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How to Build a Job Portfolio

Artists and designers often use portfolios to market themselves in a job interview. But a portfolio can be a great tool for any job seeker. Discover how to build a portfolio and how it can help you achieve your career goals.

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What is a portfolio is and how can it help you?

A portfolio showcases your talents and skills. Typically, a portfolio includes items such as certificates, transcripts, samples of past work, and letters of recommendation. You can use it to make a positive impression when you’re looking for work, applying to a post-secondary school, or planning your career.

Teachers, designers, engineers, journalists, and many other professionals often show off their work this way.

Even if a portfolio isn’t required for your job interviews, you should consider putting one together. Doing so can help you in a few different ways:

  • A portfolio can be a powerful work search tool. Gathering documents and information for your portfolio reminds you of the great things you have done and the skills you have learned. This helps you understand the work you’re qualified for and the work you would like to do.
  • You can pull information from your portfolio every time you update or tailor your resumé for a specific job.
  • Use your portfolio to prepare for an interview or to show that you should be considered for a raise or promotion.

What’s the difference between a portfolio and a resumé?

Your resumé summarizes information about you. Your portfolio expands on that information by including details and evidence of what you have said in your resumé.

Think of it this way: You send an employer your resumé as an introduction. Your goal is to land an interview. When it’s appropriate, you use your portfolio in the interview. It gives employers the details they need to see why you are the best person for the job.

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 team project you’ve organized. 

Choose a format for your portfolio

Your portfolio can take many forms. It can be:

  • A digital file or set of files
  • Your own website
  • Pages in a binder, expanding folder, or special box
  • A volume that you get professionally bound

If you’re planning to give a copy of your digital portfolio to an employer, use a USB flash drive or a link to your website. Whatever form your portfolio takes, it should offer concrete examples that show the abilities and skills you have acquired in your career and life so far.

Pay close attention to the medium you choose, especially if the job you want requires you to be skilled in a specific medium. For example, if you’re a web designer, you should build your portfolio online to show your skills. If the position involves public speaking, you could include a video or a link to an online copy of a presentation you have given.

Every time you present yourself to an employer, you have a chance to show your skills. You want to convince them that hiring you will make their organization more effective. Be sure your portfolio makes the most of the opportunity.

Build and maintain your portfolio

These 5 steps will help you create a “master” portfolio—a complete collection of all your relevant information and proof of your abilities and skills. Once you have your master copy, you can pick and choose items to create different versions of your portfolio for specific employers.

It can take a lot of time to create the master version of your portfolio, but it’s well worth the effort.

1. Collect your information

Your portfolio should highlight your important accomplishments, showcase your knowledge, skills, and creativity, and show your best personal qualities. Your portfolio should always include a copy of your master resumé. It is the foundation of everything in your portfolio.

Here are a few categories for you to consider as you search for items to include. Gather everything you can find, including documents, emails, letters, and reports.

To build the best possible portfolio, include a range of items from each area.

Formal and informal education and training

Include items that show you’re good at learning and that you like to do it. Here are some examples:

  • Diplomas, certificates, and licences
  • Awards and scholarships
  • Details of training, workshops, or clinics you have attended
  • Details of any vocational competitions you have participated in
  • Details of your volunteer work
  • Examples of your coursework, like reports and projects
  • Transcripts
  • Evaluations from your teachers

Work performance

Include items that show what you’ve achieved at work, and that showcase your abilities and skills. Here are some examples:

  • Descriptions about your current and past jobs
  • Job performance evaluations
  • Awards, promotions, letters of appreciation, and other ways you have been recognized
  • Satisfaction surveys from customers, students, patients, or anyone else you have worked on behalf of
  • Details of the ways your performance has been measured, like your sales volumes, client loads, safety records, and overtime you have put in
  • Examples of projects you have managed or worked on
  • Examples of ways you have solved tough problems

People skills

Include items that show you work well with other people. Here are some examples:

  • Articles and photos of projects your team has worked on together
  • Information and photos about your volunteer and community work
  • Details of any training you have had
  • Your experience negotiating with people, resolving conflicts, and showing other kinds of interpersonal skills
  • Personal testimonials from clients, students, customers, or co-workers

Communication skills

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

  • Details of presentations, lectures, speeches, or workshops you have given or participated in
  • Training resources you have designed
  • Articles you have published
  • Proposals, reports, and announcements you have written or helped with
  • Marketing campaigns you’ve contributed to or led
  • Professional work-related blogs

