A growing trend in the job market is using a career portfolio. Carmen Croonquist, M.S.E., the director of career services at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF), is a strong advocate of portfolio development and has spoken widely on the topic at conferences, professional associations, community agencies, job clubs and student groups.

"A career portfolio is a visual representation of your personal traits, experience, accomplishments, knowledge and skills," says Croonquist. "It enables you to link your qualifications with the needs of an employer or industry."

Croonquist says portfolios are an excellent tool for assessment and self-marketing. "They get you into the habit of documenting your accomplishments and help chart professional growth," she said. "By collecting, evaluating and organizing tangible examples of your qualifications, you will be far better prepared to talk about yourself during an interview or a performance review."

Portfolios enable you to show and tell, offering concrete proof of your assets. While a résumé and cover letter merely describe your qualifications and experience on paper, a portfolio offers an employer tangible evidence to back up your claims. Portfolios, however, do not replace cover letters and résumés.

"The primary difference is that your résumé and cover letter help you get an interview, whereas your portfolio helps you get a job offer," said Croonquist.

Do they work? A study by Learnovation (www.Learnovation.com), a company that assists in developing career portfolios, found that job seekers who used portfolios reported receiving more job offers with starting salaries typically 30 percent higher than those who did not. An informal survey conducted by UWRF career services with 100 area school districts reported that the use of a career portfolio "significantly" influenced the hiring of 75 percent of those who used portfolios.

"Any skepticism I've encountered from employers has resulted from situations when portfolios were misused by the interviewee," said Croonquist. "The bottom line: It is just as important to know how to present your portfolio as it is to put it together."

Matt Krumrie is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, MN and has five years of experience reporting on the employment industry. E-mail subject ideas to janelson@startribune.com.