college career office being pushed to give students bad advice

A reader writes:

I am a former HR manager who decided RIFing is not good for my soul. I decided to get into Higher Education a couple of years ago. I have recently accepted a position as a Director of Career Development. I know all about the bad and outdated advice that university career centers dispense to their students—I’ve seen it in action when recruiting candidates in my former life. I want to do better.

I am being pushed by those with fancy titles to create a portfolio program, encouraging all students to develop portfolios to present at interviews when they enter the world of work. I hate the idea—mostly because when I got them as an employer, my thoughts were along the lines of a snarky “Ohhh, but you forgot your dental records!” I realize it is vital for some fields, like graphic design for example. However, I think it is ridiculous for a business student to hand over a folder full of records of participation, awards certificate and writing samples from a theory class.

I’d rather ditch the idea and focus on teaching students to talk about these experiences intelligently in an interview. Is it worth the fight with upper level administrators, or am I just a cynical former HRer?

Hell yes, it’s worth a fight. This is a realm where you can’t give in on stuff that you know is a bad idea, or the next thing you know, you’ll have resigned yourself to telling students to send their resumes via postal mail and call hiring managers several times a week to check the status of their applications.

It sounds like you need to have a talk with the people who are pushing you to do this, to explain that there’s an awful lot of bad or outdated career advice floating around, that you saw lots of it in action when you were doing hiring yourself, and that you’re excited about your position because it’s a chance for students to hear from someone who was hiring for a living very recently. Explain that few employers would care about this type of portofolio (except for fields like design, as you mentioned), that it will actually hurt most students by making them look naive, and that they will get the biggest bang for their buck by focusing on having a strong resume, an awesome cover letter, and fantastic interviewing skills … as well as understanding what type of experience they should get while they’re in school to be better positioned for job-hunting later.

Hopefully you had the “there’s a lot of bad advice out there and it’s important for students to get job search advice from people who actually hire people” discussion when you were being interviewed, and hopefully whoever hired you hired you because of your experience in this area. If not, have that discussion now.

(And let me know how I can help, if at all, because I’m becoming obsessed with the need to reform college career centers. And students, you should be getting obsessed with this too, because right now your very expensive college is probably failing you in this area.)

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. Z*

    I just want to mention that I think it’s great that a college career center is hiring a former HR professional, or even anyone who has worked outside of the university. When I went to my career center, I was seen by someone younger than me who had been a student worker (receptionist type) while he was in college, and then was hired straight out of college to give grad students advice on how to get jobs. Umm…? I wish more career centers would hire people like the OP!

    1. NDR*

      I had the opposite problem. Our career center was run by a woman who’d probably worked there since before I was born. I went in to look for internship advice and got, “Yes, honey, it is GREAT that you want to do an internship. Tell me what you find.”

        1. Natasha*

          Why would that be offensive? Being an English major doesn’t automatically mean you can type at some of the really high speeds that data entry jobs are looking for.

          1. Suz*

            Back in the days before PCs, a lot of women were told not to admit to knowing how to type so you wouldn’t gt pigeon-holed in a secretarial role. Especially if you were trying to get into a male dominated field.

            1. Laura L*

              Yep. One of my former supervisors can’t type because she was job-hunting at a time (’50s or ’60s) where women who could type would be immediately tracked as secretaries.

              And she was told specifically by someone to not learn to type for that reason.

              It’s unfortunate for her now, when being able to type quickly and accurately is important, but hearing that story made me so much more sympathetic to the fact that she was a slow typer.

          2. The gold digger*

            Natasha, what was offensive was her implication that the only job I was qualified for as an English major was as a secretary.

            Of course, I would take a secretarial job in a heartbeat now: 9-5 with OT and no waking up at 2 a.m. wondering if I forgot something in the data conversion plan.

            1. Alina*

              Well I’m a current college student in a science major with a research lab job, and I still had to take a typing test (although I barely type at all at work). So I don’t think they were assuming you would just be a secretary! Most jobs involve typing and computer skills.

            2. moe*

              Ah yes, secretaries live the life of leisure and no professional demands! Only people with Real Jobs wake up at 2am worried about their obligations.

              1. Mohawk1*

                Well that is insulting. I’m taking a 2 years program at college to be an Executive Assistant and I find what you are saying offensive. I worked In the field before and Assistants have also many responsibilities to worry and stress out about. No professional demands ? Get off you high horse please.

    2. Anonymous*

      The director of the career center NEVER obtained a job in his chosen degrees. And he has been in this field ever since. Who thinks that someone without that knowledge and experience can in turn give someone advice on job searching? There has to be some sort of line drawn in regards to the old saying “Those who can’t, teach.”

      1. Anony-M*

        I remember going in to my career center and taking one of those Myers-Briggs personality tests (or whatever they are called). My career advisor showed me his before I took it, and his top results were to work in education or religion. And guess what? He worked in a Jesuit University. Haha!

  2. anth*

    Off topic – my husband is in education. There are school districts which ONLY accept applications by mail (postal).

  3. Cara Carroll*

    Yes please fight! I have this same issue at the local college I work with as well. I attend as many on campus events as I can to interact with students for this very reason. I am so glad there are HR professionals out there who keep up with the times! Good luck!