Technical skills

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

  • Your ability to operate equipment, follow processes, or use software
  • Images or copies of items you have created—blueprints, websites, schematics, lesson plans, order forms, or management systems

Professional development and lifelong learning

Include items that show you are committed to keeping your professional standards up to date, and that you believe in learning and improving all the time. Here are some examples:

  • Work-related associations and groups you belong to
  • Conferences, workshops, committees, and projects that you have been involved with
  • Courses or training that you have completed to improve your work—CPR, a second language, time management, or other subjects

Personal management

Include items that show you have the personal skills and attitudes to help you flourish both at work and after hours. Here are some examples:

  • Attendance records
  • Safety awards
  • Details or photos of sports participation
  • Details, samples, or photos of hobbies or creative works
  • Cards, letters, or emails thanking you for your services

References

You want to find people who will vouch for your strengths, abilities, and experience. For a complete overview of how to choose references and list them for your portfolio or resumé, read How to Choose the Best Job References.

2. Fill the gaps

If you see gaps in your accomplishments, think of other ways to show what you have done. If this is not possible, people from your past jobs may be able to help.

Get in touch with former employers, supervisors, and co-workers and ask them to send you copies of your work from their records.

When you reconnect, let your contacts know if you are looking for a job. They may have job leads or advice to help with your job search.

3. Organize the information

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 with labelled dividers.
  • If you’re using 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.

Choose a system of organization that will be easy for you to use. For example:

  • Organize your items in order of occurrence. This system is the easiest to create, but it may be harder to find specific items—for example, if you need to outline your educational history.
  • Organize by category, such as formal and informal education and training, work performance, and so on. This may take more time, but it will allow you to find items more easily.

Whatever method you choose, it has to be one that you will find easy to maintain and use over time. That’s what makes an effective portfolio.

Label each item with a brief explanation of how it connects to the skills and accomplishments you have listed in your resumé.

4. Keep your portfolio up to date

Creating a portfolio is an ongoing process. Get into the habit of documenting and collecting work you are proud of once it’s completed. If you have a regular performance review with your employer, that would also be a good time to update your portfolio and master resumé.

As you update your achievements, you are also reviewing the skills you’re building. This helps you be ready for a last-minute interview or any other opportunity where you want to show your skills or accomplishments.

How to use your portfolio in a job interview

Whether or not you use a portfolio depends on the type of position you are interviewing for.

If you’re not sure whether to bring your portfolio to an interview, ask the employer. For an entry-level position or one that requires few technical skills, you probably won’t need to bring your portfolio. But if you think your portfolio can convince the employer that you are qualified for the job, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they would be willing to see it.

If you bring your portfolio:

  • Be sure to tailor it to showcase the specific skills the employer is looking for.
  • If your master portfolio is in hard copy, make copies of the items that apply to your interview and put them into a smaller binder to create a tailored mini portfolio.
  • If you plan to leave your portfolio with the employer after an interview, be sure the binder you leave does not include any original versions of your work.
  • If your master portfolio is digital, save your original, then make a copy of it and delete from the copy anything that is not relevant to the position.

Showtime

If you are planning to use a portfolio in an interview, let the employer know:

  • Mention in your cover letter that you have a portfolio.
  • Within the first few minutes of your interview, say that you brought a portfolio.

During your interview, you can use your portfolio in many ways:

  • Use it to answer questions about your accomplishments, strengths, and goals, as well as open-ended questions such as “Tell me about yourself” and “Why should I hire you?”
  • Use it to show and explain your achievements and abilities.

Here are other ways to use your portfolio effectively:

  • Make sure you are familiar with the contents. Practise finding each page or item accurately and quickly.
  • Practise what you will say about each item. This gives the employer an opportunity to 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 as you answer questions or click to individual items. Stay in charge of presenting information about yourself rather than handing the portfolio over to the employer.
  • Be ready to leave your portfolio behind. The interviewer may want to look at your portfolio after the interview. This means the employer is interested in what you offer.

Building your portfolio will remind you of all the great skills you have developed. Showing it gives interviewers solid proof that you have used those skills in your work and life. Whatever interview situation you are facing, you can decide whether or not it’s the right time to show your portfolio. But having one ready is sure to give you an edge.

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