In recent years, employers have started to realize the value of ePortfolios both in the recruitment process and in managing their existing human capital. Research shows that employers recognize the benefits of screening and differentiating applicants with the help of ePortfolios, and they believe that ePortfolios help them identify employees’ hidden competences and development potential. However, due to the novelty of ePortfolios, they are unsure whether it will make their processes more efficient or not. Nonetheless, it is evident that recruitment and human resource management processes are becoming more digital and ePortfolios are taking over the role of traditional resumes.
This paper is a part of the final article collection of the ERASMUS+ KA2 project Empowering Eportfolio Process (EEP).
Digital portfolios were first introduced in the 1990s and the tools and process of their use have been changing and evolving over the years (Lane 2009). The recent leaps of development of information and communication technology have transformed hard copy portfolios into ePortfolios that combine the collection and reflection process of creating a final product for students (Coric, Balaban, & Bubas 2011). Schawbel (2011) and Okoro, Washington, & Cardon (2011) have argued that within ten years, ePortfolios would replace traditional resumes. Similarly, the importance of having a positive online presence in the increasingly digital world of work is emphasized (McCabe 2017; Mirrer 2010; Worley 2011) and sometimes it can be what “nails down a successful interview” (Woodbury, Addams, & Neal 2009, 13).
Kimball (2003) has defined four types of portfolios: working, academic, presentational and professional. In this paper, the author examines the professional portfolio, which is a collected showcase used solely for professional purposes, such as job seeking, entering the workforce or demonstrating proficiencies or professional development that are related to one’s career (Barrett 2010; Hallam & Creagh 2010; Kimball 2003). ePortfolios make students’ learning more visible for them and for additional audiences, such as potential employers (Eynon, Gambino, & Török 2014). Thus, the audience should greatly affect the contents and presentation of the portfolio (Milman 2005). This type of ePortfolio can provide a visual integration of students’ knowledge, skills and competences as well as evidence of students’ progressive professional development during their studies for prospective employers (Willis & Wilkie 2009). However, even though students of today are often referred to as “digital natives” (Barkho 2016), they still have plenty to learn about self-presentation and how to address their message to specific audiences.
Since ePortfolios are still a novelty, there has been little research on employers’ perceptions about them (Leahy & Filiatrault 2017). Nonetheless, recent research shows that ePortfolios are becoming increasingly recognized and valued by recruiters.
This article combines the findings from two semi-structured thematic interviews as well as the conclusions from the previous publication in the European Union funded project “Empowering Eportfolio Process (EEP)”, namely Employers’ perspectives on ePortfolios (Laurikainen & Kunnari 2018). This paper draws up an overall picture of employers’ perspectives on ePortfolios.
The interviewees are recruiters who have come across with ePortfolios in career management and recruitment processes. They were chosen to get diversified perspectives on them:
The interviews were conducted in September 2017 and in January 2018, and they were following a common interview guide that was used in the previous case studies of Empowering Eportfolio Process project consisting of three themes and assisting questions: 1) Job recruitment setting – interests of the employer, 2) Job recruitment setting based on an ePortfolio – transparency for the world of work, and 3) The world of work as an actor in supporting the creation of ePortfolios. The interviewees were interviewed individually by the author and recorded on video or audio recordings and then transcribed. The data from the interviews were analyzed by using qualitative content analysis following Schreirer’s (2012) description. It was used to find relations between the data and concepts as well as the existing theories. The units of analysis were the participants’ opinions related to the recruitment processes and ePortfolios.
The findings are presented jointly with the findings from the previous case studies in the Empowering Eportfolio Process project as well as with the findings from a narrow literature review, to open up what are the benefits and limitations in using ePortfolios in recruitment and competence management in companies.
There is only little research done to examine only the perceptions of employers and recruiters regarding an ePortfolio; or how ePortfolios are used as a component in their recruitment and selection processes (Ambrose 2013; Yu 2011; Ward & Moser 2008). Ward and Moser (2008) found that the use of ePortfolios is still rather low amongst employers. However, a consistently high interest in the development and promotion of ePortfolios was found amongst employers; they found it to be a valuable tool for recruitment (Ambrose 2013; Yu 2011; Ward & Moser 2008). Nonetheless, as students become comfortable creating ePortfolios in educational setting, employers may still not have as much experience in reviewing ePortfolios as applicants have in creating them (Leahy & Filiatrault 2017).