  4. Charles*

    How badly are they pushing this idea? Can you, perhaps, “go along to get along” and, yet, customize the program so that you mention that it is good for some careers; but, not good for others? Might this satisfy the higher ups without you coming across as the “uncooperative” Director?

    By doing this program, but in your own way, you might get from them things that you think are needed. (yuck, office politics, there isn’t an industry that doesn’t have this nonsense!)

    1. Jamie*

      I’m totally putting in a request to my boss to officially change my title to The Uncooperative Director.

      It has much more panache than Dir of IT – and I have a feeling more than a few people I work with would find it more accurate.

    2. Mike C.*

      Screw “Go along to get along”. The first rule of anything anyone does should be, “Pass No Defects”. This is a fatal defect and should not be tolerated.

      1. Piper*

        I would like this placed above my cubicle in the form of a bright, flashing billboard. My current employer seems so okay with defects and encourages me to turn in mediocre work (with errors). This is so painful for me since it goes against everything I’ve done in my career up to this point and it’s what has defined my success.

        The folks at this job even told me to “change my nature” when it comes to my field of expertise (for which they hired me and then a few weeks later decided they wanted a “robot” instead of a “thinker”- maybe they shouldn’t have a hired a thinker who would never be satisfied with a robot role then).

  5. Ros*

    Oh, my, yes. Fight that!

    (That said, the university may have other reasons to want you to do that: if they’re marketing that as a “portfolio class” and billing students for it – and I’ve seen it done – then $$ is what they’re interested in, not sense.)

    My career center was awesome when I needed it, to be fair – I had just graduated (English Lit, with a minor in history. Dear god, what was I thinking…) and needed a job. The person there walked me through my part-time jobs, listened to what I wanted to do and what I had been doing, and showed me how to link my past work experience together to form something of a coherent whole… and then recommended a job posting they had as something I might be interested in, and helped me work on my CV. 6 years later, I’m a manager in that field, making a very decent salary, and I absolutely love my job. Good career centers are a godsend, really!

  6. fposte*

    Oh, please don’t give up. Might it be worth assessing who the pushback is from and what it’s about? Sometimes a thing like this can look like “Everybody wants it” when it’s really “Julia wants it because the former person put a lot of work into that part of the program and everybody else just nods along.” Can you make a kickass chart that lists the major fields your graduates enter and links them to the kinds of applications that dominate in those fields, with real-life job postings to support the point? Can you find an involved alum in hiring, or a collection, from various fields, to identify the current hiring procedures in their fields–and maybe to talk about how procedures do go through changes and it’s important to be in touch with the current procedures in the relevant industry?

    I’m trying to set up a tactful implication of “I can see where you’d get the portfolio idea, but here’s why it’d cost our graduates jobs.”

    1. kbeers0su*

      this is exactly what i was thinking! i’m also a higher ed professional and am very frustrated that our career center seems to use a single set of advice for all students, regardless of which field they go into. i think this idea- of getting real input about the differences in hiring in individual fields- is phenomenal and really could make a huge difference to so many young people who put their faith in the professionals working in their college or university career center!

    2. cheryltwfl*

      Agreed, stand your ground.

      I would even encourage you to hold a panel of recent employers who hired from your college or at a minimum have those employers complete a survey.

      I have recently hired 4, (very soon to be 5) recent college graduates and found that the career sites did little to prepare candidates. As a professional, in an HR related field, I would have loved to be provided the opportunity to provide this type of feedback to the career centers.

      1. Lindsay H.*

        Good call! It will show, and hopefully sink in, that you’re not just trying to be combative/my-way-or-the-highway. Plus, it could be a great way to build connections for future graduates to come in contact with.

  7. Rana*

    Oh, anything to reform college career centers! I still shake my head over ours; when I went in for career counseling, the most they could do for me was to wave me in the direction of some binders filled with job descriptions, and give me an online self-test that told me (with two graduate degrees in history) that my best bet for a career was either auto mechanic or nuclear submarine pilot.

    I mean, sure, I perhaps could have found satisfaction in one of those careers, but it was rather useless when it came to my immediate need for a job.

    1. ChristineH*

      That can’t be as bad as a friend of mine, who was an art major, being told from one of those tests that she should be a forest ranger!

      1. L. A.*

        OMG I’M SUPPOSED TO BE A FOREST RANGER TOO! Alas, I didn’t follow my supposed true passion and am in PR instead. I think we need a “Should-have-been-a Forest Ranger’s Anonymous”

    2. Anony-M*

      I was a communications major, and I took that test and my top careers were in cosmetology and nature (park ranger, botanic gardens, etc).

      Honestly, though, those would be really fun jobs. I love doing makeup and being outside! I don´t think the results were so random, I think they fit me pretty well. It was a bit disappointing to hear after 4 years of communications classes and an expensive college degree, though…

      1. Rana*

        Yup. After 7 years of grad school, which included some student loans (light compared to today’s but still significant) I wasn’t thrilled to hear that my best job prospects involved going back for more education in a completely different field.

    3. Another Brit*

      We even have those over here. 10 years ago I was told I should be a Librarian or a Insurance Risk Assessor.

      I have no tidying skills at all and tend to work on the basis of “last time I saw it it was here..” to find things. I can’t estimate a probability percentage either.

