Roland B. Vendeland

Warmth, wisdom, and wit.

Roland B. Vendeland

The S.T.A.R. Portfolio

Passport to Employment


For more than a century, job seekers in photography, art, and fashion design have documented their talents to potential employers through a portfolio developed to showcase their best work. In more recent years, as a result of competency based education, teachers are increasingly utilizing educational portfolios to both instruct and evaluate their students. Similarly, to direct students towards appropriate career options, guidance and career counselors have begun to encourage portfolio use. In fact, many career and educational professionals now appeal to those outside of the artistic fields to use portfolios to explore career opportunities and secure employment. These job seekers include secretaries, engineers, accountants, computer programmers, and paralegals.

"The worst interview I witnessed was one in which the job candidate told me how he would fit into the job and showed me nothing, not even a sampling of his work," a Norrell Staffing Services recruiter told a group of college and career counselors. She stated emphatically, "Show me, don't tell me." The most lasting impressions combine visual presentation with verbal explanation. People remember and are impressed by what they see coupled with what they hear. Job seekers can best illustrate their competencies through verbal and visual presentation.

In a cover story, Business Week (Nussbaum, 1991) related that companies define a job according to skills needed to perform that job. Employers expect their employees to apply these skills to solve problems and complete projects in a timely manner while working as a member of a team. The article advised professionals in general, and middle managers in particular, to protect themselves from company downsizings by creating survival kits that include portfolios of skills that could be sold as needed. As layoffs and downsizings become the cost containment results of the '90s, professionals need to develop creative ways to sell their skills and talents to their next employers if they plan to survive in today's job market. They would be wise to document their acquired skills through a portfolio that creatively and clearly presents talents and accomplishments useful to prospective employers.

Who Uses The Job Portfolio:

The Seattle Public Schools (1994) introduced the career development portfolio as a component of a comprehensive guidance program for students in grades 9-12. Their purpose was to help students plan satisfying careers as well as to initiate and develop course work that matched students' career goals and personal interests. Once they had a plan that made sense to them, students improved their school performance. The four sections of their educational portfolio included:

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing required its non-traditional nursing students to develop professional nursing portfolios. Faculty reviewed these portfolios, evaluated the relevance of students' noncollege experience, placed students in appropriate course levels, and granted students educational credits (Marsh, 1984). In addition to being crucial as a measure of college credit and coursework, the nursing portfolio reviewed a accomplishments and experiences that led to the choice of a nursing personnel career. The completed nursing portfolio included professional, employment, and educational achievements in six broad areas:

Practice environment.The Michigan Employability Skills Task Force developed The Employability Skills Portfolio to aid students in grades 6-12 in demonstrating their value to future employers. The portfolio demonstrated academic, personal management, and teamwork skills. This project encouraged students to recognize and develop needed skills and maintain a chronicle of accomplishments Stemmer, Brown and Smith, 1992). Because many young adults need visualization to focus their energy, this documented history of their personal accomplishments and goals helped to show them the purpose of their education. Students' confidence and self-esteem soared; they improved their school performance and gained direction.

Wright State, University of Dayton, and Central State University formed the Ohio Consortium for Portfolio Development to develop goal setting and career decision making among high school students and adults (Berhardt, 1993). This career portfolio contained the following five sections:

Career portfolios are becoming part of the educational experience at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh. Career counselors encourage the creation of job portfolios by their clients, i.e. community college students, reverse transfer students, alumni, and mid-life career changers. The College's Office Technology Program requires employment portfolios of its desktop publishing students. These portfolios demonstrate to employers the level of work that the potential employee is able to perform starting on the first day of the job. This is increasingly important to employers who want to identify qualified and trained entry level employees who can perform their jobs "on day one."

The Office Technology Program graduates use the portfolio during the job interview. Students create their portfolios with a great deal of attention to visual impact. The old adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words," applies here. The portfolio creates in the interviewer's mind a clear picture of the applicant's skill level and professional style. These students conduct mock interviews with their portfolios gaining confidence and polish. They recognize that they only get one chance to make a good first and lasting impression.

