By Key Club International Trustee Aliya Ali

Applying for contests and awards is one of the most satisfying things you can do: You can see your growth and development throughout the year and get the chance to be rewarded and recognized for your work. However, it can turn stressful without adequate preparation. I have gone through the process myself, so hopefully my experiences will help you tackle those digital profiles this award season.

Start early. This can make a world of difference. Take it from me: I started a digital portfolio a couple of days before it was due, and I was not able to participate in the contest because I couldn’t meet the submission deadline. Starting early allows you to not only refine your portfolio but decrease the amount of work needed later. It also decreases stressful situations, which is always a plus. Starting early also helps you catch and correct mistakes.

If the contest involves newsletters, websites or anything that you do throughout the term, looking over the guidelines and requirements early helps you stay on track. For example, if a newsletter contest requires you to promote Key Club International events as a category, start doing so early. If you’re applying for the Robert F. Lucas Outstanding Lieutenant Governor Award, you’ll know to start collecting the requirements for each category (email screenshots, event photos, your personal statement, etc.) and add them to your portfolio folder.

Make the ask. If your contest or award requires you to have a letter of recommendation/signature from any adults, make sure that you make the request early. Other Key Club members who are applying to contests will be making the same requests, so the earlier you ask, the better it will be for you and your advisor. If you have any questions or would like more tips about asking for recommendations, read our Letter Perfect article.

Stay organized. I cannot stress this enough. When applying for contests digitally, it is crucial that you stay organized. I do this by organizing my email and downloading documents. You can organize email by setting automatic tags for messages from certain people. This allows you to easily find emails that you need to include and quickly locate graphics and photos. For downloaded documents, create a naming system that will allow you to identify the item or image that you found four months earlier at 3 a.m. Ensure that pages are numbered and add a table of contents so contest/award graders know what to expect in your portfolio.

Follow brand guidelines. Follow the graphic standards for Key Club International and your district. Key Club graphic guidelines distinguish Key Club documents from those of other clubs and allow you to maintain professionalism. Start your cover page with a pencil and a seal and make sure the remaining pages have appropriate headers, fonts, colors, etc. You can visit the Key Club resources page for additional helpful information. If you have questions, ask your bulletin editors, historians or your lieutenant governor.

Create your portfolio. Finding a platform for your portfolio creation is critical. Make sure that you are comfortable with the platform. I encourage you to look into Google Slides or PowerPoint (create a document and change the dimensions to the “letter” setting), Canva (start with letter dimensions) or Adobe InDesign + PowerPoint. Each platform has its pros and cons; choose the right one for you based on your skill level. Many Key Club fonts aren’t available on Canva, but you can find similar replacements.

Keep the requirements handy. When you are working on your portfolio, put the list of requirements and items to be included next to you. This allows you to doublecheck whether you need a certain piece of information or if you forgot something along the way.

Add some spice. Adding your own “spice” is the best way to make your contest entry or awards application stand out. Include “eye candy” that speaks to you, incorporate comments and explanations for key areas or draw/create images that best reflect you and your work. Digital portfolios are pieces of art, so make sure they best represent your style and personality.

Final touches. Prepare your portfolio for judging. Ensure that it is in PDF form and condensed, so the file can be easily uploaded and downloaded. The file’s name should mirror the requirements for the contest. If no specific naming guidelines have been given, ensure that your name, contest and division are included. When you send your submission email, the subject line should contain that same information. You also should copy or blind copy your advisors and/or yourself: If any issues arise, you’ll have a backup resource.

Now you’re set! You have successfully gone through the process of creating a digital portfolio. Congratulations on your amazing service year, and we hope to see you celebrating your achievements at district convention and international convention.