Building a portfolio

Most specialties will ask for a portfolio as part of the interview process, here you will find tips and advice to give some direction in starting to build a portfolio of evidence towards your chosen specialty.

What is a specialty portfolio?

Most specialties will require you to put together a portfolio as part of the selection process however GP is the main one that does not require this. A portfolio is a paper-based folder that contains evidence of your achievements to date, it is separate to your Foundation e-portfolio which does not link into the portfolio you present at your specialty interview. The portfolio structure varies from one specialty to another but the principles behind the portfolio are consistent across specialties.

Most specialties will have an interview station in the selection process based upon your portfolio, an interviewer (or two) will ask you questions about the evidence in your portfolio in order to learn more about you and your achievements.

The portfolio is the part of your interview process that you have the most control over. You can take the time to plan and evidence your achievements without the pressure of an interview situation. This gives you the chance to really demonstrate what sets you apart from other trainees and to demonstrate you are ‘trainable’.

Your specialty will have clear marking criteria for the portfolio and you may be required to self-assess yourself against these criteria. You should do the research needed to find the specific requirements for your specialty portfolio and plan to meet them over the next few months. In general terms though, specialties are looking for evidence of the following things in a portfolio:

  • Evidence of commitment to the specialty
  • Clinical knowledge and skills
  • Teaching experience
  • Audit and QIPs
  • Publications and presentations
  • Experience of leadership/management

Notice how many of these requirements can be gathered in any specialty post, this is to allow relatively equal opportunities for all trainees who experience different rotations.

Tips and advice for building your portfolio

Start early, it takes many hours to put together a high-quality portfolio that will reflect your ability. There are two factors you need to consider:

  • Strategically seeking opportunities to enhance your portfolio over the next few months. You will need to be pro-active to find those things that will set you apart from your peers in foundation training.
  • Actually digging out/ getting hold of evidence. You will need to find old certificates, collect feedback from teaching, present audits, request references, ask people to email confirmation of attendance/ participation and hang onto thank you cards and letters from patients. This takes time and you may find yourself dependent on others for evidence, as such, it is worth starting to collect it in a folder early on.

Your interviewer(s) may review your portfolio before they meet you, so it will be their first impression of you.

  • You should buy a nice-looking file and put time into making it look professional.
  • Read the specialty-specific guidance carefully and make sure you structure your portfolio exactly as requested. Your interviewer has a lot of these portfolios to look through on the day and you need to make sure they can find all the information quickly and easily.
  • If you are asked to provide a self-assessment or tick list sheet at the front, make sure this is done exactly as the guidance says.
  • Put evidence into plastic wallets but make sure you keep everything ‘facing outwards.’ Do not hide information behind other pieces of paper, make it easy for your interviewer to see all the evidence.
  • Highlight key information and use post it notes to annotate, this can help interviewers quickly identify the key evidence.
  • If you have multiple pieces of evidence, like feedback forms from teaching, collate all responses on a single sheet then place the actual evidence in a folder behind it.

Even if you are taking an ‘FY3 year’, a lot of the evidence is most easily collected when you are within the foundation training programme. Participation in things like audits or teaching and arranging taster sessions are often easier when you are in a training post.

Many specialties will want you to demonstrate commitment to your chosen career path. To do this you will need to show that you have attended relevant courses, carried out relevant audits, given teaching sessions on relevant topics and some may want to see part 1 membership exams.

Few trainees have publications on their CV and often the ‘Research’ section is a key opportunity to differentiate yourself. However, the chance to carry out audit and research will not always present itself to you, so you should make a conscious effort to seek out these opportunities.

Often the marking criteria will allocate increasing levels of marks for local/regional/national teaching or similar. Keep an eye out for chances to expand the impact and depth of your experience, more of the same is unlikely to score more points.

Keep a close eye on the balance of quality and quantity. You need to demonstrate good, solid evidence of a range of skills and achievements without so much content that the interviewer cannot find the things that really differentiate you as an applicant.

Some specialties will have a separate section on reflection. Even in those specialties that do not, including a few lines of reflection on the work or event that you are evidencing could be valuable. It demonstrates that you are willing and able to learn ‘on the job’ and capable of being a self-directed and reflective learner. Show what you have learned from your experience, demonstrate that you can think critically about what you learned and what you still have to learn in order to work within your chosen specialty.

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