3 Tips for Keeping Your Professional Portfolio Tight

Ryan Morris
by Ryan Morris
Get The Job - 3 years ago

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If you want to make a living in any moderately creative field, you’re gonna need a portfolio.

You might be lucky enough get along without one of these for a little bit, particularly if your career has only just started.

But even then, you’ll find yourself at a severe disadvantage compared to any other applicants who might have already started on their portfolios.

Which is starting to happen earlier and earlier, thanks to certain kinds of millennial parents.

“All of you are toast. My dad has 9 startups and I’ve been working on my portfolio since I was 4.”

But just what’s so useful about professional portfolios? And how do you go about starting one if you’ve never made one before?

We’ve put together a few tips to help you figure out some of these burning questions.


1. Why Are Professional Portfolios Useful?

To start things off, let’s talk about why professional portfolios are needed in the first place.

In creative project-based fields like writing, art, design, or a lot of related marketing gigs, you’re only as good as the individual projects you’ve completed.

While killer written feedback and recommendations from past employers will still go a long way toward helping you find a job in these fields (and should also be thrown into your portfolio, for what it’s worth), the biggest representations of your skills are your projects themselves.

And to make it in a job interview, those projects need to look better and be presented more attractively than anyone else who’s also applying.

*Sees Tom drawing some buildings.* “Those buildings suck, Tom.” *I shoot him with a Nerf gun.* “Draw more lines. Make them bigger.”

The easiest way for people to judge how well those projects were completed is to have them put in front of them in the clearest way possible.

It seems simple to say, but they need access to your work. They need concrete proof of your abilities if you want to stand out.

Professional portfolios allow you to provide companies and hiring managers with specific, detailed proof of your past accomplishments — and as your portfolio grows, you gradually become a safer and safer bet, as far as hiring goes.

Simply put, the better and more comprehensive your portfolio, the clearer and more favorable view that a hiring manager is likely to have of you and your work.

2. What Should I Include in My Professional Portfolio?

But what exactly goes in a professional portfolio?

In short? Basically everything you can think of.

“I think that trophy was for a pie eating contest or something? Whatever. It’s going in the portfolio. So are those plants. And that green Amiibo-lookin’ thing.”

You want recommendations, you want awards, you want lists of skills — if it sounds relevant to your job, you need to include it.

And of course, you want to include your work itself, in whatever form is easiest for a hiring manager to understand it. That could mean pictures of your art and designs, or it could mean writing samples, or it might just be detailed descriptions of projects you undertook.

To make things a little easier on you, here’s a handy list of things that you should consider including in your portfolio. The first list includes all must-haves — the second includes optional items that can help you strengthen your portfolio.

  • A list of your accomplishments and any awards you might have earned.
  • Your work samples themselves (again, in whatever form is easiest to understand them).
  • Feedback, be it from bosses, clients, coworkers, or other professional connections.
  • A cover letter or other sort of portfolio introduction.
  • Your resume (always helpful to include again, even if you’ve already provided your interviewer with a copy).
  • Your academic history, unless this was already included in your resume.
  • List of qualifications, skills, or specific trainings.
  • Any professional groups you might be a member of or affiliations you might have.
  • A mission statement, and a summary of your professional goals.

3. How to Construct (And Format!) the Professional Portfolio Itself

Let’s say you’ve got all of your information and other resources pulled together into one place, ready to be placed into your portfolio.

But what if you’re wondering how to put the thing together itself?

Particularly if you already have a lot of existing work to show people, it can be daunting to think about organization once you’ve got everything laid out in front of you.

“Ah, yes…the squares reveal the true order of my work samples. The portfolio itself will serve as a monument to my genius. It will be incomprehensible. You need to follow the chart just to read my education history correctly.”

Here’s a few tips to actually put the dang thing together once you’ve got all of your information together.

  • If you have to choose between a physical portfolio or a digital one, go digital. They’re more versatile, easier to send to people, and easier to update with new work. Plus there’s always the possibility of converting it into a physical portfolio later on.
  • However, if you have the time, you should try putting together both a digital AND a physical portfolio. Physical portfolios are excellent for interviews — they’re not too obtrusive, and many hiring managers will appreciate the opportunity to review your work and skills in a more tactile form.
  • With either kind of portfolio, start off by listing all of your work in a single Table of Contents. Don’t worry about the order right away — you can figure that out once you’ve got it all written down.
  • Once all of the discrete pieces of your portfolio have been listed, you can start to think about their order. The big thing is to consider how the portfolio is going to be read. What makes the most sense? You should definitely start out with your Table of Contents, but anything after that is up to your discretion.
  • When in doubt, just think about what information a person might need about you at each step of the process of reading your portfolio, and then think about the least obtrusive way to get them that information without interrupting the flow of your portfolio. Think about how they’re going to navigate your portfolio, too — a digital portfolio might require a different kind of organization than a physical one, for example, due to the difference in the way that it is consumed.
  • Also remember that for a physical portfolio, a 3-ring binder typically works best. As long as the printing process is relatively inexpensive, you could even make a few copies of your portfolio in case a hiring manager needed to keep it for a period of time or even permanently.

Wrapping Up:

Well, that about does it for this one.

Before we go, though, one last piece of advice:

While your Table of Contents should be the first thing you start compiling once you have all of your portfolio elements collected, it should be the VERY LAST thing added to the portfolio itself.

Why? Well, simply enough, because it’s the thing that could end up going through the most change over the course of the portfolio’s creation.

Kind of like how you should make your daily to-do list after you’ve already done all the things you want to do. Then your to-do list is always 100% accurate. Right? Think about it.

By saving the Table of Contents for last, you might end up saving yourself a lot of time and effort. Additionally, it keeps you from getting locked into a particular portfolio organization early on, allowing you to experiment with different orders while you continue to construct the portfolio.

Anyway, best of luck! Here are some other links to help you on your way:

3 Tips for Tooting Your Own Horn Without Being Annoying
3 Tips for Deciding When to Go For a Two-Page Resume
3 Big Tips For (Avoiding) Lying On Your Resume

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