Building Your Portfolio

By now, you should already know how to write your cover letter and put together your resume— if not, then you may want to start learning. They’re both good things to have and hand out to employers if you’re looking for a low-skill, part-time job, but if you’re wanting to get started in your career, you’ll need a little more than that to grab a company’s attention.

You may have heard the word portfolio throw around, especially with the pronoun “your” attached to the beginning, as if you’re expected to already have one. But what is it? A portfolio goes beyond a resume, showcasing everything you’ve done in your career, or really anything you may have done off to the side that pertains to it. It give employers a better idea of who you are, providing them with tangible evidence of what you can do– far more than what a traditional resume can accomplish.

In a portfolio, you’re expected to include everything that a resume would normally contain:

  • Education history
  • Work history (including volunteer work and internships)
  • Test grades
  • Degrees/Transcripts/Certifications
  • Awards and honors
  • Skills and abilities
  • Reference contacts

Aside from that, you can include just about anything else that may be relevant to the job you’re applying for, such as service records, workshops or events you’ve attended, a handful of samples of your best work, and a summary expressing your goals and aspirations. When in doubt, include it all.

Possibly the two most important parts of your portfolio will be your collection of samples and the career summary or introduction. The summary should concisely state your professional goals, describe what actions you plan to take to meet those goals (or what you did if you already have met them), explain how your work samples demonstrate progress towards those goals, and relay your plans as to where you see yourself in the future. This can be placed at the beginning of your portfolio to serve as an introduction, like your cover letter, or you can try to work it in with everything else.

Work samples can include anything and everything, depending on what you’re doing:

  • Presentations
  • Websites
  • Peer evaluations
  • Pictures
  • Video/Audio clips
  • Awards
  • Written reports
  • Endorsements
  • Memoranda (proposals for future use)
  • Examples of side projects
  • Exams
  • Activities

The list could keep going on from there. Again, if you’re not sure whether to throw it in, throw it in– unless of course the sample is unprofessional in any way, then it would be best to leave it out. Also, you don’t want to use too many samples. Employers probably won’t pay attention to them if you have more than ten samples in your portfolio, so stick to your best work.

So how do you put it all together? Ideally, you’ll want to stick it all in a 3-ring binder and include a title page (because, well, everything looks better with a title page) and a table of contents of quick reference. Each page should be titled and contain a short caption with each article that you’re presenting ( such as “this is…”).

You certainly don’t want the employer lost when you hand them 10-20 pages worth of work history during your interview, as that would be something that would hurt your chances of getting the job. You want to be able to show them that you’re organized, which is an important work skill that you want to present up front.