Career E-Portfolios: The Next Standard in Career Development
By Casey Schacher
This is part one of a two-part special article.
In a society immersed in technology, companies and businesses must have a competitive digital presence in order to contend for contracts and clients. This presence may include digital marketing tools such as promotional CDs as well as Internet representation in the form of web sites. Similarly, recent graduates and new career professionals need advertising strategies that utilize technology in an effort to fully promote their career and educational skills and experiences. This article will focus on career e-portfolios as powerful, yet complex, marketing tools for today’s professional.
A traditional career portfolio is an “organized collection of self-selected artifacts and self-generated reflections, developed for a specific purpose and audience, which demonstrates the author’s professional knowledge, skills, dispositions, and growth over time.”1 Also referred to as electronic portfolios, online portfolios and author web sites, career e-portfolios contain all of these “traditional” elements, only in digital format. Generally speaking, a career e-portfolio is a traditional portfolio that requires a computer in order to be accessed, viewed, and manipulated. Yet this definition cannot and does not completely describe the vast and dynamic qualities of career e-portfolios.
E-portfolios come in multiple formats and serve a variety of functions. Although in his article, “The Digital Convergence,” Gary Greenburg states that the ideal e-portfolio is accessible via the Internet, other common delivery methods include multi-media elements such as CD/DVDs, USB keys, zip disks, and floppy disks.2 Without a doubt, e-portfolios hosted on the Internet offer the greatest marketing potential since they can potentially reach anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. They can include writing samples, graphics, animations, movie and sound clips, databases, web logs (blogs for short), mail forms, hyperlinks, interactive surveys, etc.
Functionally, there are three main types of e-portfolios: developmental, reflective and representational. Developmental e-portfolios are a record of everything that the owner has done over a period of time, thus creating a “gallery” of the accomplishments as they occur.3 This most commonly used type of e-portfolio offers a general overview of the author’s educational and professional background. Reflective e-portfolios include personal reflection on the content and what it means for the owner’s development. This type provides opportunities to demonstrate how course work has contributed to professional development and is useful for those who have recently graduated and have little real-world experience and for those who are currently pursuing continuing education. Representational e-portfolios show the owner’s achievements in relation to particular work or developmental goals and are, therefore, selective and especially useful to professionals working towards targeted job positions of increased responsibility, such as management, or a change in professional focus (e.g. reference to project management). Rather than providing a brief overview, a representational portfolio highlights key information in effort to show how the author is and has been building the skills appropriate for the job. Most career e-portfolios use a combination of these types, mixing and matching where appropriate.
Regardless of the type used, there exist key elements that are becoming increasingly standard in career e-portfolios, including:
A résumé that includes the author’s career and educational highlights.
A brief, personal biography that usually serves as an introduction to the content.
Records of formal and informal education and training. Records of formal learning and training include information about completed courses, such as titles, lengths, and enrollment and completion dates. Records of informal learning identify the skills and knowledge developed, the manner in which that occurred (e.g. conferences, online), and the source of learning.
Artifacts, or examples, of projects for which the author served as a primary or supporting contributor.4
Librarians and other information professionals can benefit from utilizing e-portfolios. As information creation, storage, and retrieval are becoming increasingly digitized, much of the work of information professionals occurs in electronic format. In fact, information professionals regularly generate digital artifacts perfect for e-portfolios, such as bibliographies, instructional materials, electronic tools, web pages, policies and procedures, charts and graphs, reports, cataloging records, and staff training materials.5 As professionals already intimately connected with technology, information specialists are ideal candidates for career e-portfolios.
In addition to including digital artifacts and other e-portfolio elements previously mentioned, librarians can provide further content relating to their education, career, and aspirations. A librarian’s e-portfolio may also contain a reflective statement about the responsibilities and philosophies of librarianship as well as a section detailing how she or he puts them into practice.6 Information regarding professional/scholarly development, activities and objectives can be an effective method of showing how a professional’s regular participation in continued education and specific career-related activities has led to a greater understanding of professional identity and future goals. Artifacts detailing service activities, including external involvement with professional organizations, should be accompanied by a detailed explanation of how those activities represent the information specialist’s greater service philosophy. Finally, a conclusion section provides an opportunity to describe how librarianship and professional/scholarly activities, goals, and service operate together to form a more complete picture of the professional’s values, background and potential.