  8. ChristineH*

    Ooh I could get obsessed with you Alison, and I’m not even a student! Every time I read these posts, I question my sanity because I still use my university’s career center (where I got my Masters degree) from time to time; in fact, I’m in regular contact with one of their counselors. I’ll concede that I haven’t heard the kind of advice many describe here, but that’s not to say they’re dishing it out to the undergrad students.

  9. Siobhan*

    I would say don’t give up the fight. I am five years out of college and I would say that I used almost nothing that my college gave me on information about interviewing and job hunting. I had to go to my local women’s resource center to get the information I use now as well as this blog.

  10. Catherine*

    I work in instructional technology, and e-portfolios is the buzzword of the academic year. The idea is that students gather everything they would have used in a print portfolio online to show they meet certain educational outcomes claimed by the university in a very prescribed way. It’s not even something like a portfolio that a writer or creative type would be able to use (which would be a perfect opportunity for career centers to actually help students). I’m hoping this goes away soon.

    1. JT*

      It’s a bad idea to drag this sort of thing along to interviews, but I think that it’s vaguely it’s a good idea. More specifically, to collect things that you have produced, as well as any awards or such, in a single place online.

      Not material that meets certain educational outcomes, but just work/project examples. I was applying for an internship this year and due to some oddities of the calendar was asked to respond to a bunch of questions via email quickly. One thing I did was point to an example of what I was saying in guest post I did for the blog of a professional association. Not exactly the same thing, but creating an online presence of work you’d like to showcase seems like a good idea to me.

      Not as a rule or something to be pushed on everyone in every field, but as something to consider and perhaps try.

    2. Nikkie*

      I graduated for an instructional tech program last year and I did an e-portfolio. I didn’t think of it as something to drag out during interviews (I’m not even job searching) it was just something I can have in case someone wants to see an example of my work.
      It was nice to view my classmates’ projects as well. I also sent links to everyone that had helped me along the way, serving as project testers, interviewees, consultants and such…

  11. Editor*

    I worked for my expensive alma mater after graduation, and alumni and staff could use the career center. I went in and said, I’ve worked in libraries since I graduated, the job prospects are poor relative to the cost of the master’s degree, what alternatives can you suggest?

    The career counselor said his wife was a librarian and I should go to the nearby library school that she graduated from and become a librarian because I was married. He said it was a good career for his wife and would be good for me too. I never went back there again.

    When my daughter was a business student, her career center placed her in an internship with another male student. The male got to learn about investing and financial management and she got to type and file. When she complained, the career center told her that that was just the way that employer was. They refused to tell the employer he was treating her improperly and they also refused to reassign her to another internship.

    I wish there was a certification program for career center advisers that required periodic service in actual nonacademic HR departments to renew the certification or some kind of current-best-practices continuing education to retain certification. Really, how hard would it be for a regional group of career center leaders to have a one-day meeting with four speakers from real HR departments or talks by managers with extensive hiring experience?

    Or maybe there should be a group that combines people who hire and career center staffers so they meet every quarter or something and try to keep up.

      1. Editor*

        Some things that could be used in continuing education:

        1. The career center people could be given some data for a putative employee or two and be asked to try out the application process for a participating employer, then critique it. Some third party (such as AAM) would supply the employee data. Require four critiques a year for 2 continuing education points/units.

        2. HR people could be asked to collect printouts of documents that haven’t made it through the software in what might have been their original format. Redact any identifying information and scan handouts for a powerpoint presentation where everyone can discuss technical aspects of the application process. Include cover letters and resumes. Worth 2 points/units.

        3. Career center people could collect typical skill listings of graduating seniors by field and submit, say, three examples from each field for hiring managers in those fields (not HR) to critique. Maybe something like this could be run as a webinar or online meeting — this month, it’s finance students; next month, history grads, the following month, chemical engineering. Each session would count as 1 CEU.

        4. Career center people could collect rejection notices (if students would pass them on), redact the employer information, and pool them with critiques so HR people could see the good, the bad and the ugly. 1 CEU.

        And so on. I’m sure you can think of other topics. Would SHRM be open to something like this?

      2. Charlie*

        Could HR people and recruiters go to educational establishments and fill them in on the latest trends? I went to a university yesterday to deliver some workshops on controlling your online image and using social networking proactively to help students network and find jobs. I’d deliver it again at any educational establishment if I was asked, but most don’t ask!

    1. Rana*

      They could take a page from some of the vocational schools out there. I worked for one for a while, and the school’s accreditation depended on at least 75% of the graduates being placed in a job related to their training at the school. You’d better believe that we put a lot of effort into not only placement (such as actively calling employers when we had a student who needed a job) but also prepping students for applying and interviews.

  12. Another Anon*

    When I was in high school I wanted to be a teacher. “What else have you considered?” my father asked. Well, hardly anything, actually, since when I was a child schools were the only “business” I really knew. So I asked my high school counselor for advice. Imagine my surprise: school was the only business she knew as well.

  13. 79 phd*

    I just think it’s great that colleges have career centers! They didn’t in my day. Networking was the only way to get a job back then. And yes, every job asked how fast I could type. Steno skills a plus! I still pull that trick out to impress the young ‘uns. They think it’s court reporting or something. (and before you all get on me for being a self indulgent boomer with outdated skills….I have one more skill for you: Java Programmer)

      1. 79 phd*

        I like taking meeting notes in shorthand just to be an __s. When you get old, sometimes that is all you have. It amuses me.