What Is Included In the Portfolio

Simmons (1995) outlines the inclusion of (1) personal data, (2) educational data, and (3) professional work data in the creation of professional portfolios used for self-assessment and marketing. Worthington (1992) reported on students who designed job portfolios while serving as advertising interns. Incorporating material that they created for successful advertising campaigns, the student interns used portfolios to enhance their market value as they sought employment. Most found that the portfolios were extremely helpful in landing good first jobs and in impressing the employer during the job interview session with content, experience, and enthusiasm.

Follo (1994) tells of teacher interns who created "career portfolios" to make themselves competitive by highlighting their expertise in the field. Through the creation of these portfolios, teachers gained insight into their personal strengths and weaknesses, goals, and educational philosophies. Armed with these insights, they articulated their knowledge and teaching styles convincingly on interviews in a tight job market.

How does a job candidate 'showcase' his or her skills and capabilities? Our answer lies in the use of The S.T.A.R. Portfolio. The co-authors have created this devise to guide job seekers into an assertive posture rather than a defensive position.

The S.T.A.R. Portfolio

S.T.A.R. is an acronym for Skills, Training, Accomplishments, and References. The contents of the S.T.A.R. Portfolio should reinforce the job seeker's personal and professional attributes as shown below with examples of an accounting and a nursing portfolio.





Two Sample S.T.A.R. Portfolios

S.T.A.R. Portfolio

  • Special recognition (Second in the region for sales of house siding)
  • Article from school newspaper (Recognized as team leader for peer tutoring)
  • Thank you note (Tax consultant for elderly)
  • Results of typing test (65 wpm with 3 errors)
  • Diplomas (A.S. and B.S. in Accounting from CCAC and Penn State)
  • Certificate in Taxation (H&R Block)
  • Certificate of Workshop Completion (Accounting Applications in Windows)
  • Dale Carnegie Certificate
  • Awards (Dean's List, Outstanding Student of the Year)
  • Co-op Evaluations (Two year co-op assignment in Tax Accounting)
  • Tax Return (Produced on computer program designed by applicant)
  • Sample (Small business accounting records)
  • Published article ("Savings for Small Business Owners Through Computerized Accounting")
  • Letter of Accommodation (H&R Block Supervisor)
  • Letter of Reference (Private tax client)
  • Letter of Reference (Co-op placement supervisor emphasizing performance and attendance)

Example 2

S.T.A.R. Portfolio

Contents (Nursing)
  • Results (Computer simulated baby delivery exam)
  • Article Written for School Newspaper ("New Nursing Wing Dedicated")
  • Evaluations from Clinical Site
  • Degrees (L.P.N. and R.N. from CCAC)
  • High Honor Certificate, 3.6 QPA
  • CPR Certificate (1997)
  • Certificate of Completion (Team Building Seminar)
  • Program Cover (Critical Thinking Conference)
  • Critical Nursing Seminar Certificate
  • Nursing home newsletter article (Coordinated fund drive)
  • Thank you letter from minister (Chaired church's health fair)
  • Picture from Healthcare and Hospital News (Accepting check as President of Nursing Club)
  • Employee of the Month Award
  • Letter of Reference (Pediatric Clinical Site)
  • Letter of Reference (Geriatric Clinical Site)
  • Letter of Reference (Nursing Home Employer)
  • Letter of Introduction (Neighborm who is a physician, speaking of your character and judgment)

The S.T.A.R. Portfolio supports the job interview by using examples that tell a story. For example a job seeker can effectively respond to an interviewer's question with a story describing a personal or professional accomplishment. The interviewer often begins a question with, "How would you deal with...?" To answer such a question as if one were in the prospective place of employment is risky at best. The job seeker is less familiar with the parameters of this problematic situation than with those of a situation that (s)he previously resolved.

The old adage, "Tell them what you know," applies. When the interviewer asks a "How would you deal with..." questions, the interviewee could rely upon familiar experiences and reply, "In my prior position I encountered just such a situation and I..." When accompanied with examples from one's portfolio, this interviewing technique provides an effective demonstration of one's talents and skills in a familiar, enthusiastic, and powerful format situated in the job seeker's own territory. Armed with the resume and The S.T.A.R. Portfolio, the job seeker should be able to direct, or at the very least guide, the interview in the desired direction to get the job.

