How to build an effective work portfolio for your career

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

While not every job application requires a portfolio, building one is an excellent way to advance your career. Portfolios act as supporting documents for your CV and cover letter in an application. Understanding how to create an engaging portfolio can improve your employability and impress hiring managers. In this article, we explore what makes the best work portfolio and offer some examples that you can use to build your own.

What is a work portfolio?

A work portfolio is a curated collection of your best work samples. For example, writers may create a portfolio of their most successful articles, while videographers might curate their most impressive showreels. Sometimes called a career portfolio or professional portfolio, a work portfolio can also include proof of your skills such as certifications, references, examples of awards and a summary of your work experience.

Portfolios are a common consideration during the hiring process for creative fields such as art, design and publishing, where employers may want to see visual representations of your work. Some roles that may require a portfolio include:

  • graphic designer

  • photographer

  • copywriter

  • creative writer

  • software developer

  • videographer

  • web designer

Why create a portfolio?

Building a portfolio is a great way to offer tangible evidence of your work that you can show potential employers. It can highlight your versatility and experience while also demonstrating your organisational skills. While not every job role requires a portfolio, hiring managers in creative fields may request a portfolio so that they can review and assess your skills. In fields where a portfolio isn't a requirement, it can still be an excellent way to make a great first impression.

A portfolio can highlight your past successes in work projects regardless of your industry. You might also want to include presentations or evidence of the impact your work had with quantifiable results or reviews. If you feel that your industry doesn't require a portfolio, consider the tangible examples of the work that you've created over the years.

How to create a professional portfolio

If you're interested in building a professional portfolio, here are four easy steps you can take:

1. Gather the materials

An easy first step to building a portfolio is to gather all the relevant materials you want to include. Aside from specific work samples, the materials you choose could include awards, certifications, reviews and visual examples of your work. Use materials that are as recent and relevant as possible, so your work accurately reflects your experience and skill set. Some examples of materials you could include are:

Your CV

Including your CV with your portfolio is an easy way to present some of the most important information that an employer wants to see. Your CV includes your contact information, a brief professional summary, any previous work experience, educational achievements and your skills. Consider tailoring your CV to the job position you're applying for or a specific industry.

Your skills and knowledge

A portfolio is an easy way to highlight the skills that you believe employers value. Your portfolio can include a list of hard and soft skills. The examples and information you provide highlight both your technical knowledge and work ethic. Be sure to include skills that are highly relevant and ones you can apply to the role. If you have accomplishments related to your work or field of expertise, be sure to include them. This may include academic honours related to your profession or awards that highlight your transferable skills.

A brief personal statement

Writing a brief personal statement into your portfolio can help employers get to know more about who you are personally and professionally. Since many interviews begin with you telling an employer about yourself, having an About me section is a great way to answer this question. This statement can be short, between two and five sentences, explaining what motivates you and what you enjoy about your work.

Related: How to write an attention-grabbing personal statement

Your education and certifications

While you usually include your education and technical certifications in your CV, having examples of your certifications within your portfolio can highlight your experience and qualifications for the position. It can help to choose only the most relevant experience that demonstrates your most relevant skills for the role. You can include online certifications too.

Your references or recommendations

Including a reference contact page or reviews from previous clients is an excellent way of highlighting your professional qualities while increasing your credibility. A good baseline is to include around five people that can help demonstrate your career performance. Ensure these come from a mix of projects to show your range of abilities and experience.

Related: How to ask someone to be your referee: email examples

Your work samples

Samples are the most notable part of a portfolio. Use a range of samples to highlight as many skills as possible. Depending on your profession, you can include a brief summary next to each example to explain your work process or any exemplary feedback you received. You can also use examples of work you completed during your education, volunteer work or passion projects.

2. Organise your materials

Creating a clear, concise work portfolio can make it easier for potential employers to read. Depending on the role you're applying for, consider the order in which you list your materials. If you think it's more important for the employer to get a sense of you as a person, you may want to put your CV, personal summary and technical skills near the beginning.

If you want the focus to be on your work and experience, showcase your work samples first. It can be a good idea to categorise your work samples in reverse-chronological order. Having your work go from most recent to oldest allows potential employers to see your best work while also demonstrating your improvement over time.

3. Create an attractive layout

Even if you're not applying for a creative role, having a visually appealing portfolio can ensure the person reading it stays engaged. If you're applying for a creative role, such as UX design, your portfolio is another way of demonstrating your personal style, skill and experience. The layout of the portfolio is a reflection of you and provides an idea of who you are to the reader.

4. Tailor your portfolio

Once you have a finalised version of your portfolio, you may want to consider customising it based on the role. For example, you may want to change the skills section to match keywords in the job description. If you think that certain skills are more relevant for a role than others, make sure they're easy to find and read. You might also consider including a personalised 30-60-90 day plan for the company. By creating a detailed plan, you're communicating to the employer your interest in the position and expressing that you're willing to take a proactive approach.

Related: All about a 30-60-90 day plan and how to create one

Tips for building an effective work portfolio

Here are a few tips to help you produce an engaging, clear and informative portfolio that features your skills:

Create a digital copy

An online version of your portfolio can make your work accessible and easier to share. There are plenty of options for creating a digital version of your portfolio, whether you're building your own website or using some of the free alternatives you can find across social networking platforms.

Having a digital version of your portfolio also makes it much easier to format. This allows you to add or remove work samples and supporting content such as graphs, charts or slide presentations. When your portfolio is complete, make sure there are links to it within your CV, your social media profiles, your professional networking profiles and your email signature.

Update your portfolio regularly

Review your portfolio regularly throughout the year. It can be a good idea to revisit it once a quarter so you can continue to add relevant information while removing any outdated parts. Your portfolio grows alongside your work experience and documents your successes. Once you've set up your portfolio, ensure you check that images and links are functional so readers can access everything you've intended to share.

Use your portfolio as a tool

Creating an effective portfolio can also act as a helpful tool in interviews or when applying for freelance roles. You can amend it to meet the requirements of the job and use it as an easy reference when you're in the interviewing stage. For example, if you're applying for a graphic design position, and the employer asks about your experience using specific software, you can show them an example of your work that you made with it.

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