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Portfolios: Document Your Accomplishments

Artists and consultants use portfolios—collections showcasing their work—to market their skills. A growing number of job seekers, in a range of fields from engineering to administration, are using portfolios to support the claims they make in their resumés, and create a positive impression in job interviews.

Whether or not you use it in an interview, building your own portfolio will help you

  • identify your skills and interests.
  • record your achievements.
  • create and keep your resumé up to date.
  • prepare to talk about your accomplishments in an interview.

What goes into a portfolio?

Your portfolio should include any items that highlight important accomplishments and demonstrate your skills, knowledge, creativity and personal qualities. Include items from the following areas.

  • formal and informal education and training—items that demonstrate your ability and desire to learn, such as
    • diplomas, certificates and licences
    • awards, scholarships and other recognition
    • details of trainings, workshops and clinics attended
    • details of vocational competitions
    • examples of coursework, like reports and projects
    • transcripts
    • teacher evaluations

  • work performance—items that demonstrate your work-related achievements, abilities and skills, such as
    • your resumé
    • job descriptions from current and past employment
    • job performance evaluations
    • awards, promotions, letters of appreciation and other recognition
    • satisfaction surveys from customers, students, patients, etc.
    • details of performance measures, like sales volumes, client loads, safety records and overtime
    • examples of projects you managed and participated in
    • examples of problem-solving

  • people skills—items that demonstrate your ability and desire to work with people, such as
    • articles and photos of team and project work
    • information and photos about volunteer and community experiences
    • details of training and experience in negotiation, conflict resolution and other interpersonal skills
    • personal testimonials from clients, students, customers, co-workers, etc.

  • communication skills—samples of your writing, graphic design, web design, video production and other media skills, such as
    • details of presentations, speeches, workshop facilitation, etc.
    • training resources
    • published articles
    • proposals, reports and announcements
    • professional, work-related blogs

  • technical skills—items that demonstrate technical expertise and work-related skills, such as
    • licences and competencies
    • proficiency in operating equipment, processes, software, etc.
    • images of items created, like blueprints, websites, schematics, lesson plans, order forms, management systems, etc.

  • professional development and lifelong learning—items that demonstrate your commitment to professional standards and ongoing improvement, such as
    • work-related associations and groups you belong to
    • conferences, workshops, committees and projects in your field that you’ve participated in
    • work-enhancing courses or trainings you’ve completed, such as CPR, a second language, time management, etc.

  • references—people who will vouch for your strengths, abilities and experience such as
    • names, titles and contact information of three to five people. At least one of your references should be a former supervisor
    • letters of reference

What format should you use?

You can create your portfolio in a hard copy format, such as documents in a three-ring binder, or in a digital format on the web, on a DVD or on a USB flash drive or memory stick. If you’re planning to give a copy of your digital portfolio to an employer, use a DVD or a website, as USB formats can be overwritten.

You could also create a portfolio that’s a combination of media. If the kind of position you’re seeking requires you to be skilled in a specific medium, it makes sense to present your portfolio in that medium, e.g. as a web designer, you would build your portfolio online.

What steps do you take to create a portfolio?

  1. Collect.
    Gather all the information you have on hand or that’s easily accessible. Look for documents, photos, emails, letters, reports and so on in each of the categories listed previously. If you identify gaps in the record of your accomplishments, think of alternate ways to show what you’ve done, or be prepared to contact people from your previous positions.

  2. Back track.
    If you need examples of past work or references, get in touch with former employers, supervisors and co-workers and request copies of your work from their records. When you reconnect, you can also let your contacts know if you’re looking for a job..

  3. Organize.
    Use whatever approach works for you but make sure that the information is organized in a professional-looking, easy-to-access way. If you’re using a binder, organize the information between labelled dividers. In a digital format, organize the information in a single document with a live-linked table of contents. If you’re creating a website for your portfolio, make sure it’s easy to navigate.

  4. Maintain.
    Creating a portfolio is an ongoing process. Get into the habit of documenting and collecting work you’re proud of at the end of each week or month. As you update your achievements, you’re reviewing the skills you’re continually building. You’ll also be ready for a last minute interview or any other opportunity where you want to showcase your skills.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Plan on spending at least six and up to 10 or more hours to create the master version of your portfolio.
  • Keep your portfolio simple but complete. Include items from all aspects of your education, work and community involvement.
  • Use copies, rather than originals, of your documents.
  • Label each item with a short description of what it represents. Be able to identify at least three skills the item demonstrates.

These steps will help you create a “master” portfolio—a complete collection of all your relevant information. From these documents, you can pick and choose items to create different versions of your portfolio, tailored to fit the specific requirements of each employer. For more information about tailoring your portfolio and using it in an interview, check out Portfolios: Showcase Your Accomplishments (see Other Relevant Tips).

Your portfolio can be a powerful work search tool. The act of creating and maintaining a portfolio will help you prepare to make a strong impression in an interview, by encouraging you to focus on your abilities and accomplishments. And the portfolio itself will demonstrate in a concrete way all the reasons why the employer should hire you.

Relevant Tips (

Additional Reading (

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