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interview preparation

Everyone knows the feeling when a call or e-mail comes in from a potential employer, acknowledging your job application and asking you to appear for an interview.

Immediately, you ponder your potential future with that employer, dream of your resignation letter to your current employer, and start thinking of what to wear and what to say at the upcoming interview.

Few people, however, give much if any thought to a tool that could send them to the top of the interview panel's list: The portfolio.

Portfolios mostly come to mind when people think of artists or graphic designers, or those who work in advertising, journalism or some other type of creative role. But it can apply to virtually every field.

Simply put, a portfolio is a physical or electronic collection of some of your best work samples. For many roles, it can be used to enhance your work, and interest others in the work that you have done. Portfolios are a great way to illustrate your work, so you not only tell the interview panel about your accomplishments – you show it to them as well.

The portfolio, a physical accompaniment to your job interview, could be the one thing that takes you to the next level in the selection process, and perhaps secure the job itself.

There are three things you should keep in mind when assembling such a portfolio.

1. Use an appropriate format

Portfolios can come in two formats, electronic or hard copy. If you choose to bring samples of your work electronically, make sure your portfolio is on a tablet or something that can be easily passed around to the people on the interview panel. Never use a laptop, as they are too large and heavy, and never bring anything that requires IT support, such as a projector.

Although an electronic portfolio may seem to be the most up-to-date method of presenting your work, a simple, hard copy version works really well and is usually stress-free, as it does not require any boot-up time, nor do you run the risk of technological glitches.

Make sure you display your individual portfolio pieces in a separate folder or artist's workbook, with plastic covering each sample to protect it. These supplies can be found at art supply stores. They can be costly, but you can use it each time you interview, now, and later.

2. Select content carefully

Think carefully about what you bring with you. It should not only be a reflection of your best work, but most important, it should encompass samples of the kind of work you are interviewing for.

For example, if the job requires business planning, include a sample business plan you did for a project. Take out all sensitive and confidential information and ensure you have a variety of samples relevant to the types of questions you predict will be asked of you.

Do not bring more than eight different pieces to show the interview panel.

3. Show while you tell

Always, always display portfolio pieces as you talk about them. Use the piece to illustrate what you are talking about, at the time you are talking about it. For example, if you are talking about a risk analysis, bring out the sample and pass it to the interviewers as you talk about it. It will help you discuss it fully, and help answer questions the panel will have.

The biggest mistake people make is saving the portfolio until the end of the meeting, when the interview panel has completed its questions and would like to move on to the next candidate. Time, and attention span, has run out.

Portfolios should be an important part of your interview strategy. They can be designed to illustrate your work as a professional, as well as demonstrate your utmost professionalism to the panel.

Without one, it could be a missed opportunity and, in today's highly competitive job market, that is a chance no one should take.

Eileen Dooley is general manager of Calgary-based career transition and outplacement firm McRae Inc.