Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Create a success portfolio

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One way to impress interviewers is to provide them with a portfolio of documents that validate your success and your reputation.

Such a sales pitch, incorporating proof of success, is more convincing than uncorroborated promises of future productivity.

Providing hard copies of your documents, rather than electronic versions, allows your interviewers to make a decision about you immediately after your interview — without the task of downloading electronic documents.

A portfolio of tangible, eye-catching work will help you stand out from the pack. For example, I recently helped a GS-14 Web master prepare an interview portfolio that included printouts of Web pages he had produced. The result? He got the job, and his interviewers later told him that he had been the only applicant to show them work products, which bowled them over.

Your interviewers may use your portfolio to sell you to other decision-makers who don’t attend the interview. For example, I know a GS-15 communications expert who provided his interviewer with a chapter of a book he had recently published. The result? The communications expert got the job, and his interviewer told him that his chapter had helped him convince other managers that he was indeed the “go-to” guy in his field.

How to prepare a winning portfolio:

*Purchase labels and about 10 plastic portfolios with pockets as soon as you begin your job search. That way, you won’t have to do a last-minute, midnight run for these materials when you need them.

*Obtain each interviewer’s name and title when you’re invited to an interview. Then, immediately begin preparing a portfolio for each interviewer.

*Neatly label and annotate materials so that your portfolio will be self-explanatory. Emphasize key text, such as glowing praise, with a highlighter. Identify your contributions to group projects.

*Your portfolio’s first pocket should contain a well-formatted, hard-copy version of your résumé — not a printout of your hard-to-read online résumé. Your interviewers won’t necessarily read your résumé before the interview.

*Your portfolio should also feature your business card, reference list and impressive documents. These might include: reports, published articles, newsletters, press releases, Web pages, press clips or printouts of PowerPoint presentations that you wrote, that quote you or that cover your projects.

*Other documents could include enthusiastic annual evaluations; praising e-mails from managers, colleagues or clients; evaluations from conferences or trainings you organized; copies of awards and their justifications; academic transcripts; written recommendations from your references; programs from events and conferences that featured your presentations; explanatory maps, charts and photographs; and artwork or marketing materials you designed.

Caveat: Hiring managers are busy — always. So include in your portfolio only highlights that relate to your target job. This principle was violated by an applicant for a federal contracting job who brought to her interview what her interviewer described as “a huge, three-ring binder of sample contracts that was thick enough to choke a rhinoceros.” Because of its volume, the binder only inspired pity for the applicant, not a desire to hire her, recalls the interviewer.

Practice weaving your portfolio into conversation and requesting a minute to walk your interviewers through it. Include several quick descriptions of how your projects improved your office’s operations, enhanced its reputation or pioneered a new approach.

When you present your portfolio to your interviewers, position it for viewing by all interviewers, and point to it. Look up!

If possible, leave a success portfolio with each interviewer. You will thereby leave indelible impression of your achievements that will linger after your interview is over.

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.

Customize your résumé

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Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry plans to ask agencies to stop requiring job seekers to fill out those reviled knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) essays and to rely instead on applicant résumés to decide if someone is qualified and warrants a second look.

Some tips on crafting winning résumés:

*Tailor your résumé to your target job. Just as you give more attention to mail that is addressed to you personally than to junk mail that is addressed to the entire world, hiring managers give more attention to résumés that address their specific needs than to résumés that are addressed generically to all hiring managers.

To tailor your résumé, read the description of your target job as a question that asks, “Are you qualified to do this job effectively?” Answer that question affirmatively by emphasizing your work experience, education and volunteer experience that parallel the job’s demands. When possible, incorporate key words from the description of your target job into your job summaries.

*Prove that you wield responsibility. For example, identify the size of the budget you manage, the size of your staff and describe your supervisory achievements. Mention any security clearances you hold as high in your résumé as possible. If you consistently meet tight deadlines and bring projects in on time and under budget, say so.

*Craft your résumé for a quick read. Your job summaries should be a series of short, concise bullets that relate to your target job. (Create a bullet in online applications by typing an asterisk followed by several spaces.) Remember that hiring managers will probably spend only a few seconds reading your résumé before deciding whether you’re a contender. Therefore, if your résumé doesn’t quickly wow hiring managers, it probably won’t wow them at all.

Begin each bullet with an achievement-oriented action verb, such as led, designed, wrote or streamlined. To obtain lists of such verbs, do a Google search on “action verbs for résumés.” Caution: Do not incorporate your job descriptions into your résumé. They read as dryly as a stranger’s “to do” list, and they’re not impressive because they don’t convey actual successes.

Place bullets that most closely parallel the responsibilities of your target job at the top of each job summary — even if those responsibilities are not the ones you currently spend the most time on.

*Include your positive feedback on your résumé. For example, if you have consistently received excellent annual evaluations, or earned awards, say so.

One way to cite praise in your résumé is to copy a technique used by movie ads that string together excerpts of reviews with phrases like “Feel-Good Movie of the Summer,” “An Oscar Contender” or “Tells an Unforgettable Story.” Similarly, brandish your good reviews by excerpting quotes from the positive oral and written feedback that you have received.

For example, consider this bullet, which helped one of my clients land a promotion: “Sample Positive Feedback from Executives: ‘Joe is a vital asset … his contributions are multifaceted … has gone the extra mile time and time again … provides expert advice.’ ”

*Ignore the myth that federal résumés should be as long as Princess Diana’s wedding train. Truth is the correct length for your résumé is the minimum length you need to prove you’re qualified.

Minimize your résumé’s length by ruthlessly editing redundancies, squeezing as much information as possible into as few words as possible and eliminating credentials that don’t relate to your target job.

Federal agencies don’t require applicants to review experience that is more than 10 years old. So if your early experience won’t help you land your target job, omit it.

*If you’re applying for a job within your current office, assume hiring managers have no prior knowledge of your achievements. If you don’t fully present all of your achievements, you are likely to be upstaged by other applicants.

*Get a second opinion. The only way to objectively evaluate how your résumé comes across is to show your résumé to other people, and ask them how it comes across to them.

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.