How to Make a Good Career Portfolio

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A carefully organized, informative and visually appealing career portfolio makes a positive impression with potential employers. It also provides a memorable example of your potential for success if hired.

First Impressions

The appearance of your portfolio will be the first thing your interviewer notices. Choose a high-quality professional binder or three-ring notebook with clear-page protectors. Use an organizational system, such as tabs or other dividers, and place a table of contents at the beginning.

Contents

The contents of your career portfolio will vary slightly depending on your industry. In general, it will include, but is not limited to:

  • Resume
  • Names of references or reference letters 
  • Skills list
  • Academic transcripts
  • List of accomplishments, awards and community service work
  •  Samples and a list of published work 
  • A list of continuing education activities, such as conferences, seminars and other training.

A key to building a memorable portfolio is creating appropriate artifacts. An artifact, according to the Career Services Center at the University of Delaware, is any tangible item that represents your accomplishments and qualities.

In some occupations, finding the right artifact is easy. For example, photographers, architects and designers can include photos and drawings. Finding an artifact to represent the qualities you want to showcase in other professions may require some creativity. Bernalillo County Human Resource Training and Organizational Development Section provides a few examples: A bookkeeper might include a certificate of completion of training for various software and sample pages of prepared reports or a project manager might include spreadsheets or charts for managed projects, along with certificates for awards. If artifacts are too large, for example, a trophy or scale-model, consider using photographs. If long, written reports are the best way to showcase work, consider sending copies ahead of time for the interviewer to review. Include a short caption explaining artifacts, as appropriate -- for example, "Me accepting award for achieving the highest sales volume."

Online Portfolios

Having an online portfolio, as well as a bound one, also might impress your potential employers. Many companies do initial online research when deciding whom to interview -- a portfolio that appears in a web search can help you clear this first hurdle, according to New York Times Career Coach Eileen Zimmerman. Similar to a bound portfolio, the online version includes artifacts, such as presentations, illustrations and photographs. It might also include an "About Me" page that describes your work history and education, Zimmerman says. Since an online portfolio will be on the Web for everyone to see, gain permission from former employers or clients to showcase anything that they might consider proprietary. Also indicate clearly if work you are sharing was a team effort.

Using Your Portfolio

Bring your portfolio with you to the interview, but be wary of the right time to show it. Showing it at the beginning may tempt the interviewer to spend the whole time looking at the portfolio rather than getting to know you, notes the National Association of Colleges and Employers. But if you hold on to it until the end of the interview, the interviewer may not have time to view it.

Tip

  • During an interview, use your portfolio to stress certain points. For example, if an interviewer asks you about a time you overcame a challenge, you might discuss a specific project and show an example of that project from your portfolio. When possible, photocopy or print artifacts from your portfolio to leave with your potential employer.

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