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Career & Design Portfolios

Career or job search portfolios help convey your story by providing a visual representation of your skills, experiences, and accomplishments. Job seekers from a variety of professional backgrounds can benefit from using a portfolio to showcase their work to potential employers. For instance, students or alumni in art, design, architecture, fashion, communication, business, engineering, or sales.  

 

A portfolio is a cohesive collection of artifacts (i.e. documents, images, or videos) that:

  • Relates specifically to your target industry and position

  • Provides tangible examples of your relevant skills and experiences from work, education, community service, extracurriculars, or travel

  • Can include your career goals, resume, awards and achievements, work samples, course projects, certificates, and/or reference letters

  • Starts interesting conversations, demonstrates or proves your skills to an employer during an interview, and allows you to stand out

  • Complements your resume, cover letter, and interview responses (i.e. it does not replace these other components of your job search, but acts as another useful tool)


By creating and using a print or online portfolio, you can proactively show an employer that you have the skill set that he/she is looking for.

Portfolio Materials & Preparation

When creating a physical/hard-copy portfolio, you can either get your portfolio professionally bound or house your artifacts in a zippered binder. By using a binder and inserting your documents in sheet protectors, you can easily remove and add artifacts to customize your portfolio for each job and interview. To make your content easy to find, include a table of contents in your portfolio and use tabs/page dividers. Below is a list of materials that you might need for your portfolio:

  • Zippered, 3-ring binder

  • Sheet protectors

  • Extra-wide 3-ring tabs with labels

  • High quality paper

  • Photo sleeves

  • Zippered pouch for CDs/DVDs (optional)

 

Experiment with different layouts and designs for your portfolio. Your final product should look professional and cohesive, while reflecting your personality. Keep the following tips in mind when developing your portfolio:

  • Use a table of contents

  • Separate sections with tabs

  • Choose an easy to read font style and size

  • Use colour and make colour copies of your documents (do not use your originals)

  • Do not over-use bold, italics, underlining, or caps lock

  • Balance your white space, images and/or text

  • Use high quality paper, printers, and materials

  • Maintain a consistent style throughout

  • Proofread for spelling and grammatical errors

Portfolio Sections

A traditional career portfolio typically includes the following sections:

 

Statement of Originality

Claim your work as original and request confidentiality from employers.

E.g. "This portfolio is the work of ________. Please do not copy without permission. Some of the exhibits, work samples, and/or service samples are the property of the organization whose name appears on the document. Each has granted permission for this product to be used as a demonstration of my work."

 

Work Philosophy

Your personal mission statement — what drives your work? Outline your values/beliefs for your profession, and communicate who you are and why you are different. Be concise; keep this section to 4 sentences/points or less.

 

Career Goals

Indicate your short- and long-term professional goals for the next 2 to 5 years. Avoid broad statements like, "To increase sales in my department." Use more specific and measurable statements such as, "To implement at least 3 solutions per year that will help reduce the cost of production and/or increase sales in my department."

 

Tailored Resume

 

Skill Sections

Divide your portfolio into relevant skill sections according to your target industry. In each of the tabbed sections, include your strongest work samples such as projects, reports, documents, photos, or videos of you demonstrating a field-related skill, etc.

E.g. A business portfolio might include sections labelled: Marketing, Training, Technology, Communications, and/or Management.

 

Certifications, Diplomas, Degrees, and/or Awards

 

Community Service

Include work samples and letters of recognition from your community involvement.

 

Professional Membership and Licenses

Incorporate documents that confirm your involvement in a professional organization. You can also include certificates or programs/brochures from professional development events that you have attended (e.g. conferences, seminars, or training sessions).

 

References

List contact information for at least 3 people who can verify your character, academic record, and/or employment history.

Design Portfolios

For students and alumni in the creative industries, a design portfolio is a well-thought out curation of your best work that showcases your unique personality and style. Your portfolio is an extension of your personal brand, and it should effectively highlight the creativity and skills you have to offer to an employer or client.

