Resumes & Cover Letters

What Is a Work Portfolio? (Plus How to Build One)

March 4, 2021

A professional portfolio is an excellent way to present your work to potential employers and display the skills that qualify you for a position. While not every employer and position requires a portfolio, a strong demonstration of your work can help distinguish you from other candidates depending on your industry. This article explains what a work portfolio is and how to build one.

What is a work portfolio?

Also called a "career portfolio," "job portfolio" or "professional portfolio," a work portfolio is a way to display a comprehensive collection of your best work to potential employers. Your portfolio can contain proof of your skills, samples, visual demonstrations of your craft and letters of recommendation along with your resume. Portfolios are commonly required during the hiring process for jobs in the art, design, publishing and tech industries.

Some jobs that may require a portfolio include:

How to make a professional work portfolio

Follow these four steps to build your work portfolio:

1. Collect your materials

Gather all the materials you want to use in your portfolio. Use the information and examples that are most current and relevant.

These materials should include:

Your resume
Try to tailor your resume to specific employers or job positions. Your resume should include your contact information, professional summary, work experience and education including relevant certifications and licenses.

A list of your skills
Review the job description and select the skills that align with your own, along with any others you feel make you a strong candidate. Consider dividing the list into categories, such as hard, soft and self-taught skills.

Biographical information
You can include an "about me" section in your portfolio. Interviewers frequently begin by asking you to tell them about yourself. Preparing this section of your portfolio will help you answer this question

Related: How to Answer "Tell Me About Yourself" (Tips and Example Answers).

Proof of any degrees, licenses or certifications
In addition to listing this information on your resume, include educational transcripts, copies of licenses or certificates or professional development seminars you attended. Including this information increases your credibility and highlights your qualifications for the role.

Letters of recommendation, references, testimonials or reviews
You can include a reference contact page and testimonials from clients that demonstrate your professional qualities, skills and abilities. Aim to include three to five people that are willing to speak to your professional performance.

Related: How To Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Work samples
Use samples that showcase your range of skills. Depending on your profession, your portfolio should include a wide variety of writing samples, photographs, images, project summaries or reports. If you don't have professional experience, consider using work from school, club or volunteer projects.

Provide any available feedback with your samples if available. For example, add a short summary if you received an exemplary grade or were promoted after finishing an assignment.

Military records and awards
Many employers understand the value veterans have to offer. In addition to role-relevant transferable skills, including military experience on your resume can signal desirable behavioral attributes such as teamwork, leadership, strong work ethic and dedication.

Community service
Including a description of role-related or industry-specific volunteer work you’ve completed shows your passion and dedication for the field. It can be especially helpful if you are interested in working for a nonprofit organization or a company that values giving back to the community.

Awards and accomplishments
List additional information about accomplishments from your resume. Academic honors, scholarships or employee of the month awards are achievements you can expand on in this section.

Read more: Listing Accomplishments on Your Resume (With Examples)

2. Organize your materials

You should arrange your portfolio so employers can find information easily. It is a good idea to put your resume, bio and skills list near the beginning, and then arrange other items according to what you think is most important. Divide all your information into categories and arrange them in a logical, easy-to-follow order.

For example, you can categorize your work samples from most recent to oldest so employers can follow your improvement. Create a title and a table of contents page for easy navigation, and add page numbers.

3. Make it visually appealing

One of the main benefits of creating a work portfolio is the ability to show visual demonstrations of your work. This is especially helpful for roles in software development, where you can show original code you’ve written, and UX/UI, where you can show graphic improvements you made to the user experience. Making your portfolio visually appealing is especially important for any candidate in the arts or design fields. You should organize and design your portfolio in a consistent way that displays your aesthetic, personality and work style.

For physical copies of your work portfolio, use a binder, folder or portfolio case to make the pages easy to flip through. You can use section dividers, tabs and color-coding options to make finding information as easy as possible. Protect the pages with clear page covers.

4. Customize your portfolio

Once you have a master copy of your work portfolio, customize it for specific job applications and interviews. Change your resume and skills pages to highlight the requirements listed on the job description.

Consider adding a solutions section. Some portfolios include a 30/60/90 plan, which outlines what you will do in the position in the first 30, 60 and 90 days if you get the job. You can research the company and formulate ideas you could implement to help the company. A 30/60/90 plan demonstrates to employers your interest in the company and position.

Related: 30-60-90 Day Plan: What It is and How to Create and Use One (Example Included)

Tips for improving your work portfolio

  • Go digital. An online portfolio allows you to share your work with a wider audience and can be accessed when your audience has time dedicated to review your breadth of work. There are many options for creating an online version of your portfolio. Several websites and networking platforms offer online portfolio services and some are free. You could also create your own website. Format your online portfolio like a slide presentation or add pictures and infographics to make it visually appealing. When your online portfolio is ready, include a link to it in your resume, your professional networking profiles and your email signature.

  • Make copies to share. You should make copies of all the important materials an employer might want to keep from your portfolio, such as your resume and reference sheet. Alternatively, make multiple physical copies of your portfolio so you can leave it with the interviewer upon request.

  • Update your portfolio periodically. Try to update your portfolio every few months or once a year. Revisiting your portfolio regularly will help you add relevant information while it's still current and remove outdated parts. It's also a useful way to review your progress and look for areas of improvement.

  • Use it as a tool to prepare for the interview process. You can review your portfolio before an interview to recall specific examples of your accomplishments. Portfolios are also helpful in the interview because you can reference them while answering questions to answer and present employers with direct evidence of your skillset. For example, if an employer asks for your greatest strengths, you can refer to your skills section in your portfolio to guide your response.

Related: Interview Question: "What Is Your Greatest Strength?"

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