Design Thinking applied to Portfolio Development

TEXT | Tanja Oraviita and Annika Hissa

Design Thinking applied to Portfolio Development

Higher education graduates experience more and more the challenges of the changing work life. They should start thinking about their own competences, skills and experiences. Most advise focus on how to make a Curriculum Vitae. The first step should, however, be how to productise own skills, experiences, competences and the professional self to potential employers.

Design Thinking has some essential elements for this. These include imploration of the environment, gaining insight of what has been explored, creating concepts, altering divergent and convergent phases, experimenting as well as target group orientation regarding the end products; potential employers in this case. The two additional elements are productization: how to make oneself competitive and visualisation: concretising own experience, making it attractive, clear and interesting. In productisation, a competitive product with an added value is created and brought to markets, in this case, to labour markets. Often a product is adapted to different markets according to their different conditions. Similarly, learners can productise themselves, their competencies and skills, which they offer to potential employers.

Within Reboot project, we have created a process, based on Design Thinking, for productising one’s own skills, competences and experiences for a potential employment. The first step is to recognise own experiences, hard and soft skills, characteristics and competences. At the end it is possible to showcase the productised professional self with a portfolio.

The steps for productising skills, competencies and experiences are shown below:

From left to right. 1. Context. 2. Discovery. 3. Insight. 4. Development and delivery. 5. Learning and improvement.
  1. CONTEXT: Understanding the context – how is the society, what are societal trends and developments, what is needed in work life in general? What have educational institutions and locations provided to me? What do employers want? What is professional competition? You can find these, for instance, by observing media, social media and job advertisements.
  2. DISCOVERY: Discovering your own soft skills, hard skills, competencies, qualities, experiences and other elements, such as networks, and discovering your own professional attributes.
  3. INSIGHT: Creating insight of your own soft skills, hard skills, competencies, qualities, experiences and other elements, such as networks. Comparing these to the context information, discovering the need for potential additional training and certification of competencies, and deepening your understanding of your own professional abilities to potential employers.
  4. DEVELOPMENT and DELIVERY: Customising your own skills and professional qualities to specific potential employers based on what the employers are looking for and the nature of these employing organisations. Select the suitable soft and hard skills, experiences and other elements, and express these on a Curriculum Vitae and portfolio which are also styled according to the employer and position.
  5. IMRPOVEMENT: Continuous LEARNING, developing and improvement from employment and job search experiences

Productisation of the professional self takes time and requires an open mind. You should not close your own mind from showcasing the work in a portfolio, regardless of the field. Only a portfolio can really showcase what you are capable of and what you have done.  It is advisable not to exclude previous work experiences, hobbies and other experiences, since many important characteristics and skills are developed there too.

The portfolios are often presented as web sites. A teacher could for example tell about his or her teaching philosophy, teaching style and solutions and give examples of teaching situations, for instance a biology lesson held in a forest.

Examples for sushi worker.
Example of a page in a portfolio. Photo: Thu Ngoc Anh Vo

Reboot in a nutshell

Reboot training on soft skills has been developed and co-funded under an EU Erasmus+ program, subprogram Strategic partnership – Adult Education. Reboot project, Rebooting, Re-rooting and Re-skilling Unemployed and Underemployed Higher Education Graduates for Work 4.0. is a collaboration between four countries: Belgium, Finland, Greece and the UK. The aim of the project was to increase the employability potential of unemployed and underemployed higher education graduates by upskilling and developing relevant soft skills and competencies for Work 4.0, as well as the ability of higher education graduates to recognise and demonstrate these skills and adapt them for their career development. Read more about the project at

Two logos. First: Reboot, rebooting, re-rooting & re-skilling. Second: Co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.

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