  14. Recent grad*

    A perspective from a recent grad of a very good, though second-tier MBA program, who also used to work as an assistant for its school’s career center:
    1. University career centers need to give realistic perspective to students what works and what doesn’t with respect to job searching practices. Otherwise, students will eventually (most often than now during the course of their studies) find out how outdated the advice is and will stop respecting/using/appreciating their career center services. And when the trust is broken, the school’s reputation will start to suffer, because rumors spread fast.
    2. Portfolios will be a loss of time as every employer and every position would request different materials to prove skill set.Unless one is a designer or applying for jobs whose requirements are standard across industries, she cannot come out with a reasonable general portfolio. I have some examples, though, when bringing materials to an interview allow me to deeply impress the interviewers. But the materials was tailored for the position and I got so lucky only once.
    3. I personally couched students how to write resumes, cover letters and how to interview according to my career center practices. I didn’t believe in some of them, but I still went with the official policy, as I was employed by the center, and didn’t want to undermine its reputation. Looking back I wouldn’t do it again.
    4. Some of my career center practices were questionable to say the least. For instance, our career center director (a formar recruiter) advised several colleagues of mine to cold call alums or hiring managers at their target companies on Sunday, as this was the best time to get them answer their phones (which was supposedly normal for the finance industry). As I am not from the U.S. , I didn’t rely on my common sense, but thought that this might be OK for the US business culture (aggressively pitching your case during weekends). When I tried to implement some of these practice in my job search I wasn’t successful, they seems so misaligned with my personal style and philosophy that I got frustrated and lost faith. Then I found this awesome blog, and got back on the right track searching for a job the way Alison and the other HR managers here advise.

    If I were you, I wouldn’t bend, as it will negatively impact the school and the placement numbers will be worse (which might have an impact on you).

  15. Another Emily*

    I think you should fight the good fight. Do it in a respectful and tactful way with research to back you up. I hope they see the wisdom of your approach and get rid of silly things like portfolios for non-artists.

  16. Joey*

    Wasn’t this something you addressed upfront when you were hired? I mean if I was hired to direct a program I’d want the higher ups to give me enough freedom to direct the program as I see fit so long as I’m meeting or exceeding their goals. That’s what I’d be fighting for. The portfolio thing is just the beginning of your problems if you haven’t taken care of that.

    1. Charles*

      I was thinking the same thing; seeing how much autonomy one would have in creating programs is definitely something that should have been addressed before accepting the job.

      One of my professors did just that. She was a fulltime, tenured professor being offered a position just below the Dept Chair. But, before she accepted the position, she did a survey of her current students to see what changes we thought the department needed, and she told the search committee that she would accept the position only if she were allowed to implement those (and other) changes. She was able to do this because she was already an “insider,” and tenured at that.

      However, my guess is that the OP was probably already facing an uphill batlle with getting hired in academia in the first place, given how many of those in education (especially among the higher ups) look down upon the “for-profit world” and its denizens!

      I do hope the OP can pull it off and create some good, useful programs to help the students; and not get sucked into the “ivory tower” mentality.

  17. Anony-M*

    This whole discussion on portfolios grabs my interest. I was a communications major and have experience with writing, radio, video, Spanish translations, etc.

    I have a portfolio compiled with samples of all these works, as well as certificates I have earned over the years.

    I don´t know if I have just been in bad interviews or what, but when I bring it with me, there is never a good time to really look at it. Before the interview is a no, since the person wants to start talking with you right away. But after the interview feels equally as awkward, because they pick it up and flip through pages as I silently sit there (I can´t start talking to them about something if they are trying to read). And often they just flip through and are like “yes, that´s nice” then shut the book. As if they were done with the interview, and don´t want to now sit and read stuff for another 10 minutes.

    Is there a need for a portfolio or not?!

    1. Kat*

      Sure there’s a need. But it should all be online, with a link from your cover letter. Why waste interview time?

      1. Charles*

        online – yes. I have a portfolio of work samples (I’m a trainer, so, my portfolio is samples of training materials, handouts, online courses I’ve developed, etc). These are all online.

        I usually send the link to my portfolio as part of my follow-up thank-you email. This also gives me a reason to ask for their email during the interview- “if you give me your email I can send you the link to some of my work samples.” I have yet to have someone say no to that.

        Or, if they request samples of my work be brought to the interview I will try to get the link to them before the interview.

        Either way this avoids the problem that you mention Anony-M of the awkward silence while interview time is “wasted” reviewing work samples.

        1. fposte*

          I’m lazy enough that I’d still probably like to get representative samples in handout form when you leave (plus a later emailed link to the whole schmear if you like), but I would definitely be startled by somebody who expected me to look at it right then and to take the stuff back.

          1. Anony-M*

            Yeah, but if I have articles in magazines, I don´t want to leave the originals with the employer! I guess photocopies would do.

        2. Piper*

          Definitely online with a link in your cover letter and in your resume.

          But there are a few employers that still want to see the hard copy versions, too. I just went to an interview like this and the entire interview consisted of me going through my portfolio page by page and explaining each piece, my role in its creation, and the outcome. It felt weird preparing for that interview and printing out things like web banner ads, home page sliders, product pages, and social media campaigns. I’m sort of glad I didn’t get that job…

    2. fposte*

      What kinds of jobs are you applying for (that, more than your major, is what matters)? Are they requesting a portfolio or are you just bringing it? What kind of certificates are we talking about?

