How do you feel when you hear the words “career portfolio”?
Do you get anxious knowing you don’t have one but need one? Bored or intimidated by the concept of making one? Or confused because what is a career portfolio, and why would you need one?
If you fall into any of those categories, this article is for you. We’ll explain why a career portfolio (aka a professional portfolio) is useful for anyone, especially those starting out in their career, and how to make one that will both reflect who you truly are and set you on the career path you want.
We’ve also provided plenty of professional portfolio examples and more resources for taking the next steps with your career and personal brand.
What is a career portfolio?
A career portfolio is a collection of background information and examples of your career history, experience, and ambitions.
Your professional portfolio serves several important purposes. It can help you:
A career portfolio is not a resume where you only list your skill set, work experience, and achievements. It’s not a cover letter either, where you write a few lines about yourself, your qualifications, and why an employer should hire you.
A career portfolio is unique to you and includes your skills, work experience, and qualifications. Your professional portfolio also goes beyond that to tell a fuller story about who you are, where you’ve been, and what you want to achieve. It highlights concrete examples and demonstrates the validity of the things you say about yourself.
What are the benefits of a professional portfolio?
As you read through the walkthrough below, you might start to think that creating a career portfolio sounds like a lot of work. And though it’s easier than ever, thanks to the online tools available (more on that later), it does indeed take time.
But that being said, there are lots of benefits to a career portfolio that make the time investment worth it:
Enhances your credibility
With a traditional resume, employers must rely mostly on what you write down and what your references have to say. But with a career portfolio, the proof is right there in the concrete examples of your work. You come off looking like a trustworthy hire who is already more than prepared to hit the ground running.
Gives you a head start on your personal brand
If you ever have ambitions of owning your own business, working as a freelancer, or just having a non-traditional career, then a career portfolio is a vital step in developing a personal brand. If you want to learn more about that process, check out these resources:
Lets you showcase your personality as a career asset
A resume can showcase your job experience and technical skills well, but who you are is much more than a list of your previous jobs and responsibilities. Often, aspects of our personality, like our sense of humor or our ability to hold conversations, are what help us land a job.
Unfortunately, you won’t have a chance to showcase your personality much until the job interview… unless you have a career portfolio, where you can craft your own story how you like and apply personal touches to let your best personality traits shine through.
Helps you build your story and figure out what the future holds
If you’re reading this and thinking, “I can’t put together a career portfolio because I have no experience to showcase!” think again. Starting a career portfolio at the dawn of your career is ideal because you’ll have the most complete story of your journey as it evolves and grows.
The earliest iterations of your career portfolio may only be your career ambitions or experiences from school or volunteering. But listing out what you’ve done and what it says about who you are and what you enjoy is a great first step toward answering the question: What should I do with my life?
Where should you host your career portfolio?
There are many ways to create a digital career portfolio, but ultimately your decision boils down to two factors:
- What format feels most natural to you?
- What will be easiest to share with others?
You may find it’s easiest to build a full website to host your portfolio, or if that’s too overwhelming, choose to create a well-designed PDF or Word document.
There is no limit to your creativity as long as it remains accessible and cohesive. Video, graphics, audio, and any other mediums you like can be excellent ways to personalize your career portfolio.
Items to include in a career portfolio
When you start preparing a professional portfolio, make sure to add the following items below. These career portfolio examples will guide you in the process.
Start compiling your career portfolio with personal information to introduce yourself to a prospective employer. This information includes your full name, email address, and contact number. If you’re creating an online portfolio, you can also link to any website or social media profile, i.e., your LinkedIn profile, to provide samples of your work.
For example, if you’re a motion graphics designer, link to the Facebook or Instagram account you use to exhibit your projects or your freelance gig’s website. To apply as a public relations specialist, insert a link to any social media account or website you use to publicize your work.
Add a personal statement or an “About me” section to give the recruiter a glimpse of your personality and work philosophy. Keep it as concise as possible, with no more than 150 words. Think about your career goals and why the profession is important to you. Check out the example below:
Career Portfolio Example: Personal Information
“I am a recent marketing graduate with combined expertise in digital marketing and content strategy. I have been committed to building my career in digital marketing since I began managing my small and successful freelance gigs three years ago, following my four years of college. I enjoy watching my ideas and skills transform into innovative content marketing strategies that drive solutions and boost business performance. I am seeking a position in a leading digital marketing agency where I can use my skills to make a difference in my clients’ lives and further develop as a professional.”
Once you’ve compiled your contact information and personal statement, include a concise career summary that will give prospective employers a quick view of your professional self. A career summary will provide a brief overview of your relevant professional experience and how you’ve applied skills in real-life scenarios.
It’s always helpful to use numbers or percentages to underscore the claims you’re making. Continuing the hypothetical scenario in the above example, you could mention the number of clients you have worked with on your freelance gigs and highlight your best work by including the percentage increase in client sales or any other performance criteria.
These specific facts will support your qualifications and set you apart from other candidates.
Professional Portfolio Example: Career Summary
“During my marketing internship at the XYZ Company, I worked closely with my manager to implement new social media marketing strategies and campaigns. I also curated content for the company’s different social media channels and augmented the call-to-action through Facebook by 30% in 3 months. I am capable of bringing extensive knowledge of social media marketing programs to your organization, along with my exemplary idea-generation and communication skills.”