How To Use The S.T.A.R. Portfolio

By using portfolio presentations on the job interview, job seekers have produced impressive results. A Community College of Allegheny County journalism student used her portfolio to secure a $17,000 Scholarship to Point Park College in Pittsburgh for her junior and senior years. Through her S.T.A.R. Portfolio she emphasized the breadth of her journalistic talents in writing, editing, and layout. She included samples of personal and professional stories. She displayed newspapers and journals she had edited. Through letters of reference, she demonstrated her cooperation with advertisers, college officials and professional journalists. Her portfolio made a dramatic impression that helped her to acquire this prestigious scholarship.

A sales representative for Kinkos used her portfolio to edge out two external candidates for the position Regional Sales Manager. She emphasized her past contributions and value to the company. The most impressive addition to her portfolio were letters of accommodation from major accounts praising her professionalism and stating their willingness to do more business with her. Several business people stated in their letters that they wanted someone like her to work for their business. She left a copy of her S.T.A.R. Portfolio with the interviewer. She was prepared. She got the job.

The S.T.A.R. Portfolio not only permits candidates to 'show' competencies; it allows the taciturn, shy, or nervous individual to perform competitively with more outgoing and extroverted counterparts. A quiet desktop publishing student included in her S.T.A.R. Portfolio 'before and after' renditions of a manual she revised. Uncomfortable in praising herself, she demonstrated the high quality of her work by showing in her portfolio the pre-edited manual followed by her improvements that she created using the latest technology. Through her portfolio, she was able to "brag" about her work in a positive manner, giving credence to the old maxim "seeing is believing." This presentation helped her secure a job. Within a year she called the college seeking office staff for several open and new positions. She had become the Office Manager.

The S.T.A.R. Portfolio allows someone with deficient academic credentials but with sufficient background to emphasize competencies learned on one's own. Richard Bolles, author of the popular What Color is Your Parachute?, explained at the 1995 Middle Atlantic Career Counselors Association (MACCA) Conference that his son, despite physical limitations and the lack of a college degree, won out over one hundred other job candidates because he was the only one who demonstrated his skills through samples of his work. He did not have the right educational background in terms of a degree, but he had the right skills to do the job. He convinced the employer of his abilities through his portfolio.


The S.T.A.R. Portfolio not only rescues reluctant interviewees from floundering with unanswerable questions, but also provides them with a vehicle to showcase their skills during the interview. As lifetime job security fades into the past, the job seeker must become more pro-active. We must become our own best publicists, marketing our unique talents to compete for available jobs. The S.T.A.R. Portfolio, emphasizing one's transferable and demonstrable job skills, becomes a valuable tool to job seekers at all levels. More research and creativity are needed in the development of job portfolios. This research task falls upon the shoulders of both educational institutions with their many professionals and upon successful job seekers. The S.T.A.R. Portfolio is a powerful tool and one of the best passports for the future as we all become entrepreneurs and caretakers of our own careers.


Bernhardt, G. R,. Cole, D. J. & Ryan, C. W. (1993) "Improving Career Decision Making With Adults: Use of Portfolios." Journal of Employment Counseling, V30, 67-73.

Follo, E.(1994) "Career Portfolios: Helping Beginning Teachers Help Themselves." (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 382 611)

Marsh, H. F. and Lasky, P.A. (1984) "The Professional Portfolio: Documentation of Prior Learning." Nursing Outlook, V22, 264-267.

Nussbaum, Bruce (1991, October 7) "I'm Worried About My Job!" Business Week, 3234, 94-97.

Seattle Public Schools. (1994). "Career Development Portfolio." (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 383 838)

Simmons, B. J. (1995) "Developing and Using Portfolios." Kappa Delta Pi Record, V31, 56-59.

Stemmer, P., Brown, B. & Smith, C. (1992, March) "The Employability Skills Portfolio." Educational Leadership, 32-35.

Worthington, B. (1992). "Bringing the 'Real World' Into the Advertising Classroom." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 349 602)