      Without knowing what industry you’re applying in, I’m inclined to say that since it doesn’t sound like one where you have to bring in original art, you should expect to leave a copy of your portfolio as part of your job materials (video and audio could go on a cheap flash drive, or you could give them Dropbox URLs or something similar for the files) rather than take it back with you. That’s especially true if they haven’t asked for a portfolio–they won’t have built in inspection time, but if they’re interested in you, they’ll have your work at their fingertips when they *do* have time. Hand it over at the end of the interview, when you’re leaving, so they know you don’t expect them to look at it now. And if they are asking for samples, they’re likely expecting that you will leave copies anyway. And then you can simply ask when the conversation nears relevant history whether you should leave it with them as planned or bring it out now (“I actually brought samples of that I was going to leave with you–would you like to see them now?”).

      Certificates: I’m having a hard time imagining certificates that a company needs to see in person rather than just seeing the fact that you’ve received them in your resume or cover letter, or in a list within the portfolio itself. This sounds like needless bulk to me. But again, that’s very industry dependent–just make sure you’re going off of current industry practice.

    3. KayDay*

      I think for communications jobs, it’s very common to have a portfolio (this is one of the notable exceptions to the OP’s point). I would second Kat below to put most of it online (too bad visual CV shut down), but I don’t think it would hurt to bring it to the interview. However, I think the interviewers care a lot more about writing samples, by-line articles, and maybe a design piece (if that’s what you do) than they would about certificates. I would also wait for the interviewer to bring it up (“tell me about the types of articles you have written?” “well, here is a sample that I wrote for….”) instead of asking them to “look through your portfolio.”

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You need a portfolio if you’re applying for visual jobs — design, video, etc. For writing jobs, you need writing samples (which you’d leave with them or send electronically, not sit there while they flip through them). I can’t think of any other job where you’d need a portfolio.

      Certificates, etc. should never go in a portfolio. If you have one, it should be actual samples of your work. Certificates and the like should be mentioned on your resume; no one needs to see the actual certificate.

      Anony-M, in your case, I think your interviewers have given you a clear answer: They don’t want to look at a portfolio.

  18. Anonymous*

    The greatest complaint my university gets from employers hiring our graduates is that they are lacking critical thinking skills and the ability to work independently. So it’s not just the career center that’s failing them, it’s their parents, K-12 teachers and all of us at the university who are supposed to be preparing them for the 21st century world of work.

    How could a career center hone their critical thinking and independent work skills? Give them a real job description. Give them 50 sample resumes and cover letters and two hours to sort those into the 40 ‘nos’ and the 10 they want to look at again. Then they take the 10 and, in one hour, pick the 4 they’ll bring in for an interview, and explain their reasoning for picking these 4. Then they’ll learn to think critically about what employers are up against when they get 50 responses to a job ad, and what they have to do to tailor their resume and cover letter to the jobs they’re qualified for so that their application gets more attention from hiring managers.

    1. Anonymous*

      I find this to be really sad. Students are graduating from college without having any critical thinking skills seems criminal to me. I do not personally subscribe to the notion that universities are nothing more than job-training centers; I believe universities are institutions for higher learning whose primary missions should be to teach students how to learn and yes, to think critically.

    2. Anonymous*

      Anon, I would love to know where you are, because my biggest barrier to obtaining employment seems to be because I DO know how to think critically and work independently. Unfortunately, at my interviews, the employers consistently indicate that they are looking for someone who is already fully trained and will do what he or she is told. The only two job offers I’ve had in the past year followed interviews where I intentionally acted as stupidly as possible. It is very disheartening.

  19. Anonymous*

    I have a compromise for the OP. I made a portfolio in high school and it was extremely useful for — making a resume! And, since I (a 30 yr old with an MFA) am still asked on many, many applications where I went to high school (with address! I didn’t know the address when I went there!) and that’s where I have that info, I still get that stupid three-ring binder down a lot.

    So the issue isn’t creating a binder of achievements, transcripts, and certifications. The issue is what do you DO with it. For instance, you DON’T bring it on most job interviews, but you do use it to fill out online applications.

    Also I have some pretty detailed descriptions of some of the jobs I did (half page length) that I can look at and pick and choose topics to highlight in my actual resume.

    So a portfolio program that is about organizing the actual data you need for your own use might be a good way to look at this for most students. At the same time there could be a more in-depth program for students who need to present portfolios. Everybody gets a portfolio; everybody uses it differently.

  20. KayDay*

    I think the OP should definitely push back a little. My college career center, compared to others, was not too bad. I did get some bad advice (particularly about following up and being aggressive) but I also got some very good career-specific advice, and they really helped a lot with my resume, cover letter and interviewing skills. HOWEVER, because I did get some bad advice, I often doubt a lot of the other advice that I received. I know a lot of graduates who have said that the career center is terrible, because the one time they went, they got bad advice, and they never went back again.

    BTW, I, like some of the others here, have found that *keeping* a portfolio of work, writing samples, certificates, old resumes, etc. is immensely helpful–it can be really hard to remember old accomplishments (especially if they didn’t seem that significant at the time) but they do sometimes come up. I leave my binder at home, but I may bring in one or two work/writing samples, if they are relevant.