I love looking at a resume that’s easy to read and tells you a compelling narrative of the candidate’s story—a big picture outline of who they are—followed by a list of accomplishments that weaves in with the key points mentioned in the summary. The ability to put years of experience in a one-page document that invokes interest says a lot about the person’s communication and presentation skills.
—Jyoti Khadgawat, Smule Inc.
As the quote above indicates, a resume that can showcase the art of storytelling goes a long way in impressing a recruiter. However, this does NOT mean that your resume has to be a one-pager. As long as you can tell an impactful story about yourself on more than one page effectively, you’re good to go.
Too much information on one page can potentially ruin its visual appeal. At the same time, make sure that your resume is not too long. Update the resume with work experiences that match the job description. It’s unwise to let any unnecessary information take up space. Follow this resume outline to guide you.
Skills and accomplishments
Although your skills and accomplishments are part of your resume, a career portfolio demands a separate list for each to make them stand out. This is where you get to make them specific.
Your skills and accomplishments could be related to any professional experience as a volunteer, student, or part-time employee. You get the opportunity to write about yourself and your experience in detail.
A list of marketable skills
Your job history details what you do, but you’ll also want to zoom out the lens and create a list of your marketable skills in your professional portfolio.
Much of your list will include the technical skills and experience you need for your job. For example, you might list your certification as a copywriter or experience writing AI prompts.
But don’t forget that your soft skills—like communication or time management capabilities—are also a big part of your career story. Here’s a soft skills list to inspire you about what to include.
As a multi-skilled job seeker, you might decide to apply to jobs for which the required skills are similar but not the same, i.e., business consultant and business analyst. Here, you have the liberty to make your skill set unique to each job description.
Furthermore, describe the work setting in which you applied those skills.
Career Portfolio Examples: Skills and abilities
“My leadership skills equipped me to lead and coordinate the activities of the content creation team of X (insert number here) employees. I used my communication skills to clearly articulate problems and progress to top management through my eye for aesthetic and engaging presentations.”
A list of accomplishments
These career portfolio examples will explain how to prove your value-adding capabilities to a prospective employer. It’s advisable to separate your accomplishments into different segments according to different jobs. Accomplishments also go hand-in-hand with numbers or percentages. Let’s look at the examples below:
“I won the Best Intern Award and was promoted to the junior marketer position at the end of a 6-month internship period. As a junior marketer, I contributed X% to the company’s sales from its promotional campaigns.”
“My team became the champion in the XYZ competition and won a $5,000 reward.
“I dedicated 180 hours of my time last year volunteering to raise climate change awareness in my community.”
Samples of your work
Work samples are the best means of showcasing your professional experience and adding greater credibility to whatever you mentioned in your career summary, resume, and lists of skills and accomplishments.
Unlike a link to your website or social media platform, which will likely contain all of your work samples, this should include only your best work—typically projects or examples that exhibit a wide range of skills.
For samples of your work, aim for quality over quantity. Examples might include copies of your newsletters, marketing plans, sales figures, graphics design work, presentations, reports, etc.
You can also mention your best volunteering or community service work, especially if you don’t have enough work experience. Feel free to add any significant work experience you gained by participating in college clubs or extracurricular activities.
You should also briefly mention any positive feedback you received on your example, i.e., a comment on a blog post or performance appraisal on a project.
A list of professional development activities
Listing your professional development activities is a great way of showing potential employers that you’re a lifetime learner eager to keep growing. It demonstrates your dedication to your career and enthusiasm for learning new things.
Give your potential employer the confidence that you will continue to work on your professional development. Show off all the relevant offline or online courses you have completed, the internships you’ve done, the certifications you’ve earned, and the workshops, seminars, or conferences you have attended (relevant being the keyword here).
References and testimonials/letters of recommendation
Make sure to insert a list of 3-5 people, including at least one past employer, as professional references. The remaining 2-4 people could be your professors, clients, colleagues, or customers.
They must all be willing to talk about your skills, experiences, strengths, and accomplishments. Write down their full names, designations, and contact information.
Additionally, request them to write testimonials or letters of recommendation for you. These will help a recruiter easily see you through their eyes while reading the portfolio. You can also take the opportunity to include copies of positive employer reviews in this segment.
CTA: What to do next?
Promote your career portfolio
Try to market your portfolio as much as you can on your LinkedIn profile and other social networking accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You may also register on a particular job site to post your online portfolio. Your portfolio will then be sent to prospective employers. Several job sectors, such as psychology, have professional associations and websites for job seekers to promote their portfolios.
Regularly update the portfolio
Your portfolio is always going to be a work in progress throughout your career. As you gain more work experience, acquire more skills, accomplish more, and undergo further professional development, be sure to regularly update your portfolio and remove outdated items.
It will also enable you to monitor your career progress and identify areas of improvement. Match the portfolio information to the job description before each job application and interview. Even if you use a printed portfolio, keep an online copy for making updates from time to time.
Don’t get too swayed by the idea of getting a high-paid job soon. Careers take time to build, so start spending wisely in college to save enough money for a rainy day.
Prepare for your job interview
Talk to fellow students or colleagues, talk with a career counselor or coach, and read/watch any reliable material on interview preparation.
Don’t give your portfolio to interviewers at the beginning because they would likely read the whole thing right then. Don’t share it at the end either because interviewers will usually not have the time to read it. It’s best to use the portfolio during a job interview. Answer questions along the way and let the portfolio back you up.
Curate your portfolio the right way
It can make a world of difference in your career—so take the time and care to show employers the value you would bring.