Below are 5 pointers for your design portfolio:

  1. Play up strengths –– “Your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest piece.” Be selective when choosing 5-15 pieces of your work to include in your portfolio. Put your strongest pieces in the beginning and at the end.

  2. Be cohesive –– Your overall design and flow of your portfolio should have a sense of unity and consistency. Do not overcrowd your work.

  3. Show variety –– Highlight pieces that demonstrate your different industry-related skills. If it would be beneficial for an employer to see, you can show components of the design process from conceptualization, design to production.

  4. Think visual and tactile –– Put thought into your portfolio size, paper weight and consistency, font, and colour scheme. Select high quality images that tell the story behind each of your pieces and consider custom binding.

  5. Use captions –– Include titles and brief descriptions to provide context for your work.

 

Your portfolio should continue to evolve as you gain new professional experiences and skills. Regularly update your portfolio to reflect the type of work you would like to be doing.

 

* References: 6 Steps To Creating A Knockout Online Portfolio (99u.com)  

Online Portfolios

Creating a web presence for your portfolio can demonstrate your technical skills, achievements, personal style, and help you reach a wider audience. The following are tips for your online portfolio:

  • Remember your personal brand –– How do you want someone (e.g. employer, client, recruiter) to perceive you when they view your online portfolio? Think about your overall web design and the pieces that you upload. Claim your vanity URL, and consider designing and using a personal logo (if relevant).

  • Create a user-friendly experience –– Use a simple interface for your website that is easy to navigate.

  • Leverage media –– Include social media buttons on your website so visitors can see additional elements of your professional online presence. Likewise, provide a link to your portfolio on your social media sites, email signature, resume, and business card. Your artifacts or pieces themselves can include media such as videos and live demos.

  • Be approachable –– Write an engaging bio or “about” page. Depending on your industry, you might outline your process, creative focus, personal mission statement, backstory, achievements to date (e.g. clients, press, publications), and/or hobbies or interests.  You can also include a contact page and career-oriented blog (if you have one that you update frequently).

  • Optimize for wireless devices –– If possible, use a responsive web design that will adapt to different sized screens on computers, cell phones, and tablets.

 

To help your online portfolio show up in search results, manually submit your website address, or URL, to popular search engines like Google, and Yahoo (which is powered by Bing).  

If you are interested in creating an online portfolio, the following are a few popular platforms that you can access either for free or at a low cost:

Remember –– it is better to not have an online portfolio than to have a weak one. However, an up-to-date online portfolio can be another useful job search tool.

 

* References: 6 Steps To Creating A Knockout Online Portfolio (99u.com)  

Using Your Portfolio

Practice using your portfolio to answer interview questions with your family, friends, and/or a Career Education Specialist. Brainstorm potential interview questions and think of ways you can use your portfolio to demonstrate or support your responses. The more comfortable you feel using your portfolio, the more confident you will appear in the interview.

During your interview, have your portfolio out on the table so it is accessible and use it within the first 15 minutes. Preface using this tool by asking, "May I show you a sample of my work?" Ensure that your interviewer(s) can clearly see what you are showing them. Use your portfolio to help you answer certain questions, however, it should not replace your interview responses. Your potential employer still wants to get a sense of who you are in person. Be aware of cues from your interviewer. Are they enjoying your portfolio, or not? Do not be surprised if the interviewer has never seen one before.

After the interview, evaluate your performance and make any necessary changes or improvements to your portfolio. Always update your portfolio with new items as you gain more relevant experience.

Below are examples of questions that might give you the opportunity to show your portfolio:

  • Tell us about a time when you worked as part of a team.

  • How confident are you with [specific technical skill]?

  • What certifications do you hold?

  • What do you do for fun?

 

* Adapted from Creating Your Career Portfolio: At a Glance Guide for Students, 2nd Edition , Williams and Hall (2001)

For more tips, read: 'Building Your Profile - Online & Hard Copy' in CAREER COMPASS

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