E-portfolios offer many advantages to career professionals. They provide a way to keep important professional and educational documents organized and easily accessible, an opportunity to showcase educational beliefs, works in progress, career roles, and accomplishments, and a way to increase visibility and highlight skills and experiences that would aid in career advancement and the obtainment of leadership positions.7 E-portfolios are also easy to reproduce and distribute to a mass audience and can be readily duplicated in a cost effective manner (often the price of a CD or a monthly fee for web hosting). They can be distributed to several people simultaneously via the Internet or document sharing.8
One of the main disadvantages of career e-portfolios is that they are difficult to tailor to individual employers offering unique positions. A hunter in today’s fluid job market will likely be submitting resumes for a variety of positions and may find themselves hindered, rather than helped, by his or her career e-portfolio. Voula Cocolakis, director of the Career Centre at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, Canada, says, “People don’t like generic resumes. It automatically puts you in the ’no’ pile.”9 This same concept threatens to tarnish the advantages of e-portfolios. Employers are often flooded with qualified applicants, and job seekers must utilize every resource possible in order to stand out as a competitive candidate. In theory, an e-portfolio can be a powerful presentation tool that creates a rich, positive portrait of a candidate in an employer’s mind, but, in reality, it commonly falls short of this goal by functioning as a generic summary rather than a specific and targeted presentation. Any attempt to customize an e-portfolio to fit each and every potential employer’s interests would be difficult, costly, and perhaps impossible depending on availability of resources such as technical expertise, software availability, and bandwidth.
Another apparent disadvantage of career e-portfolios is the volatile nature of computer and Internet technology. While traditional portfolio materials (i.e. paper and binders or leather cases) are virtually timeless, the resources used to create an e-portfolio are undergoing rapid development.10 Consequently, the owner must be conscious of technological changes that could affect accessibility and performance. Hardware improvements, coupled with updates in scripting language and browser compatibility, could quickly render a once fully-functioning e-portfolio useless. Preservation of digital content requires constant maintenance, and e-portfolios are no exception to this rule.
As difficult as e-portfolios are to maintain, even more challenging is the creation of rich, dynamic content. Digital document creation implies a certain amount of technological know-how; content that encourages interaction on the user’s end (i.e. dynamic content) may require extensive knowledge of programming languages and development software such as Dreamweaver (Macromedia). Although many web hosting providers offer both stock templates that readily incorporate personalized content and professional design services, such as those offered by Website Pros, that create interactive and fully customizable sites, these services can be both costly and time consuming.11 As a result, limited financial and time resources and minimal technological expertise can create a barrier to entry into career e-portfolios for many professionals.
Areas related to career e-portfolios that should be further investigated:
Internet-based e-portfolios provide anyone, anywhere instant access to detailed information regarding a professional’s career and educational background. Yet how secure is this information and to what extent could criminals take advantage of having access to it? Recent reports reveal that online resumes, which provide even less information than an e-portfolio, are being accessed not only by legitimate employers but also by “offshore criminals out to steal identities or bring low-level recruits into international crime rings.”12 Victims of these scams can experience financial loss and even criminal charges. What technology, laws, and procedures are in place to protect e-portfolio authors from being targeted and taken advantage of by sophisticated criminals and crime organizations?
Many web hosts, such as Godaddy.com, offer free web logging tools that enable clients to include blogs in their personal web sites. Recent reports, however, suggest that blogs can hurt employees whose employers monitor their online activities. In fact, Delta Airlines, Google, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, and even Starbucks have terminated employees for their blogging practices.13 Are blogs appropriate for career e-portfolios and, if so, what function could and should they serve?
Coming next month, Part II: How influential will online portfolios be in tomorrow’s job market?
Elmhurst College Faculty Council. “The professional portfolio for librarians.” 2000 http://www.elmhurst.edu/~susanss/TheProfessionalPortfolioforLibrarians.doc (accessed November 22, 2005)
“Why choose Website Pros to design your website?” Yahoo! Small Business , November 22, 2005. http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/webhosting/wsp1.php
Casey Schacher is a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s School of Information Science and Learning Technologies; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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