A portfolio is a job seeking tool that helps give employers a complete picture of the candidate. Employers can be skeptical of the claims job seekers make on their resumes, especially since competition is fierce. A portfolio provides much more content than a cover letter or resume can, thus giving the candidate credibility. While portfolios are a tool commonly used by those in creative professions, even those in non-creative fields can use a portfolio to make a memorable impression over their peers (remember, in this job market, the key is standing out!).  Developing a great portfolio takes time, so do not rush the process and make sure your portfolio is impressive!

Online vs. Print Portfolios

Online portfolios are an emerging trend, however the importance of a print portfolio should not be diminished.  A candidate can have a portfolio in both formats, as they serve different purposes. A print portfolio is typically used during a face-to-face interview, while an online portfolio would usually be viewed by an employer before or after the interview.  Career experts suggest that job seekers develop an online portfolio after they have made a hard copy portfolio.

Print portfolios should be kept in a three-ring binder — with an organizational system such as tabs or dividers — and include a table of contents. Online portfolios can be in a variety of formats, such as a website, blog or a PowerPoint presentation on LinkedIn. See Blue Sky Portfolios for great examples of online portfolios or Google the topic for additional resources.

Regardless of the medium, the most important thing to remember is that content is more important than design. Over-designing a portfolio can make it seem confusing or difficult. However, the design still plays a role in how organized and easy to follow the content is. Likewise, online portfolios must be easy to navigate.

What to include/not to include

Just like your resume, keep your portfolio professional.  Do not include anything personal (such as marital status, family, friends, religious or political values) and leave out your hobbies.  Photographs are best left out as well, however online portfolios are more likely to include a photo, but keep in mind the possibility of discrimination if you choose to include one.

In Latin, the word portfolio means “to carry artifacts.” So think of your portfolio as a collection of artifacts that solidify your work. Some suggested items to include:

  • Index/Table of Contents (typically not needed in an online portfolio)
  • Summary of goals, professional philosophy, or mission statement: a description of who you are, what you stand for and what you want to do
  • Resume
  • Skills and abilities: give a more detailed explanation than what is included on your resume, take the opportunity to explain your background, or any special experiences that contribute to your success in each area
  • List of accomplishments
  • Samples of your work: papers, reports, projects, presentations, brochures
  • Performance reviews: from past jobs or even a review a professor gave you on a project
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Reference list: three to five people (include name, title, address, phone and e-mail). Make sure they are professional references (not your mom) who can speak about your strengths and abilities
  • Transcripts, degrees, licenses, certifications
  • Awards and honors
  • Professional development activities: conferences and workshops participated in or attended, associations you belong to
  • Extracurricular activities: volunteer work, clubs, sports (focus on leadership roles held)

Everyone’s portfolio will be different and the above list in no way indicates everything that can be included in a portfolio. If an item does not fall under the do not include list and you think it will be useful in highlighting your marketability, include it!

How to use a portfolio

Once your portfolio is built, make sure to take it with you to all interviews. There are several different times it can be utilized during the interview process at the beginning, middle and end. At the beginning of the interview, if the interviewer asks the traditional question, “Tell me about yourself,” the portfolio can be used as a reference while the candidate is explaining his/her background and accomplishments.  During the interview, the portfolio can be used to help answer specific questions about work problems or situations by highlighting an example of a topic or question.  At the end of the interview, the portfolio can be used as part of the candidate’s summary/closing statement by suggesting the interviewer take a look at the portfolio for further examples of his/her work.

Remember, a portfolio should never be a substitute for a resume. Recruiters still want to see a well-formatted, appropriately written resume so that they can quickly assess a candidate’s qualifications; portfolios simply take too long to look through. So, think of your portfolio as an additional tool to help you seal the deal and impress the interviewer.