Career Portfolios For College Students

by Dawn C. Sherman and Edward Kolek

The Value of Portfolios

As part of the Professional Development Seminar (PDS) Program at Nichols College (Dudley, MA), every student must complete a quality professional portfolio. The portfolio is a multi-faceted compilation of the student's academic work, skills and accomplishments over his or her 4 years of college education. Designed specifically to be used in the interview process, the portfolio clearly demonstrates the skills and qualities the student brings to the employer. The portfolio has been an invaluable tool in the interview process for hundreds of Nichols students, and the program has received accolades from dozens of corporate recruiters and has resulted in an untold number of quality interviews and job offers.

The Components of the Portfolio

The portfolio is first developed in the Sophomore PDS course and it is further enhanced in the Junior and Senior courses. It is graded annually, with extensive feedback. This process ensures a quality product which reflects not only on the student, but also on the college.

The foundation of the portfolio is two-fold:


  • based on the college's mission statement, which focuses on professional skill development
  • to meet the needs of the intended audience - corporate recruiters, hiring managers and graduate school admissions counselors

The content requirements of the portfolio are based on the National Association of Colleges and Employers' (NACE) annual list of "Top Ten Qualities Employers Seek" in graduating seniors. The following categories were designed to best demonstrate the students' skills and experience:


  • Required categories:
    Career and Professional Planning and Growth
    Teamwork and Leadership Skills
    Communication Skills
    Analytical/Problem Solving Skills
    Technology Skills
  • Additional Categories (a variety of items in one or more categories):
    Community Service/Volunteer

Within each of these categories, students include evidence of quality academic work, projects accomplished at work and internships, extracurricular activities and athletics, volunteer activities, certifications/licenses, hobbies, travel, and more. Other required components include: a personalized cover with the student's name, a Table of Contents, an Introductory Statement (includes values, personal characteristics, professional goals, experience), resume, and multiple letters of recommendation.

Updating the portfolio is a continual process and a 3-ring binder best serves this purpose as items can be added or removed easily. Within the binder, students must use plastic sheet protectors to safeguard their work and to maintain a professional image. The Table of Contents, title pages and sectional tabs help keep the portfolio organized.

Descriptions of Items and Student Learning

Each item in the portfolio must have a brief description which includes:


  • what the item is
  • when it was completed/accomplished
  • the skills developed or enhanced
  • why it is included in the portfolio

The descriptions not only give the interviewer a framework for the item, but it also allows the student to be reflective about why the item is noteworthy. Thus, the portfolio is important as a product, but the process of developing it becomes an even more important demonstration of the student's professional growth. The students must set goals, make decisions and support them. They are forced to consider what they have learned, judge the value of each component, consider what an interviewer might want to see, and explain their choices.

Effectively Using the Portfolio in an Interview

There are specific methods for using the portfolio effectively in an interview. First and foremost, the portfolio is a tool to complement the student in an interview; it is not designed to be the focus of an interview. Building rapport and communicating clearly with the interviewer are more important than using the portfolio. However, the portfolio does have an important role to play once rapport has been established, and can be the deciding factor in obtaining a second interview.

The following process of using the portfolio in an interview is based on conversations with dozens of recruiters familiar with the Nichols' portfolio process and with hundreds of students who have used the portfolio in interviews:


  • Organize the portfolio in advance - know and prioritize the contents
  • Mentally identify 3-6 items to show that relate to the position interviewing for
  • Carry the portfolio to the interview in/under the left arm or in a leather briefcase
  • If asked, state the portfolio is a collection of best works and accomplishments and can be shown later in the interview to demonstrate skills
  • Once rapport is established and the interview is well underway, the portfolio may be used following the 3 A's method:
    1. Answer the question fully
    2. Ask if an example in the portfolio may be shown
    3. Articulate what the item is and how it relates
  • A CD which includes items from the portfolio may be left with the interviewer.

Benefits of a Portfolio

There are many benefits of developing and maintaining a current portfolio:


  • A thorough process of self assessment and evaluation - defining strengths and identifying areas needing enhancement, an important process before interviewing
  • One organized location for all important items
  • An indispensable tool for use in an interview to prove or demonstrate skills, achievements, talents, organizational skills and more
  • The basis for creating a career portfolio for use in professional positions after graduation, to identify accomplishments and skill areas for performance appraisals and promotions

What We Learned


  • The process of developing a quality portfolio is lengthy and should be done over a period of time for the best results.
  • There needs to be an assessment component - a review of the portfolio with comments/suggestions and a process for making changes. This maintains a quality product, since the portfolio is a reflection of both the student and the college.
  • The portfolio contents and requirements must consistently be reviewed/evaluated to ensure the portfolio's effectiveness in the interview.
  • Be sure the students understand the value of the portfolio in the interview and how they can most effectively use it. Have them practice using it.
  • Include faculty, staff, administrators, and corporate recruiters in an annual process of evaluating the contents and relevancy of the portfolio.

Dawn C. Sherman is the Assistant Dean for On-site Programs in Graduate and Professional Studies and the Director of the Professional Development Seminar (PDS) Program at Nichols College. She chairs the Faculty Committee that created, instituted, and now advises the PDS program. Dawn developed the course materials and class outlines for several of the courses. Currently Dawn coordinates the program's on-going operations, trains the PDS faculty, and teaches in the program. In recent years she has made presentations about the PDS program at several regional, national and international conferences. Dawn holds a M.S. in Counseling/Student Personnel from the University of Rhode Island. Email: dawn.sherman@nichols.edu.

Edward Kolek is the Assistant Dean for Learning Services at Nichols College. With over thirty years experience in Higher Education in both academic and student affairs in four states; he has spent the last twenty years at Nichols College. He has taught in the Professional Development 1st Year Program (PDS) and was responsible for the program from 1995 to 2002. He also served on the PDS committee at the college and taught in the PDS-2 Program. Edward holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Connecticut. Email: edward.kolek@nichols.edu.

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