What Is a Work Portfolio and Do I Need One?

It's all happening online
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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. It provides "evidence" to an employer of your accomplishments, skills, and abilities. It is a good way to show the scope and quality of your experience and training. A portfolio can also help demonstrate your talent and 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. This is a situation where your resume and an interview will not fully reveal the quality and style of work you are capable of creating. 

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. On your online portfolio, you can include an "about me" page with information on your background. You can also include a PDF of your resume. 

If you have some HTML or other web design skills, you may want to consider creating a web portfolio that uses a more interactive, presentational approach. Websites such as WordPress, Squarespace, or even Tumblr are great tools to help build an online presence for your work. (Some of these sites offer free options.) You may also find that there are online options that cater to people in your field. For instance, if you're a journalist, sites like Clipping.me or Muckrack.com are designed to showcase your writing clips.

Designers might want to take advantage of portfolio sites like Behance and Dribble. 

If you are not sure of the best way to post your portfolio online, consider asking colleagues or peers to share where they host their portfolios. 

Create a Hard Copy Version

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.

In both the online and hard copy version of your portfolio, make it easy for people to navigate. Show off the work that you're most proud of prominently, and group similar items together. (An online portfolio can contain all of your work, but if you are printing things out, it's best to curate what you include.) If context is required to understand a design or project, add some text to explain it. 

How to Build Your Portfolio

Think of your portfolio as a work in a process — it is 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 polished portfolio that accurately reflects your professional and creative accomplishments.

You might want to schedule time on your calendar every month (or every few months, or every year) to update your portfolio. That way, all of your newest creations and accomplishments will be on display. 

You'll also want to occasionally 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. You can also include a link to your portfolio from your email signature as well.