  21. Anonymous*

    Thanks to the poster for emailing this and also for caring about the advice dispensed to students. I have found that an old community college I attended had a really good career center though the folks staffing it were not very involved with the students or helpful. I think they were mostly student workers manning a desk with one or two folks nearing retirement who could care less. The large university I ultimately graduated from has a completely useless career center. I wish career centers were more involved with students, not just with providing services or assistance with job hunting but also with teaching and guidance. Of course if you aren’t getting good information that works in the real world, the students are only being cheated.

    Of course you could sell the portfolio idea to your students for the purpose of preparing for interviews but please stand up for what is accurate and reflective of real world hiring practices. It has been my experience that a portfolio (for IT degree) has been useless. IT hiring seems to be its own unique monster and unless one has programmed some functional program and owns the code themselves, a student’s portfolio of projects, writing, code, etc. has no value.

  22. Anonymous*

    Good luck with that. I supervise senior interns and one the requirements is to produce a portfolio. This is a human services (counseling) major. While as an exercise, I do think it has value. I tell my students to never take it to an interview. A good cover letter, resume and interview skills are the way to go. I was the first graduate from the program and had to do a portfolio as well. I never used it. It contains a resume, description of coursework, goal/personal statement and a couple papers. Again, good for the exercise. You should think about your coursework that way you can TALK about it in the interview. Same goes for your personal statement.

  23. Anonymous*

    I work in a career center, and I can easily believe it that a lot of the advice out of career centers is outdated. Most of the career center
    directors where I live have been in their positions for anywhere from 15-30 years and most didn’t ever work outside of higher education.

    BUT – there are so many other factors that I wish people recognized.

    Hiring is extremely subjective! Different industries have different standards, and within that every hiring person has their own ideas of what makes a good resume/cover letter. I interact with recruiters and hiring managers from many industries. My job is really to be a bridge between students and employers. As the economy improves, the amount of time I spend with employers increases. So I do get real feedback on what they are looking for . . . and they all have different preferences. There are plenty of hiring managers who would hate a cover letter written a la Ask A Manager and have a preference for stuffy, traditional letters.

    I just did an exercise with a class where I gave them 9 real resumes (resumes from students 5 years ago with identifying details changed), and had the students pick who they would interview. A few candidates stood out consistently, but everyone chose different 2nd and 3rd interview candidates for widely different reasons. An objective/format/etc loved by one student was hated by another.

    No one can possibly have the right knowledge/advice that’s going to work for every student applying in every industry. Hiring is an art, and there is no one size fits all advice that equals suddenly
    getting offers from every company.. . . and on top of that, I would say at least 80-90 percent of the time students don’t follow through on my advice about resumes, cover letters, etc. The students who don’t follow through also tend to be the ones complaining about how unhelpful we are.

    All that said, I still love my job!

    1. Anonymous*

      Thank you for offering this perspective! I work in a career center as well, and we go to great lengths to develop relationships with recruiters and hiring managers and stay updated on current hiring trends. While there will certainly be career centers that are more complacent and outdated, there are also numerous professionals who are well qualified to do the job and are working very hard to help students. While placement statistics don’t tell the whole story, I would recommend that students who are checking out prospective colleges and majors contact the respective career centers to find out where graduates have been hired and what career development opportunities (like on campus recruiting) are in place. Also, don’t wait until your senior year to utilize the career center! Internships are critically important, and we can better connect students with opportunities if we know their particular interests and career goals.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s absolutely true that different employers have different preferences, but a good career center should be able to equip students to function well in that world, not be dispensing advice that won’t work with most employers (which is what we so often hear happens).

  24. Laura L*

    This makes me dislike my library school even more. The one professor who taught the one or two classes related to career development had students create online portfolios.

    Librarians don’t need portfolios!

    1. Anne*

      I’ve been asked a lot actually for things that could go in a portfolio, like samples of storytime plans, bookmarks, flyers, etc. I don’t bring a portfolio, but I do hang onto all those files on a flash drive (several actually), so I can email them out if needed. But I’ve only worked in youth librarianship, so not sure what other areas in public libraries would be interested. And am totally clueless on other kinds of libraries.

      1. Liz in a Library*

        I was thinking this, too.

        As a university librarian, I’ve been several times for interviews to prepare an instruction session, including presentation materials, curricular plans, handouts, assignments, group work, etc. I’ve also applied for jobs that involve the creation of educational materials that have asked for example handouts, webpages, LibGuides, etc. These could easily be gathered into a portfolio.

        1. Laura L*

          Yeah…. the problem is I don’t have most of the those things. (well, the stuff relating to an instructional session I could pull together, but otherwise …)

    2. Charles*

      This confirms what I said above about “go along to get along” and create a portfolio program that will benefit students; Perhaps it will be a good thing if ALL students understand the purpose of what a portfolio is and what should not go into it?

      I know, I for one, never would have thought about a librarian creating a portfolio for interviewing; but clearly in some cases it will be necessary to show what one has and can accomplish.

      What other fields can benefit from such a program? And, also, whose to say that students will actually get into their chosen fields that “never” require a portfolio?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think that would be true if there were indeed more fields where employers want to see this — but they’re pretty rare. I’ve hired for tons of different types of jobs, and there’s only field out of all of those where I wouldn’t think it was odd if someone handed me a portfolio (graphic design).

  25. Abby*

    While I agree that employers don’t really want new grads hauling in a big portfolio of the large and small projects they have done, I do think there is value in thinking about your skills/strengths, etc. in the portfolio context. I work in medical education and we do require trainees maintain a portfolio. This is to aid in reflection in practice, look for areas of improvement and to monitor success. This exercise is worthwhile for rising graduates to understand what they have done that was meaningful beyond just passing the required courses, what experience is applicable in the workplace, and how they envision their career path. But, I don’t recommend taking it to a future employer.

  26. Dave*

    I can’t imagine someone handing me a folder with a portfolio in it during an interview, but having that information available online would be a huge advantage. If I have time, I always Google a candidate before I meet with them, and if they have a personal website with examples of work they’ve done, I’ll read through it to see what they’re capable of. This is especially important for those who are coming straight from school, where there aren’t as many opportunities to show what you’re capable of through your previous work experience.

    I can’t be the only person doing this, because I’ve had interviewers do the same thing to me and bring up things from my website in the interview in ways that ultimately helped me get the job, especially straight out of school. In one case, a project they found on my website that came from a class was directly related to a problem they were having with a client, but that I would have had no idea about.

    Sometimes the advice from campus career centers just needs a little updating. Creating the portfolio is the low-fi equivalent of creating and managing an on-line presence. If you have students create something on-line that shows off what they’re capable of, they can differentiate themselves with employers and you can check off the box with your superiors.

    And just to clarify – this doesn’t mean you don’t need to have a great resume and cover letter and fantastic interviewing skills, it just means that having some good examples of your work on-line won’t hurt.

  27. Scott M*

    If the university doesn’t want to change, then you could spin it as affecting the university’s reputation. They may not care about the students but they do care about their reputation (and the dollars it brings in)

  28. HigherEd Comms*

    I’ve worked on campus for a large university for the last seven years and have also run into challenges with our Career Services Centre.

    My only piece of advice on this issue: go to industry folks and ask what their hiring preferences are. Some will say yes to the portfolios. Others will say all candidates have to undergo sample assignments.

    What are they looking for? Once you have these reasons, you can bring forward to your university administration as “research-based evidence”.

  29. Question Author*

    This was my question. Thanks for answering it & thanks to all of you who chimed in with your thoughts! I will need to return later to read everything you all have to offer & I am quite excited that I don’t have time to read it all in one sitting. That’s a lot to gnaw on.

  30. BuckeyeHoosier*

    Pharmaceutical Sales is an industry where a portfolio, generally referred to as a “brag book” is expected, even from entry level applicants. Here’s a link (I’m not connected to this site in any way) for more details:

    You use it selectively and assertively during your interview, when the interviewer asks you a behavioral question about a time you exhibited leadership you then answer the question – using the STAR format – as you confidently flip to the page in your “brag book” with a commendation from your dean for organizing and leading the Spring Carnival at your university which raised record funds for the local animal shelter…for example.

    If you have sales experience items from your brag book will back up any claims you made on your resume. If your resume says you are in the top 10% of sales reps nationwide, the interviewer will expect you to offer proof from your brag book.

    I was never asked for a brag book until I interviewed for a pharmaceutical sales representative job. I am adding my perspective to this discussion because of how important the “brag book” is in this industry…at any level.

    One more thing, there is generally not time in an interview to share each of the pages of your brag book, but it is important to highlight (substantiate) your relevant accomplishments. Writing samples are not necessary in a brag book. Some pharmaceutical companies have a g.p.a. requirement so I always keep transcripts in mine. I also have performance evaluations in my book and yes, I have been asked to show my most recent ones.

  31. Another Anonymous*

    I graduated a couple of years ago from a master’s program (not in the arts!) which required us to produce a huge e-portfolio for our masters project. In addition to every single item of work from every single class that we’d taken in the program, we also had to write what amounted to an encyclopedia of dozens of essays about how we’d met the program’s core competencies. In my opinion, the bad part was that we were also graded on how well we “decorated” our online encyclopedia-portfolio with pictures, quotes, images, etc. (As I don’t have a natural aesthetic flare, this part of the portfolio was harder for me than anything else…Visually, my resulting web page looked more like a twelve-year-old’s personal blog than a master’s graduate’s professional website.)

    The professors in the program raved about our portfolio project as being a huge asset that would us give us students a big advantage on the job market when we became new graduates. They encouraged us to share the link to our portfolios with hiring managers when we applied for jobs and to put the link on our resumes.

    A few months ago I finally took my “online professional portfolio” offline, convinced that it has not been an asset to my post-graduate job search (which continues to this day, a year and a half after I graduated). As a graduate who’s been on the receiving end of the current gimmick-y portfolio madness in higher ed, I emphatically encourage the OP to please, for god’s sake, do urge the higher-ups to ditch their misguided portfolio plan.

    1. Dorothy K*

      I completely agree!!!!!! Someone needs to tell them to wake up and realize that no one is going to look at this!

  32. CS Rep*

    Just to offer another opinion:
    I currently work in a college career center and can say that we do not seem to fit into the typical stereotype being described here.

    Much of our office consists of individuals who worked in recruiting or management previously. While we have an official policy, advisers are encouraged to assess and challenge it by attending monthly or bi-monthly presentations from experienced recruiters in relevant industries and reading articles from esteemed career bloggers, and then developing resources for our students or for internal use based on the information received. In fact, I refer to this site frequently when recommending further information to students or coworkers.

    That’s not to say that every student is able to find a job. Even with solid advice and informed coaching, it takes many quite a while before they land a position in their field. There are a variety of reasons for this, such as starting out in a new industry with nothing but a degree, having unreasonable expectations for the degree attained, not having the stamina to search over long periods of time, not being able to stomach a lot of rejection, not wanting to tailor documents, etc.

    My overall point here is that finding a job is not simple, and finding the “right job” is very complicated. Yes, there is a lot of outdated advice coming from college career centers, but we should not apply blanket statements to the entire industry. Ultimately, your job search belongs to you. If you find conflicting advice, challenge your career services adviser. Change won’t occur unless you do.

  33. Tracy Brisson*

    A little late to the conversation, but on the date this was posted, I was recruiting for a client at a college career fair targeted for a specific industry (education). My team was just utterly disappointed with the candidates- 400 about-to-be- graduates were using an outdated template provided by the career center and the students didn’t know how to talk about their experiences at all, esp for us to find if they had the skills and were a fit for our client. The issue was that the career center HAD done work with these students and this was the result. My colleague and I spent the majority of the fair coaching candidates on their resume and interview skills instead of selecting candidates for our clients once we realized our yield was going to be small. Not only was I upset because of how our time was used and we still have openings, but because I care about young people, unemployment, and their student loan debt.

    I have been hesitant on whether I was going to reach out to the career center because of the “politics.” I posted the question on Twitter for my fellow recruiter/career space folks and actually heard mostly from students who urged me to give this feedback. Their stance is that pay so much money to their colleges, this should never happen. I think it’s important to ask the question- who is your ultimare client? And if your students don’t get jobs because they are using these silly portfolios, who will be held accountable?

  34. Mark*

    I work in higher ed , having worked in the corporate world for several years both as an individual contributor and on the hiring manager side of the interview table. I do think there’s a severe lacking of professionals in my field who have any experience in the private sector at all – the vast majority I meet went straight from bachelors programs into masters of higher ed administration. It seems to work out all right in most facets of the profession, but in career services I feel like the deficiencies are really glaring.

    I remember interviewing for a career services position and asking my interviewer how she benchmarked the successes of the program. She smiled at me and said “ohh, we send out a survey to our students who see us and ask them if they found us friendly and approachable and whether they would come back.” I asked her if they pulled any data on the success rates of the graduates who utilized their services in finding employment, or asessed employers’ satisfaction with applicants from their school, or, you know, real benchmarks of their efficacy as service providers. She told me that they didn’t do those sorts of assessments but she liked the ideas. They ended up making me an offer, which I turned down.

    I suspect that sometimes the issue is not so much that career services is clueless, but that their goals, what they call success, is not what a student who uses their services would call success. Many that I’ve interviewed with or spoken to are mostly interested in getting high attendance to their programs, not on the outcomes of their advice. They do all of this analysis on how students feel about their approach, but not on results. They’re in the business of pleasing their customer while they’re in school, which usually means for students making things easy and simple, and many students are not preoccupied with getting jobs while they are students. That’s for after graduation, and lots of career centers don’t really care about that.

    I think certain organizations should reallign their priorities, but alas, that’s probably never going to happen.

  35. Dorothy K*

    Two words: Live Text.

    This is the BS program that the University I attended made the student body purchase, cost: $99. I could think of so many things that I would have preferred to spend the money on. Everyone, including most of the faculty (and especially the faculty teaching HR) thought this to be a pointless requirement. When I, and a few other students, voiced concerns over this we were basically told to keep our opinions to ourselves and that nothing we said would make a difference. The funny thing is that I was completing an MBA with a concentration in HR and it was completely hypocritical on the University’s part. Here they are teaching ethical behavior, leadership, etc. but when push comes to shove no one wants to follow this.
    I would like to also say that their career center is completely useless and pointless. I find it extremely sad that many people are getting ‘MBAs’, including myself, and finding that this does nothing for you. It is a sad waste of money for those who have to acquire a mountain of debt to earn this degree. Almost everyone from my graduating class has had an extremely difficult time finding a job and many are working at jobs that really require no degree at all. I will admit that I don’t know everyone’s personal experience with career services, but mine was horrible. It took a week to get a response from the career services person and when they did respond they told me that they wouldn’t schedule an appointment with me unless I attended their mandatory resume writing class. It did not matter that I was an MBA with an HR concentration, that we professionally worked on resumes throughout the entire program, and that I had so many different copies of my resume depending on the position I was applying for. No class meant no meeting. I came to the conclusion that this was a career service that I could do without.

  36. DarkeAngelus*

    When I went to Community College a few years ago to upgrade my skill set, it was suddenly necessary to record all of my achievements and notations in a thing called a “portfolio”. Now I’m an artist by trade. I know what a portfolio is supposed to look like. These amateurish pieces of crap were a scrapbook, plain and simple. I think any student fresh out of the gate who is showing off a binder that proves your great attendance or that you got a gold star on an essay is pretty pathetic. I’ve been on the other side of the hiring table and have seen these things: They reek of desperation and immaturity and I absolutely loathe the entire concept. Companies are simply getting lazy in the hiring process and couldn’t be bothered with contacting provided substantiated references. They’d sooner look at a book full of easily falsified information. Pretty pathetic if you ask me.

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