For artists and designers, a portfolio is a collection of images that shows the world what they can do. But it’s not just artists who use portfolios.
When you’re looking for work, applying to a post-secondary program or planning a career, a portfolio can help you:
- identify your skills and interests
- record your achievements
- create your resumé and keep it up-to-date
- showcase your accomplishments in an interview
Your portfolio can take many forms. It could be pages in a binder or digital information on a DVD, USB flash drive, memory stick or website. Whatever form your portfolio takes, it should highlight the abilities and skills you’ve acquired in your career and life so far.
Read on to learn more about the following:
- Who should use a portfolio?
- What should be in a portfolio?
- What should a portfolio look like?
- How should you use a portfolio in an interview?
- What’s the difference between a portfolio and a resumé?
Check out Building Your Portfolio for details about how to get started.
Who should use a portfolio?
Employers in art-related fields usually expect candidates to present portfolios. Today many employers hiring for positions in many other areas expect to review a candidate’s portfolio as part of the interview process. These areas include teaching, design, engineering, drafting, journalism, communications, sales, human resources and project management..
Not everyone needs a portfolio to showcase their accomplishments. But building and maintaining a portfolio can help you in two important ways. They are helpful even if you never use your portfolio in an interview.
- The process of gathering documents and information for your portfolio reminds you of what you’ve accomplished and the skills you’ve developed. Maintaining your portfolio is a continuing process. It helps you keep track of your ongoing achievements.
- The portfolio itself—the product—is a resource you can use to create and update your resumé. Keep your portfolio is up-to-date. You can turn to it every time you need to revise or tailor your resumé for a specific position. You can also use your portfolio to prepare for an interview or to support a request for a raise or promotion.
What should be in a portfolio?
Your portfolio should include any items that show important achievements. This includes anything education-related and career-related, as well as events and skills. Each item should include a brief explanation of how it connects to the skills and accomplishments listed in your resumé.
Use your portfolio to showcase the following:
- formal and informal education and training
- work performance
- people skills
- communication skills
- technical skills
- volunteering and community service
Your portfolio should include a copy of your resumé. For details about what else to include, read the "What Goes Into Your Portfolio?" section in Building Your Portfolio.
What should a portfolio look like?
You can present your portfolio in a hard-copy format like a binder or in a digital format like a website. The method you should use depends on the kind of position you’re applying for.
For example, if the position requires you to be skilled at presenting information in an online environment, your portfolio could be a website. If the position involves making presentations, you could include a video or a link to a YouTube copy of a presentation you’ve given.
For more information about formatting your portfolio, read the "What Format Should You Use?" section in Building Your Portfolio.
How should you use a portfolio in an interview?
Whether or not you use a portfolio depends on the type of position you’re interviewing for.
If you’re not sure whether to bring your portfolio to an interview, ask when you’re arranging the interview. For an entry-level position or a one that requires few technical skills, you probably won’t need to bring your portfolio. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Tailoring what you show
When you’re building your portfolio, you gather all the information that highlights each of your skills and experiences. Your portfolio “master” includes the complete collection. But any job or educational program you apply for will focus on some of your skills and experiences, not all of them.
For each opportunity, you should customize or tailor your portfolio to showcase the specific skills that are required. Anticipate what skills are needed and select related items.
- If your master portfolio is a binder and all your items are enclosed in plastic covers: just take out the items that apply an insert them into a smaller binder and create a mini portfolio tailored to that interview.
- If your master portfolio is digital: save your original, then make a copy of it and delete anything that isn’t relevant to the position from the copy.
If you’re planning to use a portfolio in an interview, let your employer (and interviewer) know.
- Mention that you have a portfolio in your cover letter.
- Within the first few minutes of your interview, say that you have a portfolio.
During your interview, you can use your portfolio in a number of ways.
- It can help you answer questions about your accomplishments, strengths and goals. Use your portfolio to show and explain your achievements and abilities.
- Use your portfolio to help you answer open-ended questions. They can include questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “Why should I hire you?”
Here are some suggestions to help you use your portfolio effectively:
- Make sure you’re familiar with the contents of your portfolio. Practise locating each relevant page or item accurately and quickly.
- Practise what you’ll say about each portfolio item you plan to highlight in your interview. The employer will assess your communication and presentation skills as well as the items you’re showcasing.
- Keep the portfolio under your control. Show the employer individual pages or click to individual items. Stay in charge of presenting information about yourself.
- Unless the employer asks to see the entire portfolio, only show items that are directly related to the question you’re answering.
- Be ready to leave your portfolio with the employer after the interview if you’re asked to. Being asked means the employer is interested in what you offer. A USB flash drive or memory stick can be overwritten. If you’re leaving a digital copy of your portfolio, use a DVD. Alternatively, give the employer a link to your website.
What’s the difference between a portfolio and a resumé?
A resumé summarizes information about you. A portfolio expands on this information. It is much longer and more detailed than a resumé.
You send an employer your resumé as an introduction, with the goal of being asked for an interview. When it’s appropriate, you use your portfolio in an interview. It shows the employer why you’re the best person for the job.
Your resumé uses brief statements to describe your qualifications, background and experience. Effective resumes are usually 2 to 3 pages long.
Your portfolio provides concrete evidence that expands on the claims you’ve made in your resumé. For example, you may have highlighted teamwork skills in your resumé. Your portfolio could support your claim with images and news items about a team event or project you’ve been involved in.
Use your portfolio to showcase your accomplishments
Building your portfolio will remind you of all the great skills you’ve developed. Showing it gives interviewers solid proof that you’ve used those skills in a variety of circumstances.
You can decide whether or not you show your portfolio. But having one will give you an edge when you’re preparing for and participating in interviews.