What is the Purpose of a Portfolio?

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Portfolios are used by working professionals, companies and students to highlight their best work and display accomplishments, skills and potential. They visually showcase examples of work, while a resume only provides bullet points. Portfolios are traditionally placed in a portfolio binder and can be anywhere from 5 to 25 pages long. In addition, it has become increasingly popular to create digital portfolios on a website. The link to digital portfolios can be included on a resume or a cover letter, or sent to an interviewer or client prior to an in-person meeting.

It's important to have an objective when creating your portfolio. Know whether you are trying to land a new client, increase sales, or get hired for a new job or contract. Dr. Greg Williams, the Director of University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s graduate program in instructional systems development, says that "A person with a well-designed and -developed portfolio will stand out when competing for jobs. If all other things are equal in the competition for a job, individuals with a portfolio will win over those who don’t have one."

A good portfolio can improve interview success.
A good portfolio can improve interview success. (Image: Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Types of Portfolios

  • Business portfolios display work a company has accomplished. These typically are crafted specifically to a prospective client's needs. They might include case studies from past work, awards and recognition, and information about executives and the management team for the specific job. 
  • Creative portfolios can be used for artists, photographers, actors and models, writers, visual and musical artists. These portfolios will focus on creative products that best highlight their accomplishments and abilities.
  • Educational portfolios highlight a scholar's achievements in academia including awards, recognitions and scholarly accomplishments like journal articles and other publications. 
  • Engineering and Architectural portfolios highlight strategic accomplishments, prototype designs and completed works. They may include photos as well as blueprints and phases of design that highlight how the project was constructed from beginning to end. 

Create an Attention-Getting Portfolio

Step 1: Evaluate the Objective

Know what your objective is when you assemble your portfolio. The examples that you include and information you provide should succinctly lead to an end result that not only conveys your objective, but accomplishes it. Your portfolio will act as proof that you have real work to back up your resume. As Jay Block, President of the The Jay Block Companies, LLC, says, "The portfolio is made up of professional recommendations that will help to confirm that the achievements and contributions listed on your resume are accurate."

Step 2: Create an Outline

Outline the manner in which the information will be organized before you start to create it. If you are creating a digital portfolio, this will include considering how your website navigation will be most successful.

Step 3: Compile Your Best Work

Showcase only the best of your work, rather than including everything you've ever done. In an age of information overload, employers and collaborators are looking for quality over quantity.

Step 4: Include Relevant Technology

Utilize any technology or software that is commonly used in your career field. For example, if you work in online marketing, your portfolio should include work with social media outlets that are commonly utilized in your industry.

Step 5: Include Contact Information

Include multiple ways for interested parties to contact you if they're interested in following up. Also include a link to your website where they can see more examples of what you've done. Highlight any sections that would be particularly relevant to your audience.

Step 6: Practice Demonstrating Your Portfolio

Prepare your presentation with a friend or family member. You should know what you want to say about each piece and its relevance prior to walking into a meeting or interview.

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