Doctors around the UK have recently finished submitting their applications for their next stage of training. With this next step comes the creation of a portfolio to show assessors what talents and skills you have.
In my experience, people do this poorly. Yet it can be one of the most important stations as well as something that boosts your confidence. Consequently, I thought I’d give you my own insight into the creation of a portfolio- much of this will also be applicable to non-doctors too. Some of it will also apply to the application form process too. Please feel free to comment below on your own tips and insights.
Step 1: Know your worth
This portfolio is your life’s work up to now. The commonest thing I hear from doctors is, “Oh, but I haven’t really done anything.” RUBBISH. You may think you’ve not done anything but you have twenty years of schooling under your belt by now. Are you telling me you have no hobbies in which you can demonstrate progress? That you did absolutely NOTHING in your spare time at university? That you’ve never ever joined a team or a community or an organisation of some sort?
Humans are social creatures. I find it hard to believe that most of you “haven’t really done anything.” You’re just not looking at it correctly.
Do a SWOT analysis- Strengths and Weaknesses that are internal to you and Opportunities and Threats external to you. Why are you the best fit for the job? What qualities do you have that will make you good for that role? Can you provide evidence or examples of this? Once you’ve done this, list EVERY ACTIVITY you have ever been involved with and see what skills that might demonstrate (communication, teamwork, teaching etc…). THEN find your evidence- I’ll talk about this a little further on too.
Step 2: Materials
Again, this portfolio is your life’s work. It does not deserve to sit in a tired old ringbinder and printed on A4 that you couldn’t even be bothered to hole-punch properly. Take pride in it. Buy an expensive ring-binder that looks good. Buy nice-feeling plastic wallets to display your work. This doesn’t need to be expensive. WH Smith has some really nice plastic wallets and cheap ring binder separators that are big enough for large binders.
Step 3: Know the rules and make it easy for the reviewer
You are not trying to annoy your interviewer. If there are rules written for how to display your portfolio, follow them to the letter! But moreover, make it easy for your reviewer to find what you’ve done. For example, at the beginning of each section of my portfolio, I have re-printed the answers to my application question. I have then highlighted the important parts that I have then provided evidence for in that section. This means the reviewer can rapidly look through my portfolio and check I’ve done what I said I had. Easy! Makes for a happier interviewer too…!
I hear that for Paeds applicants, the portfolio can only be 12 A4 pages. But read the statement carefully- it allows you to present evidence in whichever way you would like in order to show that you want to be a Paediatrician. So be creative while maintaining clarity! You have a free reign, play to your target audience (which can include a broad age range….)
Step 4: Know your person specification
Most job applications these days include a person specification. You want to show that you are the most desirable applicant of all of them. So find things that evidence this, both when writing your application and creating your portfolio.
Step 5: Modesty is for time-wasters
I’m not saying be arrogant- that’s no good at all. But don’t be needlessly bashful. You are an adult, applying to adults, for an adult job- you are NOT A STUDENT ANYMORE. Your interviewer is looking for someone they could work with who knows how to handle difficult situations, someone that could be their second in command. Someone who cares enough about doing a good job that they are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses (think SWOT). If you have recently started running and winning marathons, don’t then just tell them that you like running!! That is somewhat selling yourself short.
Step 6: Demonstrate progress and use real examples
Firstly, if you’re a doctor of any clinical sort, get this book:
Your interviewer doesn’t just want to hear buzzwords. They want to know why YOU are as good as you say you are. Therefore use examples for every answer. The same goes for your portfolio. Hobbies are a good example because they are generalisable and people misunderestimate their importance. Let’s say you’re a good painter. Can you somehow demonstrate how you’ve progressed? Are you entering a competition (could you enter a competition before your interview- or even after, so long as you have proof of entry..?)
My sister loves horse-riding. As a result, she went on a jousting course. She has a picture on her facebook of this but she thought she couldn’t put this in her portfolio… Who do you think the interviewer will remember- another lady trying to become a medic; or the woman who went jousting…? Your interviewer will likely see a LOT of people.
Step 7: Evidence
Ok, so you’ve managed to list every skill or job you’ve done and you’ve worked out what skill they each demonstrate. Now you realise you’ve not got the evidence, what do you do?
Firstly, if you’re as terrible as I am, you’ve properly not cleared out your inbox properly in years, or you’ve got an old computer somewhere with something on it that could help. Pull it out! Scour for anything that might show you’ve done what you said.
Let’s say you REALLY can’t find evidence. Can you perhaps write to someone that could write a letter of confirmation on headed notepaper proving you were doing what you said you did? Is there a photo of you wearing a uniform/team shirt that you could use if nothing else?
Think broadly- they don’t want bumpf but if you think that there’s something you want to demonstrate you can do, find evidence for it. Sometimes this means re-doing a course or doing some online training. If you want the job, it’s worth making the effort, right?
Step 8: Show enthusiasm
You want to show your interviewer that this is the dream for you. That you would LOVE to be their colleague and that you would work hard for them.
You want to show them it’s what you’ve ALWAYS wanted to do, even if you didn’t know until last month! The way to do this is to pick out what is important in the person specification and that is specific to the job. If you want to do anaesthesia and you did a Special Study Module in it or happened to do an audit with one, use this as evidence of your enthusiasm for the specialty.
I’m fairly sure I could convince surgeons I’d always wanted to be a surgeon if I had to. DON’T LIE!! But be specific about your evidence and use it to highlight how much you want the job now. If you can evidence it, it stands.
Good luck with your portfolio creation and interviews. Have fun with it and take pride in it- it makes you feel awesome when you get to the interviews!!
Please feel free to comment your own advice or to ask any questions.