So you’ve drafted and redrafted your resume a million times, and now it is the image of perfection. That’s all well and good, but when it lands on the desk in the Human Resources department, what will set you apart from the host of other one-pagers in the stack? That would be your portfolio. The simplest and most efficient way to show off your career highlights is by maintaining a portfolio of your past work and accomplishments. You need to be able to produce what you’ve done in the past and show that you can do exactly what your job description dictates, and then some.
What is a portfolio?
A portfolio is:
- A summary of you as a professional.
- A record of your professional development.
- Proof of performance on the job or in class.
- What you have accomplished.
- Evidence of your learning new skills.
- Paper, computer, or web-based.
What’s included in a portfolio?
Items found in most portfolios include:
- Resume or CV
- Evidence of professional affiliations licenses or certifications
- Letters of reference
- Evidence of specific skills (e.g., public speaking, leadership, and writing)
- Work samples (e.g., class projects, items produced during internship or co-op experiences)
Why Create a Portfolio?
Portfolios can be used to:
- Market your capabilities in job interviews.
- Negotiate promotions and raises.
- Apply for bonuses, scholarships, or grants.
- Document the quality and quantity of your professional development.
- Demonstrate prior work or learning experiences for educational credit.
Creating a personal portfolio also shows an advanced level of thoughtfulness and the ability to walk someone through the work that you’ve done with the opportunities given to you. The wonderful thing about a portfolio is that it’s handy at any point in your career, beginner, and intermediate or expert. Even if you’re a student in high school or college, seeking an internship, you’ve worked on an important project. Whether solo or in a group, it can show your abilities and drive. And if you have nothing available? Quit slacking! This is a great opportunity to show some initiative and start creating a portfolio from class projects, senior year theses, or even a part-time minimum wage job that you have reliably maintained. There’s no harm in requesting a reference from your manager, if they’ve seen you do your job and do your job well.
If you already have a portfolio or body of work to start with, great! It may be scattered, so now’s the time to arrange it perfectly. Your goal is to make sure it tells your story: the work you’ve done in the past, the work you would like to do in the future, and why you are well-equipped to do this sort of work. Portfolios are often identified with people in the arts (photography, design, etc.) and images of large black cases or binders with samples of work. They are now widely used in many other fields. If you’ve worked in business, it may be a winning proposal, or a successful PowerPoint presentation that won over your client. It is anything that you can utilize to proudly say “This is what I’ve done, and this is what I can do for your company.
Building your Portfolio from Scratch…Where to Start?
If you don’t currently have a portfolio and have no idea where to begin, that’s okay too. You can begin by taking a look at your resume. Here is a chronological list of every position you’ve ever held. If it is easiest, start from your most recent position and work your way back. What you have done most recently is most important anyway. This is the beginning of your personal portfolio.
It is important to keep a tangible list of all of your successes; you can never start organizing too early! Sometimes (more often than we’d like) our memory can fail us, and when that happens, there is a wealth of forgotten experience right along with it.
If your portfolio is just your resume? Not a problem; career paths vary greatly and you may not have tangible work to show, but guess what? You can STILL create a portfolio of your work. Are you stunningly organized, going so far as to have your own patented system of arranging office materials? Create a separate document with these talents and impress your prospective employer. You can also highlight these items in your cover letter, the introduction to the resume that every job-seeker agonizes over. Every little bit counts when it comes to making you stand out.
Putting it All into Perspective
Having your work right there in front of you helps you craft your unique offering. It’s also a good indicator of whether or not you’re being realistic about your goals. If you feel confident that you are capable of the work you want, but simply haven’t had the opportunity to work professionally in that particular field, your portfolio can act as a step in the right direction.
Say you wanted to write for a network television sitcom. You know you’re funny, your friends and family know you’re funny and they tell you all the time, but you’ve worked in accounting your entire adult life. How can you get an entertainment industry exec to see how good you really are? By creating a portfolio of comedic scripts, bits, and sketches, you can show them. It doesn’t matter if your material has never aired on live TV; if the work in your portfolio is truly laugh-out-loud funny and worthy of being the next Modern Family, there will be no argument to the strength of your application.
The best part of building this collection of your work is that it is a serious confidence booster. You have your best work right in front of you, reminding you that you are talented, prepared, and that you can offer your next company exactly the kind of employee they’ve been searching for.
Helpful hint: In this digital age, you can use technology to your advantage (and save a few trees!)
You should always have a hard copy of your resume, as it is industry-standard but when it comes to your portfolio, why not offer to email a copy to HR in addition to showing them at your meeting? This will show that you are savvy and prepared from all angles. Good luck!
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