use the search criteria to make your selections. In this case, we are looking for the keyword “Fraud,” with the word “Manager” in the job title, at PayPal. In addition, because the job is in Omaha, we have added a local postal code to narrow the results only to likely matches in this geographical area.
While we didn’t find exactly what we were looking for, we did find another possible job title to search. In this case, the top match previously held the position of “Lead Manager, Merchant Fraud” at PayPal.
So if we change our search options (left side, below) to include “Lead Manager, Merchant Fraud” at PayPal, it yields a promising lead. (It’s not an exact match, but he does hiring within the Risk Operations area, as his profile says, “Build, develop, and lead a team of up to 14….”) But we still don’t have a specific name.
Next, we go back to Google, and we’ll enter that exact job title and company to see if we can put a name to the profile.
Sure enough — it comes up with a name. Clicking on the search result shows that it’s the same person.
Even if this specific person isn’t the hiring manager, you’ve identified a specific individual within the company who may be able to help you connect with the hiring manager. You can then see if you have any connections in common with him or her.
All of these strategies can help you find a specific name. Once you have the name, you can learn more about the person.
Look for opportunities to connect with a hiring manager before you send the résumé and cover letter. This will help make your first connection a “warm contact” instead of a “cold contact.”
One final note: If you have the hiring manager’s name but not an email address, see if the company has a standard format for email addresses. For example:
Remember, if you want to increase your chances of getting the job you want, you need to stand out. And one of the best ways to do that is to connect with the hiring manager — either after you’ve applied for a position online, or by identifying a company you’d like to work for and sending a targeted résumé and cover letter.