Blair and Godsall (2006) found that 75 per cent of employers stated that they were not using ePortfolios mainly because they were not familiar with them. However, younger recruiters who have grown up with technology may utilize ePortfolios more easily in their work, whereas experts who have been in working for a decade or more may be stuck with their own functioning processes and do not perceive any benefits of an ePortfolio (Blair & Godsall 2006). Leahy and Filiatrault (2017) found similar results in their research showing that recruiters who had been working less than ten years were much more likely to visit students’ ePortfolios than those who had worked more than ten years.
However, it seems that ePortfolios will be reviewed when they are made available for recruiters (Brammer 2007; Ward & Moser 2008). For example, in the research done by Woodley and Sims (2011) three out of four students received positive feedback of their ePortfolios. Brammer’s (2007) interviews revealed that three out of four managers who had been introduced to ePortfolios took them into the selection process. In addition, Leahy and Filiatrault (2017) found in their research that 85 per cent of recruiters reported that if the students provided a link to their ePortfolios, they would visit the link. Thus, even those less tech-savvy recruiters are likely to glance the ePortfolios, if the link is provided. However, in order to have the full benefit and not to alienate them from the ePortfolio immediately, the introduction to the ePortfolio should be as simple as possible.
On the other hand, Weber (2018) states that the use of an ePortfolio would enable companies to communicate with the failed candidates and explain in which part of the process they were unsuccessful or place candidates in proper positions that fit their skills and interests. Luiro (2017) added that when a company is operating in several different locations or even globally, ePortfolios could ease the recruitment process in a way that it provides the same information of a candidate in a form that is easily available for all company representatives, regardless of time or where they are placed.
Fowler (2012) interviewed employers who believed that if ePortfolios included relevant information for their hiring needs, using them would save time and money within their recruitment processes. In addition, they felt that ePortfolios provided more depth and a more accurate representation of candidates. Thus, students’ should show their character when discussing their professional practice and development in their ePortfolios as well as their aspirations and anticipations – what do they want to do and what kind of career they want to have (Pires & Rodrigues 2018; Hulme & Hughes 2006), as well as their motivation to learn and further develop themselves (Luiro 2017). Further, students’ ePortfolios should be streamlined to meet the specific purposes of the position they are applying for (Whitworth, Deering, Hardy, & Jones 2011; Pires & Rodrigues 2018). Employers stated that ePortfolio could be especially useful in recruitment situations where very specific skills and competences are looked for (Kaarlenkaski 2018).
Weber (2018) found that according to employers the general characteristics of ePortfolio should be the ability to easily access information and navigate through the site, as well as the portability and convenience of the ePortfolio. Kaarlenkaski (2018) suggested that a timeline of the candidate would be beneficial as well. In addition, employers stated that an ePortfolio gives them the ability to differentiate a candidate, assess potential fit and future within the company, and encapsulate a candidate’s traditional application materials and online media within one place. They appreciated that they could learn as much as they chose to about individual candidates, “dig deeper” into a candidate’s information. Further, employers appreciated academic project descriptions and seeing pictures and diagrams of students’ work, as well as other references. (Weber 2018; Luiro 2017; Kaarlenkaski 2018) However, Kaarlenkaski (2018) stated that sometimes students want to show as much work evidence as they can because in general they do not yet have much experience. Still, from the employers’ perspective it is better to choose carefully what you present, what is relevant for that specific purpose, position or audience (e.g. Pires & Rodrigues 2018); students do not need to list all their work experiences in their ePortfolios:
“The employer does not need to know about every single work experience students have unless they are somehow relevant to the specific position they are applying to. Sometimes it is perfectly fine for example to bundle such minor work experiences or just describe what kind of competences the person has gained out of these experiences.” (Kaarlenkaski 2018)
