Frontline Initiative Credentialing

Stars' Top Ten Portfolio Tips List


Kathy Pitrat is the Director of Workforce Development and Support Strategies at The Arc Northern Chesapeake Region.

The Arc Northern Chesapeake Region’s Stars Program is an incentive program for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). The program links DSPs’ achievement of specified experience, higher education, training, and competency requirements to financial incentives. Targeting approximately 100 DSPs employed at The Arc Northern Chesapeake Region (in Maryland), Stars provides a career path for exemplary DSPs.

Stars aims to improve the service quality by: 1) increasing retention of exemplary staff, 2) improving recruitment opportunities, 3) creating a diverse group of future leaders at The Arc and in the field, and 4) facilitating organizational change regarding DSP workforce issues through strategic planning. For the past three years DSPs participating in Stars have been developing professional portfolios. Below are some helpful tips for creating your portfolio, based on their experience:

  • Don’t panic! Work on one piece of your portfolio at a time, starting with the part that seems the easiest to you. Your confidence will grow once you have completed a part of it, no matter how small! It will energize you to tackle the next part.
  • Seek help. The best and brightest in any profession don’t do it alone – they seek the advice and ideas of other people. Get a friend who is a good writer to review your work and help edit it. Get together with co-workers to brainstorm good examples of community and service networking. Talking it through with others may help you clarify your understanding of that competency area and find your best example.
  • Don’t take feedback personally. When you receive feedback and suggestions on your portfolio, don’t take them personally. Even professional writers have their work returned to them with lots of red editor’s marks! We all get better by accepting and learning from constructive feedback.
  • Persevere. Most of us have many time commitments and responsibilities, so developing your portfolio may take time. Commit to working on it every week. Find a mentor or a co-worker who will encourage you when you get discouraged, and offer others the same support when they are struggling.
  • Pretend the reader doesn’t know you. In all likelihood, at least some of the readers of your portfolio won’t know you or may not even work in the field of community human services! Write as if they do not know the people you support or what you do. If you use jargon or acronyms, explain what they mean. Have someone who does not work in community human services review your work occasionally to see if they understand what you are trying to communicate.
  • Improve your skills. Some participants in the Stars program discovered that they were not as proficient in certain areas as they wanted to be. After hearing their co-workers’ examples, they had a greater understanding of the competency area and improved their practice of that skill. Some replaced the example in their portfolio with a better one or worked on another area of their portfolio until they had a better work sample. Your portfolio doesn’t have to be perfect, but be willing to admit that you can do better….Then go out and do it!
  • Focus on results. To make the work sample complete, the reader needs to know if you made a positive difference for the person you support. Many people fall into the trap of discussing what they did in their work summary or journal without ever saying how their skills or actions impacted the person(s) being supported.
  • Concepts first, then writing. Spend time thinking through your ideas, either alone or with others, before trying to write or record them, especially if you are intimidated by the act of writing. The idea is the most important part. Doing this part first may also help you find creative ways to demonstrate your competency – photographs, videos, etc.
  • Remember confidentiality. Remember to get written permission before using the names and likenesses of anyone you support in your portfolio. Be sure to get permission from the legal guardian if applicable (but you should still ask the person for permission as well).
  • Don’t panic! Yes, we mentioned this already. But it can’t be said enough. Those who have completed portfolios often say that it was overwhelming and scary at first but then it became energizing to work with others and to feel a sense of accomplishment when it is completed. You can do it!