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Building Your Portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of work that that showcases your talents and skills. Artists and designers use portfolios to market themselves. But portfolios are not just for artists. They’re a great tool for job seekers too.

You can use a portfolio to create a positive impression in a job interview. The collection of work you show can help you support the claims you've made in your resumé. (To learn about using your portfolio in an interview, check out Using Your Portfolio.)

Even if you don't use your portfolio in interviews, the process of creating one is very useful. Building your own portfolio will help you

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

Read on to learn more about these topics:


What goes into a portfolio?

Your portfolio should

  • highlight your important accomplishments
  • demonstrate your knowledge and skills
  • showcase your creativity
  • display your personal qualities
  • include a copy of your resumé

Include a range of items from the following 7 areas. For each item you include, add a brief explanation of how it connects to the skills and accomplishments listed in your resumé.

1. Formal and informal education and training

Include items that demonstrate your ability and desire to learn. Here are some examples:

  • diplomas, certificates and licences
  • awards and scholarships
  • details of training, workshops or clinics attended
  • details of vocational competitions
  • examples of coursework, like reports and projects
  • transcripts
  • teacher evaluations

2. Work performance

Include items that demonstrate your work–related achievements, abilities and skills. Here are some examples:

  • 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 or participated in
  • examples of problem–solving

3. People skills

Include items that demonstrate your ability and desire to work with people. Here are some examples:

  • articles and photos of team and project work
  • information and photos about volunteer and community experiences
  • details of training
  • experience in negotiation, conflict resolution and other interpersonal skills
  • personal testimonials from clients, students, customers or co–workers

4. Communication skills

Include samples of your writing, graphic design, web design, video production or other media skills. Here are some examples:

  • details of presentations, speeches or workshop facilitation
  • training resources
  • published articles
  • proposals, reports and announcements
  • professional work–related blogs

5. Technical skills

Include items that demonstrate your technical expertise and work–related skills. Here are some examples:

  • proficiency in operating equipment, processes or software
  • images of items you’ve created (These might include blueprints, websites, schematics, lesson plans, order forms or management systems.)

6. Professional development and lifelong learning

Include items that demonstrate your commitment to professional standards and ongoing improvement. Here are some examples:

  • work–related associations and groups you belong to
  • conferences, workshops, committees and projects that you’ve participated in
  • work–enhancing courses or training that you’ve completed (This might include CPR, a second language, time management or other subjects.)

7. References

Identify 3 to 5 people who will vouch for your strengths, abilities and experience. At least 1 of your references should be a former supervisor.

For each of your references, include the following information:

  • names, titles and contact information
  • 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 you can use 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 can also create a portfolio in a combination of media. If the position you’re seeking requires you to be skilled in a specific medium, it makes sense to present your portfolio in that medium. For example, if you’re a web designer, you should build your portfolio online to demonstrate your skills.


What steps do you take to create a portfolio?

These steps will help you create a “master” portfolio—a complete collection of all your relevant information. When you’re done, you can pick and choose items to create different versions of your portfolio that are tailored to fit the requirements of specific employers. For more information about tailoring your portfolio and using it in an interview, check out Using Your 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 in What Goes Into a Portfolio.

If you identify gaps in the record of your accomplishments, think of alternative ways to show what you’ve done. If this is not possible, be prepared to contact people from your previous positions.

2. Backtrack

You may need to track down people who can be your references. You may also need to track down examples of your past work. Get in touch with former employers, supervisors and co–workers and request copies of your work from their records. When you reconnect, let your contacts know if you’re looking for a job. They may be able to help.

3. Organize

Make sure the information in your portfolio is organized in a professional–looking, easy–to–access way. Use whatever approach works for you.

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 hyperlinked 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’ll review 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.


Portfolio tips

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re building your portfolio.

  • Plan to spend 6 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 3 skills the item demonstrates.


Use your portfolio as a powerful work search tool

Your portfolio can be a powerful work search tool. The act of creating and maintaining a portfolio helps you focus on your abilities and accomplishments. This prepares you to make a strong impression in an interview. Your portfolio itself demonstrates—in a concrete way—all the reasons why the employer should hire you.

For information about tailoring your portfolio and using it in an interview, check out Using Your Portfolio

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