Why Everyone Needs a Portfolio of Work


The job market is going through a major shift. Employers have a huge pool of prospects to pick from, and they're being especially picky about who they hire. So if you want to land the job of your dreams (or any job, really), you have to stand out. And I'm not talking about scented resumes. (See also: Stupid Things to Put in Your Cover Letter)

What Is a Portfolio?

You probably saw the word "portfolio" in the title of this post and thought to yourself:

I'm not a designer or a copywriter; I don't need a portfolio! I'm a lawyer for crying out loud...this doesn't apply to me! And how the hell am I supposed to pronounce this guy's last name anyway?

To you I say, "Whoa, Nelly!" Calm down. This is the kind of old-world thinking that will get you nowhere. 

In order to stand out, you have to look at things a little differently. Instead of spending all that time on your resume (which is important, but only to a certain extent), you need to put together a package that showcases what you've done and what you can do.

That's the goal of having a portfolio — to showcase your skills and past accomplishments.

What About a Resume?

Your resume is a one-page summary of your past work experience....ZZZZZ. Pretty boring, isn't it? Even if you've done exciting work in the past, it's going to be really tough to get that across in a bullet or two.

Besides, all resumes pretty much look the same. Especially if you're sifting through 34 of them and it's 5:14 p.m.

Your portfolio, however, is your playground. Here's a list of things you should include:

  • Websites you worked on
  • Projects you were a part of 
  • Events you had even a minor role in
  • Things you made (apps, catalogs, events, etc.)
  • People you worked with
  • A blog you started and write for (blogging got me a better job)
  • Skills you picked up or perfected

Think of the coolest, most exciting stories you can possibly think of and focus on one or two of those. Then make sure that you actually contributed or learned something, because otherwise you'll just look like a passive observer.

Go heavy on the pictures and on the links, so potential employers can go as deep as they want on this stuff.

After looking at it, employers should be thinking, "Wow, this person is pretty interesting and has some serious skills we could use here."

How to Build It

It doesn't have to be complicated, but this is your chance to show off, so don't hesitate to put some time and effort to make this look as good as it can be.

I know what you're thinking — "But Mr. P, I don't know anything about creating a website! I don't know how to use Photoshop! How am I supposed to put one of these together?"

Time to get creative. It doesn't matter how you come up with this nifty package of cool stuff you've done or great skills you have, what matters is that you get it across. That means you can use any of these:

  • PowerPoint
  • Word
  • Prezi
  • WordPress
  • Dreamweaver

It may sound lame to send in a file built in Word, but Word can do some cool stuff if you put the time in.

And the fact that you were able to create something visually interesting that's also effective is a much better way to say "Proficient in MS Word" on your boring old resume.

Now go out there and make something you're proud of that will showcase your talent and your skills.

Your next job may depend on it.

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Meg Favreau's picture

I definitely agree with making it look nice. As a writer, I know there can be a lot of value in making samples look professional -- even if you're just creating something as an example for your portfolio. If you don't have great design skills, it could help to ask a friend, or it might even be worthwhile to hire someone.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

Totally agree. And to all the writers that say "It's the words that count, not the design!"

You're looking at things the wrong way: it's not what you think that matters, it's what potential employers think. And if it looks cheap they'll think you're lazy or just plain bad.