7 Important College Experiences Students Should Include in Professional Portfolios

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A common complaint from college graduates today is that employers expect too much experience for entry-level jobs. They have classes to attend and papers to write, social events, and possibly even part-time jobs. So, how can they compete with talent with 4+ years of job-related experience when they go straight from high school to college?

It’s simple! They just need to keep track of all the transferable experience and skills they acquire during normal college coursework and activities. The catch is, to be able to check off the years-of-experience box for many entry-level positions, your students need to start building their professional portfolios as soon as they start college. 

Don’t let anyone despair if they have already waited until nearing graduation. It’s still possible to start filling in the blanks and gathering examples and references from previous years. Here are a few experiences students need to understand the importance of including in their professional portfolios:

Leading group projects

Strong communication and leadership skills are on nearly every recruiter’s radar. Even if the specific roles they are looking to fill are entry-level, employers recognize the value of internal mobility. College students should take the initiative to lead group projects whenever the opportunity arises and keep track of how they lead the group. For example,

  • Did they delegate tasks?
  • Did they schedule meetings?
  • Did they organize the project?
  • Did they present?

They should have examples of the work they contributed as well. Employers will want to see the quality of their work and that they can lead by example.

Volunteer work

Whether volunteering on campus or in the community, time spent volunteering is excellent to add to any resume. In addition, students can work examples of their volunteer work into their professional portfolio by preparing a brief report about the organization or cause, some details about the event, and how they contributed. 

Often, an organizer will provide a testimonial or reference that backs the report up. It’s even more impressive if students follow up on the impact and participate in similar events. A big part of work culture fit is seeing where values align, and volunteering shows real-life examples of students’ values and how they invest in their interests. 

College research 

Research projects are a common practice in college coursework. Depending on the major or area of study, the research may be original and scientific. In other cases, it may be historical. More than likely, students will apply to industries related to their degrees, meaning college research could interest potential employers. 

Students should keep in mind that some research cannot be shared until it’s publicly available. College medical research, for example, must be peer-reviewed and published. But if they’ve participated in research they cannot fully disclose, they could still provide a summary of the research purpose and their participation, as well as the status of the research review that a professor or advisor can sign off on. 

Tutoring/mentoring

Mentorship and the ability to train others are invaluable in the workplace. If students show they have the skills and patience to teach, they can stand out from other applicants. 

Many colleges offer additional credits or compensation toward tuition or books if students sign up to tutor on campus. It’s an excellent opportunity to keep skills sharp and is very attractive on a professional portfolio and resume

To record tutoring or mentoring in their portfolio, encourage students to format a brief explanation in a case study format. 

  • What subject did they tutor a peer in? 
  • What was the challenge? 
  • How did they come to a solution? 
  • What was the outcome?

Shadowing or assisting professors

If students can find a professor to shadow or assist on campus who instructs in a study relevant to the career that student desires, it’s a great idea to develop a relationship. Similar to a workplace mentorship program, the student can benefit from gaining professional advice and experience while working with the professor. 

Showing interest in learning new skills while helping an educator or staff member on campus shows employers that students invest in personal and professional growth and are willing to help others. Students can request reference letters from professors sharing how the students helped them and what they learned.

Extra-curricular activities

Students will likely not list playing on an intramural sports team or participating in the pep band. It’s unlikely they will see the importance of a potential employer knowing they like soccer or play the saxophone if it’s unrelated to the job. However, sharing a commitment to a team while keeping up with classwork shows the student can balance work and life. It also lets employers know this candidate is a team player. 

Studies outside major courses

Cross-training is becoming more popular in the workplace. Transferable skills are invaluable. Employers realize the importance of empowering team members to depend on each other when they need time off, not just in the workplace. By showing they are growth-oriented and ambitious, students can gain an advantage in the hiring process. Employers are looking for new hires willing to learn new skills and be a strong support.

Students need to share why they looked into another course outside their major. Did they see areas of cross-over they thought were valuable? Did they look ahead at career advancement opportunities and recognize a skill they may need down the road? Setting goals and exploring ways to prepare themselves for the many steps they’ll take after graduation are attractive attributes employers will consider in professional portfolios.


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Val Matta
Val Matta
Val Matta is the co-owner and leader of business development at CareerShift, a comprehensive job hunting and career management solution for companies, outplacement firms, job seekers and university career centers. You can connect with her and the CareerShift team on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.