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Building Your Professional Portfolio: Best Practices for Demonstrating Your Work and Accomplishments


by Wiktoria Stretskite

Updated: May 24, 2023

To land a good job, it’s not necessary to have a diploma of a prestigious university. Instead, an impressive portfolio can come in handy for demonstrating your skills and abilities. Not all professionals need it — but developers, designers, photographers, video editors and writers definitely do. In this article, you’ll discover tips on creating and organizing your portfolio so as to immediately grasp the employer’s or client’s attention.

Contents of Your Portfolio

Technically, a portfolio is a collection of your best work and accomplishments. However, your goal is to sell yourself to a potential client or employer. That’s why it’s crucial to include additional information:

  • Short bio. It’s essential for establishing a human connection with the customer. Hand-pick the brightest details of your past and omit boring ones. Briefly explain why you chose this profession and who is your role model.
  • Skills and abilities. List your hard and soft skills, like in your resume.
  • Certifications, diplomas, awards and grades — mention any achievements that accentuate your expertise.
  • Depending on the platform where you’ll be placing your portfolio, you can either copy and paste your resume into your portfolio or provide a link to the former in the latter. If you provide the link, it’s especially important to list your skills and abilities separately in the portfolio.
  • References or testimonials. They are crucial for independent contractors. A client who’d like to hire you will be likely to check your testimonials before looking at your resume. If you’re making your first steps in the chosen niche, ask your friends to write testimonials for you.

When choosing the samples of your work to include, select only the genuinely best ones. In the next passage, we’ll focus on the criteria for picking the top pieces.

Best Practices for Building a Professional Portfolio

Categorize all your previous works according to the types of skills that you used to create them. Make sure your online portfolio features at least one example of each skill that you’d like to show.

For instance, if you’re a software developer, classify all your completed projects according to the programming languages that you resorted to. If you know only one language, pick around five best projects. If you know four languages, pick one or two projects for each of them. If you know fifteen languages, you can choose from two options:

  • Include one project per language in your portfolio
  • Focus only on the most popular languages and include from one to three project examples for each

Make sure your portfolio is diverse. Let’s imagine that you’re a photographer who can take pictures of small kids, weddings, families and pets. Include all these four types of photos in your portfolio.

There are different ways of organizing your work samples inside the portfolio — for example:

  • Arrange them in chronological or reverse chronological order
  • Start with projects that you completed for the largest companies
  • Start with projects that enjoyed the biggest commercial success
  • Showcase the most aesthetically striking pieces first if you work in a creative industry

If any of your works helped you to earn rewards, don’t forget to mention it. Don’t hesitate to attach positive client testimonials directly to your works.

Sometimes, you might receive five-star testimonials for projects that you don’t want to include in your portfolio (for example, because you’ve considerably upgraded your technical skills since then). In this case, you can list these testimonials separately, in the text part of your portfolio.

Make sure the samples of your work reveal your current abilities. Let’s imagine that you’re a translator who has been working with English and French for the most part of your life — and last year, you began to translate written texts from Chinese. The complexity of the Chinese texts that you can handle may be lower than that of their French counterparts. Nevertheless, it’s essential to add samples of your entry-level Chinese translations to your portfolio. As you’ll be making progress, you’ll replace these pieces with fresher and more sophisticated ones.

Fine-Tune Your Portfolio According to Your Goals and Intentions

Industry-specific portfolios don’t need to remain static. Update them to optimize them for your current goals. For example, you want to apply for a specific vacancy:

  • Take the keywords from the job description and insert them into your portfolio.
  • Check whether your work samples fit the employer’s requirements. If they want you to use only Python to write code, you may restructure your portfolio so that it becomes focused on this programming language.
  • Re-arrange your list of skills: make the ones that this specific employer values the most appear at the top of the list.

The visual design and aesthetics of your portfolio depend on your industry. If you’re a software engineer, let this document be minimalistic. Format the text so that it remains easy to read on all devices.

Think about the ways of delivering your portfolio:

  • List it on dedicated platforms where employers look for staffers and clients look for contractors
  • Create a personal website and publish the portfolio there
  • Save your portfolio as a digital file that you’ll be able to attach to your emails and online applications (PDF is the optimal format because third parties can’t edit it)
  • Print it out with executive-level binding — the paper version can come in handy at offline conferences, trade shows and other types of events
  • Record a video portfolio, upload it to YouTube and share the link with whoever can be interested in it
  • Create a digital presentation that you’ll be able to show to people during video calls

When the employer invites you for a face-to-face interview, bring your printed portfolio with you. If the interview takes place remotely, choose one of the digital representations of your portfolio.

When talking with the HR manager, keep referring to your portfolio. When praising yourself, back up your words with the testimonials of your previous clients. When you say that you know how to use a specific tool, show a sample.

Final Thoughts

A professional portfolio is vital for enhancing your career development. Its mission consists in showcasing your work to potential employers and clients. A portfolio should include samples of your best work, your brief bio, resume and testimonials. You should mention your educational achievements, skills and abilities there. Fine-tune your portfolio for each job or project that you’re applying for and for every platform where you share this data. Make sure the information is well-structured and organized in a visually appealing way.

Additionally, in today's digital age, it's crucial to have an online presence by creating a professional website or utilizing platforms specifically designed for showcasing portfolios. Including links to your online portfolio in your resume, social media profiles, and professional networking platforms can greatly enhance your visibility to potential employers and clients. By regularly updating and curating your portfolio with your latest accomplishments and projects, you can establish yourself as a competent and talented professional in your field.