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Career development: Creating a portfolio


A portfolio of work is traditionally considered the preserve of ‘creatives’, such as designers and copywriters. But planners are increasingly being asked to submit examples of their work when applying for new positions. What makes a good portfolio?

It’s certainly becoming more common for employers to ask for examples of work,” says Kirsty Hall, founder of property recruitment consultancy KDH Associates.
“We’re noticing that more candidates, particularly at junior and intermediate levels, are submitting portfolios with their CVs when applying for positions. They certainly grab my attention when I’m reviewing responses on behalf of clients – and they’ll often be the first candidates we call to discuss the role.”
That’s because, says Hall, submitting a portfolio shows that the candidate is prepared to go “a step beyond” a standard CV and job application. This in turn implies that they will bring the same desire to impress to the advertised role.
To a prospective employer, a candidate with a portfolio looks motivated, willing and serious – three qualities that every workplace needs.
But what should a planner’s portfolio contain? How should you present it? And what are the do’s and don’ts of an effective portfolio?

Portfolio do’s and don’ts

By Kirsty Hall, KDH Associates
Kirsty Hall, KDH AssociatesProjects to be proud of
Choose the projects you are most proud of and that accurately represent your experience. Also think about the job that you ideally want – for example, if your experience has mainly been on retail schemes but you really want to do more residential work, then include any projects that have a residential element. Think also about projects that showcase your ‘transferable’ skills, such as negotiating, presenting, report writing, and so on.
There is no shame in referring to your work as part of a team effort – just be sure to explain what your specific role was. Planning is, after all, a collaborative process, and a prospective employer will have far more respect for you if you are honest about the extent of your autonomy.
When describing the work, be specific. Include as many details as you can to give your prospective employer a clear idea of the scale and nature of your work. Include information such as who the applicant or client was, the number of units, the location and any particular issues that arose, or material considerations, such as being in a conservation area, and so on.
Consistent presentation
Be consistent – decide on a format and stick with it. If you include images for one project, then do this for all projects.
Order your projects logically. I would recommend following a chronological order, with your most recent projects first. Just as with a CV, make sure that the first page really makes the reader want to read the whole document.

"A portfolio grabs my attention when I'm reviewing responses on behalf of clients"

Remember that your prospective employer is likely to be very busy and will not have time to read your version of War And Peace. One of the main attractions of portfolios from an employer’s perspective is that they give an insight into your experience and capabilities more quickly and effectively than your CV – but this benefit is lost if they are presented with a tome of 30 pages. The best portfolios I have seen have been limited to 10 pages or fewer.
It sounds obvious, but only take credit for the work that you have done. If you are including images or referring to any work done by others then make sure you credit accordingly. 
A fitting format
I would recommend submitting your portfolio at the same time as your CV, either through the application process or through your recruitment consultant.
Make sure that it is in a PDF version, as there are so many versions of Word that you risk corrupting your formatting.
I would also recommend taking a well-presented hard copy of your portfolio with you to any interviews and ensuring that you have a copy you can leave with the interviewer if they request it. You may wish to make this a slightly more detailed document, perhaps either by adding additional projects or by providing further details on your projects.

How my portfolio helped me get my job

Gareth Jackson is an associate at Quod
Gareth Jackson Quod
Why did you create a portfolio?
Gareth Jackson (GJ): “I felt it was important to be able to quickly demonstrate my experience and to try and stand out a little – particularly given the number of CVs employers receive. It was a great way of showcasing the type of schemes I had worked on while also demonstrating my presentation skills.”
Gareth’s five tips for a tip-top portfolio
1. Don’t overload your portfolio with text because you will get your chance to discuss the schemes further during an interview.
2. Ensure that you include schemes that are relevant to the job you are applying for.
3. Make your portfolio neat and well organised. Group schemes into appropriate categories (by borough, by type, and so on). 
4. Make sure the images you use are clear and are not overshadowed by large amounts of text.
5. Ensure that your portfolio is accurate with regard to development descriptions and offers a fair reflection of your experience.
What does it contain?
GJ: “It’s six to eight pages long and laid out neatly, with two schemes per page. Each scheme consists of a ‘hero shot’ of the development, accompanied by the logo of the local authority and the status of the project. I also include a very brief paragraph about the scheme, including key details such as the type of development and quantum of floorspace and anything else that I feel is specific to that project.”
What were your selection criteria?
GJ: “I chose mainly large-scale schemes that I had played a significant role in and that the employer may have been aware of. I also chose schemes that were of relevance to the role I was applying for. I make sure that I’m able to change the content depending on the circumstance.”
How do you present your portfolio?
GJ: “As a printed booklet to accompany my CV, which then enables me to discuss it in more detail with the interviewer. I also set it up as an electronic file that I can present should the opportunity arise.”
What sort of benefit does having a portfolio give you?
GJ: “Potential employers can see very quickly the range of schemes I work on, but also that I am a well-organised individual and take care in the appearance of my work – which I feel is critical in this industry.”

Do you continue to add to it?
GJ: “I like to keep it up to date as often as possible, as it can also be an important tool when meeting potential clients and when pitching for new work. Clients, as well as potential employers, are always keen to understand more about your experience, but don’t necessarily want to read every detail about it.”




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