Get ahead, go digital


This is an article by Ben Cotton.
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With graduate jobs seemingly harder to come by, the opportunity to distinguish oneself at a job interview has never been more important. Some PR graduates try to mark themselves out from the crowd by studiously arriving at interviews weighed down by hard copy portfolios, whilst others nonchalantly turn up in the hope that their intelligence and natural charm will be enough to sway the interviewer.

Ben CottonThis scenario has led me to consult with practitioners, graduates and academics to ponder what the best approach should be. Clearly students want to be able to demonstrate to a prospective employer that they have the skills coupled with the aptitude and experience for the job. However some are put off by the idea of dragging in a cumbersome portfolio, but do not dare to adopt the nonchalant approach.

Compelling case

I found that many in the industry believe the answer to be graduates putting their best work online. The more I looked into the concept of online portfolios, the more compelling the argument for them became. I have always been a firm believer that each generation should distinguish itself from the last and we as digital natives should behave as such. E-portfolios offer the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Traditionally, it has been difficult to marry the needs of university and industry and hard copy portfolios did address that need. However the PR industry and technology has evolved since their inception and e-portfolios are the best way to bridge this gap. Everyone accepts that if you understand HTML, know about podcasting and have implemented an online PR campaign, the digital world is the most logical way to display this.

The general consensus of practitioners is that an e-portfolio should contain the same examples of work that would make up a hard copy. However, the big advantage of digital portfolios is that they can be made up of different types of technology. By including video, audio and blogs a student can demonstrate they are web 2.0 savvy, something which is an increasingly desirable skill in a competitive job market.

Behind the Spin’s editor Richard Bailey has been an advocate of portfolios going digital for some time, whilst across the pond in the US, Robert French’s students at Auburn University have been doing it for years now.

Robert French says e-portfolios can:

  • Give your resume/portfolio a broader audience.
  • Allow you to illustrate your skills in an online environment.
  • Be easily enhanced with video, audio, photos, and PDF files.
  • Make the interactive process faster via email and chat.

French adds: often I learn from recent graduates that one of their first tasks is doing work online, working on an intranet, researching in social networks, creating social media releases, and more. All may be illustrated much better with an online portfolio.

Karen Russell of Georgia University also speaks in glowing terms about e-portfolios: the biggest advantage is that you can use multimedia, videos, flash, blogging and more to exhibit all of your skills. They also show creativity and initiative on the student’s part. So even if those particular skills aren’t needed, the applicant might gain from being seen as a person with those qualities.

Google as personal reputation engine

Employers have been quick to recognise their value too, Stephen Waddington, managing director of Speed Communications says: e-portfolios are a superb shop window into an individual’s skill and expertise. They enable a student to demonstrate the extent of their knowledge in an open and transparent way. We all leave a digital footprint on social networks and user generated content sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Linked In and Twitter. Inevitably employers are using Google as a personal reputation engine and scrutinising these types of sites to review an individual’s career history and work ahead of hiring an individual.

I also spoke to Roger Warner, founder of Content & Motion PR. He mentions how portfolios have been the norm in creative industries such as graphic design and fashion and are now commonplace in PR. He also stresses the importance of social networking sites and how they can be used as a gateway for employers to recruit staff. Warner says: if someone has Tweeted about a new client or a successful piece of work, do not be afraid to ask if they will be recruiting more people for that account. This demonstrates an interest in the consultancy and that you understand social media.

Warner adds: to really impress, why not give a presentation of your e-portfolio and show results using a combination of Google analytics, press cuttings and testimonials.

David Turnbull of Skywrite Communications created an e-portfolio when he was a final year student: I believe that being able to produce something a little different, whilst also demonstrating proficiency with technology is something that appeals to employers.”

Emma Long who is on her sandwich year at Air Products says: I would like to think an e-portfolio will give me a competitive edge – whether it be showing a good use of new media skills or simply because employers are able to see a sample of work a lot sooner. It also allows interviewers to begin thinking about potential questions regarding your work allowing the interview to be a lot more thorough and cover more ground.

Whilst the benefits of e-portfolios are slowly being recognised and more students are taking the digital leap, some predict they will not replace hard copy portfolios, but accompany them as Robert French argues: “e-portfolios are not going to replace the paper version, but they do supplement the resume/portfolio process.

Karen Russell adds: ‘‘I think most people can see the benefits of e-portfolios, but many (including me) recommend that students retain some form of print portfolio as well. Most interviewers won’t stop the interview to call up a student’s site, but they will flip through a paper portfolio.

Security and confidentiality

E-portfolios by nature are a very public tool to demonstrate work to the world, but this also brings up the issues of identity theft, client confidentiality and online safety. Robert French advises his students not to place their phone numbers online, unless they have a forwarding phone number from a site like Kall8 or Skype. French also suggests that students create a Gmail or other email account solely for their e-portfolio.

Karen Russell cautions: ‘’I advise students to save individual items as PDF files so they can’t be altered and to remove identifying or personal information, such as telephone numbers, client information, or contact information for references.’’

However, French concludes: ‘’I always return to the positive results we’ve had with e-portfolios. Students do get jobs based upon their work. If nothing else, the digital resumes and portfolios allow them to stand out from their peers. I’ve had many instances where students feel that it was their digital work that made the difference and landed them a job or internship.’’

PR is a communications industry, so perhaps practitioners, academics and students need to sit down together and work out what a portfolio should include. We need to get to a situation where portfolios have enough academic weighting, but also and perhaps more importantly demonstrates the skills that employers want.


Top tips for e-portfolios

  • Keep your e-portfolio updated, treat it as something that evolves.
  • Promote your e-portfolio online via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging.
  • Buy a domain name. They are relatively cheap and will give your site a professional touch.
  • Plan your e-portfolio and make it easy to navigate. Simplicity is king.
  • Display the work you’re most proud of first. Even if you’re featuring 15 pieces of work, a prospective employer is only likely to view the first 3 or 4.
  • Ensure that you explain what each item is displaying – it is very easy to showcase your work but not include what input you had or what skill(s) it demonstrates.
  • Try to segment your work so that potential employers can easily view work they are interested in.

Comments

  1. Google profiles are also a very good way to be known – no SEO issues (it’s Google) and easy accessibility make it a powerful tool for building online presence.

    Another excellent point Ben makes is taking advantage of media convergence. Showing that you understand the PR work in various forms (print, online, video, audio) makes you more valuable for the future employer.

  2. Very true and a good article! We found that by having our portfolio online, agencies are more likely to look at it as it’s less time consuming for them!

    An online portfolio should show your personality your best work. If you can do that successfully, then you should find employers crying out for you!

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