What Is a Work Portfolio and Do I Need One?

Businesswoman with a portfolio
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An online portfolio provides a way to reveal your credentials to the world. It allows you to package the best evidence of your candidacy for employment such as your resume, design work, artwork, reports, lesson plans, transcripts, certifications, articles, letters, and more in a form easily accessible via the Internet.

Do I Need a Portfolio?

A solid, cohesive and comprehensive portfolio establishes your distinction in a sea of candidates, providing "evidence" to an employer of your accomplishments, skills, and abilities. It is a good way to show the scope and quality of your experience, training, and to demonstrate your talent and your ability to produce high-quality work in your field.

Portfolios can range from something as simple as an online version of your resume to a website full of materials. A comprehensive portfolio would include word processing files of your resume and writing samples, digital images of your graphic and artwork, and video and audio files.
In most creative fields--like writing, web design, graphic design, advertising, photography or videography, for example--a portfolio is absolutely required to secure a job. If you're expected to produce creative work in a new job, your employer will seek to review and assess your previous project performance.

If you aren't sure if you need a portfolio, reflect on your field and consider the tangible items you've produced across the span of your career. Anything you've created which reflects well on your creative or developmental capacities should be a part of your portfolio. If you're still unsure, talk to colleagues in your field about whether or not they use a portfolio.

How to Design Your Portfolio

A well-designed website can significantly alter a user's reaction to your work. In creating an online portfolio, present your credentials and personal information in a functional, user-friendly and aesthetically-pleasing manner. If you have some HTML or other web design skills, you may want to consider creating a web portfolio that utilizes a more interactive, presentational approach. Websites such as WordPress, BlogSpot, Squarespace or even Tumblr are great tools to help build an online presence for your work.

In some cases, you'll want to provide a hard copy of your portfolio for an interview, so keep in mind how the design will translate into a physical format. If possible, print your work on premium paper and organize the document in a nice folder, binder or leather portfolio case.

How to Build Your Portfolio

Think of your portfolio as a work in a process--a living, breathing document that's ever-evolving and growing along with your career. Take it a step at a time and commit the time and diligence to create a professional, polished portfolio which accurately reflects your professional and creative accomplishments.

Check to make sure everything is current and in working order on a regular basis. Be vigilant in checking for broken images or broken links to other sites and remove outdated information. If you have a link to your email address test it to make sure it works.

Finally, add a link to your portfolio to your resume and mention it in cover letters so employers can access the information quickly and easily.