A cell phone, e-mail and a work portfolio have one thing in common:
all may be distractions.
The distraction of a portfolio is particularly felt at an interview.
That's the message we deliver to junior and mid-level professionals at
conferences and seminars.
Indeed, the executives we work for often discuss the challenge of moving
beyond the portfolio when they interview junior professionals. Senior
executives are well aware of the downside of portfolios.
The portfolio shifts the focus to clips, annual reports and myriad
material things, limiting substantive conversation. As a result,
exciting areas of promise that may make or break the candidate may be
The portfolio also has another drawback in the first interview. It often
forces participants, once sidetracked, to go deeper into the
'show-and-tells.' The conversation dwells on the person's history, but
tells virtually nothing about aspirations, or the ability to answer
forward-looking questions and think on one's feet. The portfolio may
produce some interesting war stories, but so what?
The portfolio also presents another issue: what you see isn't
necessarily what you get. Whether it's a speech, an op-ed, or a
marketing brochure, the material in the portfolio has been edited -
slightly or extensively.
Finally, if you are more junior, you probably don't have much you can
show which really is all yours. And, if you are a mid-level
professional, what do the brochures emphasize? Do you want to be a
brochure writer or a strategic planner?
There are dangers, too. In one situation, an agency professional
included an item she said she had done recently. She was a little loose
in her wording: she actually had 're-done' it. The person she was
interviewing with had written the original. That interview ended
Yes, the portfolio sometimes serves as a conversation starter or bonding
experience. It can even serve up a surprise ('You've had experience in
writing about derivatives?'). But that's the exception rather than the
But, the portfolio can be important in the follow-up letter. It can be
greatly enhanced from 'it was good to meet you' to 'I've enclosed copies
of two brochures I prepared in support of the product launch that we
discussed. I'd be delighted to show you more along these lines ...'
That game plan almost always inspires a second interview, assuming the
first was satisfactory.
In short, the portfolio era is over.