Job Talk Column: The Online Portfolio: No Longer Optional?

by Lisa Campbell

Online portfolios have been around since the early 21st century. At the time, they were one of several electronic alternatives to the traditional print portfolio. Instead of putting copies of your professional documents in a binder, you could burn them to a CD, save them to a disk or memory stick, or upload them to the internet. Library literature as recent as 2005 suggests that handing a prospective employer a physical item containing your portfolio, whether print or electronic, was a perfectly acceptable, and even common, practice. You could consider both formats and decide which was right for you.

Physical portfolios are rarely an option for today’s information professionals because the hiring process has become increasingly paperless. The widespread availability of inexpensive, reliable computing equipment with internet access favors digital documents. In fact, a recent post on AOL Jobs predicted that digital portfolios would replace paper resumes in the coming year. I am not sure I completely agree, but I am not surprised because I have witnessed this shift firsthand.

When I attended my first ALA Midwinter Meeting in 2008 (as a student), I brought along a paper portfolio with my resume, transcripts, work examples, and references. A year later, when I began to apply for jobs, print documents were rarely accepted. Most positions required me to complete an online application and attach an electronic resume and cover letter. I learned that even if print materials were permitted, an HR employee would most likely convert them to PDFs for distribution. Now, when I serve on search committees, I rarely handle a print resume or cover letter until the final round of interviews, and only then because they are easier to carry around and take notes on during a candidate’s presentation.

It is in your best interest to create an online portfolio or maintain an online presence because people are going to Google you. Like it or not, a Google search has become an integral, if unofficial, part of the hiring process. Hiring and training a new employee is costly, so employers attempt to minimize risk by finding out as much about you as possible. You may be Googled by a search committee member, a human resources representative, or a potential supervisor or coworker. How will your online presence (or lack thereof) influence how these people perceive you? Will you be seen as a positive, skilled professional? Or will you come across as someone out-of-touch or worse, unemployable?

Creating an online portfolio is an easy way to add credence to the skills and accomplishments on your resume. It can also demonstrate required or preferred qualifications. For instance, if a job requires web building skills, a polished, functional website may speak louder than a bullet point on a document. Similarly, if a position requires experience with social media, a single page linking your relevant accounts might be a good solution. Creating an online portfolio still requires some technical expertise, but the process isn’t as difficult, time-consuming, or expensive as it used to be. There are many free and inexpensive options for web building and hosting, as well as tracking tools that can inform you if and when prospective employers find you.

I realize a portfolio isn’t the only way to have a professional online presence. I recommend it for the sake of professionalism and ease-of-updating. Prospective employers do look at websites; when I am screening applicants, I click on hyperlinks in resumes and cover letters - perhaps not all of them, but most of them. I appreciate when a candidate links to a well organized website listing their experience, skills, accomplishments, and presentations or publications- especially when I can get a sense of their design sense, interests and what they might be like as a person.

When I first started applying for jobs, I chose not to create an online portfolio. I already had a food blog, which I thought was an effective way to demonstrate web, writing, and media creation skills I wanted to showcase. As my career has progressed, I’ve begun to doubt the sufficiency of just linking to a food blog on my resume. I anticipate that in the near future, I will need to seriously consider creating a way for colleagues to access all my professional accomplishments in one place, if only because I have a relatively common name.

I don’t think it will be long until online portfolios are no longer optional for new librarians. Luckily, there are numerous articles on the subject, some which I have linked to below. Many list potential formats you can use, types of content to include, and pros/cons to consider. As you begin to build your online portfolio or presence, strive to maintain personal integrity and demonstrate the value you can bring to a job. If you can do that without a big ego or a bad attitude, you will increase your chances of finding success.

Further Readings

Lisa Campbell is the Information Services Librarian at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL