An E-Portfolio is the Heartbeat of your Personal Brand

by Stephen Marshall

posted on 06-24-2019

Regardless of your background or industry, employers are looking for hires who will add value to their organization. You can think of employment “value” as the total sum of the parts — not only the hard and soft skills you bring to an opportunity but your ability to deliver beyond the requirements of the position. Creatively communicating your total value, including your personality, cultural fit, life passions, and personal values, as well as your career goals, are all part of understanding not only if you are the right fit for a position but also the way to differentiate yourself in the job market.

The stakes are simply too high for anyone in the process to ignore details. According to Glassdoor, the average cost to hire an employee is $4,000 and takes an average of 52 days. However, simply finding a hire is not enough. Evidence supports the need to identify long-term hires in the search process as it becomes essential to profitability. The ability to retain an employee is much less expensive than regularly replacing them.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) it takes up to 50-60% of an employee’s annual salary to find a direct replacement. A study from MIT also illustrates the average road map to new employee profitability is from 8 to 26 weeks. With all the costs and resource allocation of gaining/replacing a new employee so high, employment and the competition of the job search are far too great for employers to make vague decisions.

At the same time, differentiating yourself in the competitive job market is becoming harder with companies receiving dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes — often for the same position. Job seekers must find new ways of differentiating themselves and telling their own value story. At the end of the day, employers are looking for evidence that candidates can innovate in a “real world” setting.

Personal branding communicates value

Communicating effectiveness and fit is often a challenge for a new candidate just getting on the job market. Initial employment value is directly related to their potential “impact” and the candidates who are able to communicate their potential long-term impact best will win the job search. A recent trend over the last decade has been to communicate “value” from a personal branding perspective. “Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands — the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual,” said Matt Sweetwood in Entrepreneur.

Personal branding helps professionals have a framework of thought, identifying the key indicators used to identify, measure, and assess the value someone will bring to an organization. In summary, a personal brand takes all your associations and points them in a direction that helps you differentiate and market yourself. These associations not only include your skills and job history but also your own values, how others see you, your reputation, and what ultimately sets you apart.

E-portfolios communicate impact

One of the strongest differentiators anyone can do to create value is building a portfolio or e-portfolio. Once thought of only for creative types, portfolios are great for any job seeker looking to communicate their value. I like to tell students your portfolio is your “living” resume with not only examples of your work but also with the framework and evidence for employers to know your individual contribution and long-term “impact.”

Communicating impact is key. Simply saying on a resume you were the lead researcher on a medical research project will not have the same impact as showing examples of how you led the project coordination, evidence of doing a good job with a cited performance review, or using email examples or letters of recommendation highlighting your impact. These are all examples of impact evidence and, presented appropriately, they can have a significantly positive influence on your career prospects.

The digital space we all occupy has moved the traditional physical portfolio to a living e-portfolio. The traditional portfolio is analog, static, and is only available during the interview or for a short window of time. The electronic version, or e-portfolio, is always available to illustrate impact and, depending on the platform, can be measurable in terms of analytics. Measuring e-portfolio engagement helps the candidate understand what content is important and how much engagement they are getting. The document can “live” because, with the right tools, the document can be adapted.

It is important to note, e-portfolios are not simply a data dump of all experiences, but a package of aesthetically-curated evidence representing the connection between the job candidate and employer, ultimately illustrating impact. “There should be some metacognitive element, wherein the learner is able to reflect on all their experiences — academic, cocurricular, undergraduate research, athletics, work-related — and demonstrate their accomplishments in a meaningful way,” said Jason B. Jones in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

What’s in an effective e-portfolio?

A good e-portfolio will demonstrate your competencies through your accomplishments, works in progress, or personal history, into a single narrative. In a 2017 Adobe Education Exchange post, James Kinney called this approach a storied portfolio. “So, a storied portfolio is a way of creating and controlling the elements that will represent you and will metaphorically and quite literally write the narrative of your brand.” Your storied portfolio connects your personal brand elements in a comprehensive package illustrating all the elements important to your career path.

While the specific elements will vary for every individual, the ability to creatively communicate is important for all. All job seekers, regardless of discipline, must have the tools to unleash the aesthetic when communicating with your evidence. Creating your e-portfolio to represent your personal brand is no small task, and, with 94% of first impressions being design-related, your content must be engaging both in theme and context. In other words, if your e-portfolio fails to gain initial attention it will ultimately fail to communicate your value.

Adobe Creative Cloud brings a powerful toolbox to e-portfolios, and dozens of universities have identified the need to prepare students across disciplines for digital literacy. For example, California State University at Fullerton (CSUF) encourages the use of Adobe’s Creative Cloud across curriculum and academic disciplines. Digital literacy initiatives, such as the one at CSUF, are not only helping students with effective communication — access and application of the tools are helping students become better leaders through creative thinking, problem-solving, and presentation of ideas.

Communicate your experiences

Research by Hart Research Associates done on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities states, “Nearly all employers surveyed (95%) say they give hiring preference to college graduates with the skills that will enable them to contribute to innovation in the workplace. …Nearly all those surveyed (93%) agree, ‘a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.’”

Experiential education is at the heart of what we do in our Department of Media+Communication at East Tennessee State University. Our published foundational approach titled the Applied Marketing & Media Education Norm bridges theory-based application and professional certifications, such as Creative Cloud ones from Adobe Certified Associate Certiport program, all into a real-world environment — ultimately preparing the workforce of the future.

Your e-portfolio is the perfect digital bundle to sum up all your experiences into an aesthetically pleasing, measurable, storied narrative. Experience is the foundational learning platform, and your e-portfolio is the evidence. “The fact is that students learn what they practice,” said Carol Geary Schneider in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “If competency is the goal, then students’ own frequent and effortful work on projects, papers, research, creative tasks, and field-based assignments is the key.”

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