Want to wow an employer with your skills, and create a memorable impression of the quality of work you’ve done? Consider building a portfolio—a collection of your past work samples—to bring to interviews, send to prospective employers, or even post online.
A portfolio is a way to organize and present your skills, projects, training and education. It allows you to display your best work. It also can provide a way to tell the story of your career and the challenges you have overcome.
If you have work samples to show off and need a format to present them, read on to learn about the types of portfolios you might want to create, and what items you might want to include.
How portfolios are assembled: The paper version
Paper portfolios provide the means to pull out samples during a job interview. They can help illustrate a story about a project you worked on, and show the evidence of results. You can also leave copies of highlights of your portfolio with the employer.
For a paper portfolio, begin with a loose-leaf binder with dividers:
- The first page can be a fresh copy of your resume. Or place that in a pocket in the front cover.
- Include a table of contents. This makes it easier for both you and the prospective employer to find items quickly.
- Group your work samples into logical categories, such as type of project or product, specific skills used.
- Label each item and provide a brief explanation of its purpose, your involvement, and skills you used.
- Display your content in clear page protectors.
How portfolios are assembled: The online version
Don’t be tempted to throw an online portfolio together too quickly. You need to research your technical options. And there are a lot of them out there — from blogs to free or subscription portfolios to building your own website. Free services allow you to get up and running quickly with limited design skills. But they may have disadvantages including restrictions on files you can upload, limited customization, and displaying ads on your blog or portfolio.
The online portfolio solution you choose will depend on your needs, time, budget, and web skills. Carefully compare features to determine which one meets your needs.
Online portfolios are an easy way for potential employers to view samples of your work before you meet. And that might just tip the scales in your favor. Include your portfolio’s web address on all job search communication and your social media accounts. This will make it easier for your network to recommend your work to others.
Besides work samples, there are a number of other items you could include in your portfolio, such as industry information, testimonials and letters of recommendation, or articles by or about you.
- Blog portfolios are often free, and allow you to embed almost anything, but many have subscription options with advanced features. This may be a good option if you need a simple portfolio.
- Free or subscription-based portfolios tend to allow a wider range of file types, and larger files, uploaded directly to the host site. These are ideal if you need to showcase graphic, or visual work.
- Custom portfolios give you the most control over how your work is presented, but require you to design the site yourself. Free templates and tools can simplify the process. You will also need to register a domain name and host the site somewhere.
How many work samples should you include?
Be selective about what you feature. If you include too many examples, employers may experience information overload. They may also question your ability to identify the work that best illustrates your skills. If you include too few, employers may think you are inexperienced. Keep it simple and showcase only your best. Most of the time, less is more.
What should be included in a portfolio for someone in my field?
The answer to what to include greatly depends on your specific field, and the industry you work in. Start by creating an outline. Make a list of your skills, knowledge, and experience to help you categorize your work.
Job seekers and contract workers in many fields could benefit from portfolios; here is a start on content to consider including in a portfolio for your own career:
- Artist: photographs of your paintings, illustrations, sculptures, etc.
- Autobody repair: pictures of auto restorations
- Builder: photos of new construction or remodeling projects, “before and after” shots, testimonials from clients
- Chef or baker: photographs of your culinary creations, menus you’ve developed, records of competitions
- Facilitator or trainer: copies of presentation or training materials, participant evaluations, and video recordings of your presentations
- Office support staff: brochures, reports, newsletters, spreadsheets, and other examples of work that you have completed
- Salesperson: graphs showing sales results, client lists
- Writer: copies of blogs, newspaper and journal articles, as well as grant proposals, reports, marketing plans, etc.
You might also find work samples to include from your hobbies, sports, scouts, hunting, fishing, crafts, volunteer work, and other interests. You could include categories of leadership and teamwork, or “before and after” examples. Make sure you keep the samples in your portfolio up-to-date.