“Thanks for coming in. Do you have any questions for the interview team?”
“Well, I just wanted to show you my portfolio before I go…”
Thus ended half a dozen interviews I've conducted over the years. Every time, a thick folder or 3-ring binder was briefly passed around, barely perused, and returned to its owner.
We seem to love portfolios in education. Certainly, for some purposes, they're better than any alternative.
But please—stop bringing them to job interviews.
Nobody wants to look at your portfolio, and nobody is going to give you a job because they were impressed by your binder.
How Portfolios Caught On
I blame universities.
Students in teacher and administrator certification programs do a great deal of work that doesn't really deserve space in the applicant's résumé, so portfolios seem like a natural way to organize this work.
The portfolio format is a great fit for the university's assessment needs. Since graduate students may not have actual student data to share, yet may be required to demonstrate competence in a variety of areas, portfolios make a ton of sense.
Somewhere along the way, though, university supervisors started to suggest that candidates should bring these portfolios along to interviews.
More evidence can't hurt, right?
I don't think bringing along a portfolio hurts your chances, but it certainly doesn't help.
Why Interview Teams Don't Care About Portfolios
As a candidate, your role is to make the best case you can that you're the best person for the job.
You want to bring everything to the table, so all the evidence is taken into consideration. You want them to see the real you, regardless of what format you may choose.
But the interview team's goal isn't to learn everything about you. It's not to see the real you. It's to compare you to the other candidates on pre-determined dimensions, using pre-determined data sources.
Your cover letter matters. Your résumé matters. Your interview matters.
But unless you were specifically told to bring a portfolio, it won't be considered—because it doesn't allow for a comparison with other candidates.
So is it a waste of time to compile a portfolio?
How To Capitalize On Your Portfolio In Your Interview
If you're not required to compile a portfolio, don't bother. But you should at least keep a comprehensive list of your achievements as an educator.
And if you are required to make a portfolio, it's a great start on your comprehensive list.
Now, as I said above, no one will want to see your portfolio or list. But it's invaluable as a preparation tool.
In your interview, you'll be asked a variety of questions about your experience, and more and more employers are asking “behavioral” questions that ask you to share an example from your professional experience of how you've addressed a particular type of situation.
For example, you might be asked how you resolved a conflict between two parties, or how you responded to a complaint, or how you identified and addressed an inequity.
More than any other type, these are the questions that catch people off-guard.
But you'll be amply prepared to answer behavioral questions if you've carefully compiled a list of:
- Projects you've managed
- Committees you've worked with
- Problems you've solved
- Challenges you've overcome
- Students you've reached
By itself, the list has no power.
But if you use it to rehearse your answers to the most common interview questions you're likely to face, you'll blow your competition out of the water.
You'll wow the interview team with specific, well-told stories of how you've made a difference. And you'll find that a single story can lend itself to a number of different behavioral questions.
But only if you've prepared yourself to talk about your experience in a way that sells you as a candidate.
Practice Making The Case
Most job-seekers understand that they'll be expected to talk about themselves in interviews—a task that's profoundly uncomfortable for many people.
Because it's uncomfortable, many candidates don't practice, and do a very poor job of making the case that they're the best person for the job.
Some people are naturally confident—perhaps overconfident—and as a result, they have an outsize chance of landing the job.
If you're naturally humble and hesitant to toot your own horn, you're at a disadvantage.
Unless you practice.
The way to practice is straightforward: using a list of interview questions, draft your answers briefly on paper. Then, with a friend or by yourself, practice answering a barrage of questions in real time, and record the results on video.
If you expect your real interviews to last 30 minutes, practice 30-minute interviews. Strive to match your practice approach to the type of interviews you'll actually face.
Then, watch the video.
(Most people won't do this, because it's uncomfortable, and that's where you can gain an advantage.)
Look for awkward responses, incomplete answers, or missed opportunities. Look for odd mannerisms or facial expressions.
Revise your answers, and keep practicing until they're perfect.
Rehearse until you don't sound rehearsed. And you'll be ready.
Practice Interview Questions
If you're applying for educational leadership positions, download my 52 practice interview questions here.