Nonetheless, applicants should consider how to show their personality and innovativeness in their ePortfolios in order to stand out from others (Laurikainen, Van Eylen, & Uí Choistealbha 2018). In addition, occasionally some individual life experiences, even personal ones, can provide meaningful information for the recruitment process. For example, Kunnari (2018) described a case from the nursing field where the things one has learnt as a patient or when helping relatives handle serious diseases can demonstrate competences and understanding that is crucial for being a professional in that field. Further, Kaarlenkaski (2018) mentioned that ePortfolios could give an idea of what kind of approach applicants have towards work – if they take the initiative, if they have an active and entrepreneurial way of working which is often highly appreciated by the employers. Furthermore, Weber (2018) continues stating that with ePortfolio employers could learn more about a candidate’s online brand, initiative, written and oral communication skills, and professional recommendations. Actually, employers confirmed that the soft skills often differentiate a candidate from others. Employers liked the personalized nature of content in ePortfolios as it gives an idea of a candidate’s character and background, creativity and thinking process, teamwork skills and adaptability, and thus gives an indication whether the candidate would be a potential fit within the company (Laurikainen & Kunnari 2018). Hence, it is important to verbalize one’s skills and competences in a transparent way. However, this can be challenging especially at the beginning of the career, and sometimes when it comes to very specific skills and competences (Luiro 2017). One efficient way of demonstrating who the applicant is as a person and as a professional, and a way of assessing some general skills, is to provide a dynamic presentation video of the person’s motivation (pitch presentation), adding some informative visual materials in the background (Rodrigues & Pires 2018; Pires & Rodrigues 2018; Kunnari 2018).
An ePortfolio is a good platform to collect evidence of competences and online presence from different sources. However, employers dissuaded students from linking their personal social media sites to their ePortfolios and highlighted that possible photos should be professional. In addition, employers stated that it is important to ensure that the content in each of the sources is consistent, updated, easily navigated and readily available for employers. Especially LinkedIn profiles have been mentioned several times in research as an ePortfolio platform, or at least that it should be linked to ePortfolios as it is a channel that companies use frequently for scouting potential employees. (Luiro 2017; Weber 2018; Pires & Rodrigues 2018.) Further, employers also highlighted that it is important to know what the professional channels and networks one should follow and participate in are (Laurikainen et al. 2018). Truly, finding jobs nowadays happens widely through different networks and often these positions are not even publically open but more so hidden needs of the company (Kaarlenkaski 2018).
In much research, a lack of time or place in the recruitment process was the most significant limitation (e.g. Strawhecker, Messersmith, & Balcom 2007; Boody 2009; Whitworth et al. 2011). Indeed, employers can see ePortfolios as duplication of efforts for the candidate and employer (Weber 2018).
Temple, Allan, and Temple (2003) found that an ePortfolio was as a desirable employment tool but the content would need to be condensed for the employers. Further, “less is more”, an ePortfolio should be clear and concise, the content should be layered having the main things on the front page and the more detailed information should be behind links to the next layers, and key word search could help to manage the content (Weber 2018; Laurikainen et al. 2018). On the other hand, some employers have expressed their concern related to the amount of personal and professional information on ePortfolios leading to biases and subjectivities toward the candidate, which could affect the ethics of the hiring process. Thus, students should consider what and how much they choose to share. Simultaneously, the personal nature of ePortfolio allows students to explain some personal situations such as changing course or breaks in study or work career. This makes the use of ePortfolio “a double-edged sword” and students need to balance the content of their ePortfolios carefully. (Weber 2018)
It is evident that the use of ePortfolios is in some work profiles and in some fields more natural than in others. Luiro (2017) raised a question on how to verbalize competences where one is “selling” expertise and not skills or knowledge to produce something concrete. It is obvious that the competences related to the work positions where you create something concrete are much easier to demonstrate in ePortfolio. However, in many positions there is some kind of evidence to show or certain kinds of characteristics that are valuable, such as general competences. It is a bit more challenging to describe these kinds of competences but employers have still stated that they can often evaluate them from the formulation and structure of the ePortfolio, i.e. how the information and evidence is written and presented. Nonetheless, the ePortfolio alone is perhaps not enough to assess candidates. Luiro (2017) brought up another concern how to verify the evidence in the ePortfolio to be authentic and belonging to that person. This concern can be legitimate in many fields where references or work examples can be easy to copy (e.g. coding). Thus, employers have identified that the best way to use ePortfolios, in their opinion, is being a part of the screening process of the candidates or in interviews as an additional resource (e.g. Hartwick & Mason 2014).
The framework of this article, and of the whole Empowering Eportfolio Process project, focuses on the ePortfolio process in higher education context and thus, the use of ePortfolios as a tool for competence management in companies has not been the key issue of the research. However, this topic is related to how employers perceive ePortfolios in general and how willing they are to begin using them in their processes, whether it is in recruitment or human resource and competence management. Furthermore, it can be an additional motivation for students to create their own ePortfolios if those are more comprehensively used in companies.
Schweyer (2010) stated that the changes in the structures and characteristics of work emphasize the need for companies to prepare and utilize their workforce in an appropriate manner, thus, human resource management (HRM) pays more attention to the management of human capital (HCM) having emphasis on learning and development, workforce planning and retention, and employee redeployment. Luiro (2017) stated that an ePortfolio could be used as an “internal LinkedIn” to manage competences and personnel development within the company. Kaarlenkaski (2018) added that with an ePortfolio, one could perceive his/her strengths and interests as well as career options more easily, as well as record and reflect competences during work and increase motivation for the professional development and future possibilities. Nonetheless, empirical research has shown that many organizations are having difficulties in gathering qualitative data on employee performance, potential and competences (Lukaszewski, Stone, & Stone-Romero 2008). Thus, Barker (2003) suggests that the ePortfolio can be a beneficial tool in these processes having close links with the tracking and development of human capital, lifelong learning and the assessment of prior learning. The ePortfolio enables the capturing and comparison of qualitative data regarding the skill and competence level of employees, their ambitions and development potential (JISC 2009; Woodbury et al. 2009). Therefore, they could be useful e.g. as a basis for the performance appraisals (Lievens 2015).
Recent research (Ambrose 2013; Yu 2011; Ward & Moser 2008; Weber 2018) shows that employers have recognized the potential in ePortfolios and think that they can change the way a candidate is assessed in the recruitment process, especially after initial screening of the candidates has been done. Employers see ePortfolios as a helpful step before the actual conversation with the candidate, and also during or after the interview as an additional resource. In addition, some see ePortfolios as a source to come back to with some candidates when future positions become available, or to assess someone who is e.g. having an internship in the company. However, there is no consensus amongst employers whether they found that ePortfolios would save time in the hiring process or not (Weber 2018; Fowler 2012).
Nonetheless, the changes in the world of work up until now, and even more so in the future, set different kinds of requirements for finding suitable employees, for the recruitment processes as well as managing careers and competences of existing employees. As the world is increasingly digitalizing it is only natural that these processes become digital as well. Thus, ePortfolios pose new possibilities in managing these processes, providing deeper knowledge of the potential future employees as well as steering the careers of existing staff. In addition, the collaboration with the educational institutes through ePortfolios is a way to build up a positive employer brand and form a bridge from studies to employment, attracting those best suitable students as new employees. Simultaneously, the educational institutes need to prepare their students to create their showcase ePortfolios for the transition phases by enabling the connection with the world of work and making the requirements of the specific field of industry more visible for students as well as by guiding the selection of appropriate evidence of competences for the specific purpose or work position.
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Marja Laurikainen, MBA, Project coordinator, Empowering Eportfolio Process – Education Development Specialist (Global Education). She currently works in global education services designing and coordinating tailored education programmes, creating cooperation and research networks with regional experts and companies.
Reference to the publication:
Laurikainen, M. (2018). The value of ePortfolios in recruitment and human capital management processes. In I. Kunnari & M. Laurikainen (Eds.) Empowering ePortfolio Process. HAMK Unlimited Journal 21.12.2018. Retrieved [date] from https://unlimited.hamk.fi/ammatillinen-osaaminen-ja-opetus/the-value-of-eportfolios-in-recruitment
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