4 Steps to Create Your Work Portfolio

The end of the year is approaching, which typically means work winding down, stress, family time, and spending ridiculous amounts of money. But it’s also perfect timing for you to spend some time working on your portfolio.

Apparently this is a “trendy” thing now – who knew? When I started doing it about 10 years ago, people thought I was crazy – even when I wrote about it a year ago, there were questions. How about we all get on the same page now, and realize that having a portfolio for every single job type, is necessary.

The key here is that your portfolio will tell a visual story about your experience, expertise, and your biggest accomplishments.

4 Steps to Create Your Career Portfolio

1. Get a portfolio binder

Yep, we’re going to start at the very beginning. My first portfolio was a black three inch ring binder – it was able to hold everything I needed and was professional looking enough. But times, they have changed – there are much better options out there now.

I currently use a black leather bound presentation folder, but I have also used a very colorful album of sorts, to show off some of my personality. Depending on the type of job you are seeking, choose your binder wisely – I did have a company question “my seriousness” based on the colors. Yeah, they were clearly NOT the company for me.

Here are a few that I found that are great choices:

  • Jonathan Adler Meadow Mosaic Navy Presentation Book sold at Barnes & Noble for $34.95. It’s navy with a subtle pattern, but also looks professional.
  • Black Leatherette Presentation Folder sold at Amazon for $21.99. This is probably the closest one to mine, but has a very nice clasp. It’s very sleek and professional. Since it is a binder, you will need to clear plastic folders, to create a flipbook.
  • GBC Hidden Swing Clip Report Cove in a variety of colors, sold at Amazon for $8.10. It’s less “executive” looking, but if you are not willing to spend money on this yet, it’s a good choice. You can class it up with a great front cover page that you create, and use the plastic folders as well to display your work.

2. Determine what you will fill the pages with.

In order to get your best content, you will need to do some planning ahead of time. This is especially true if you work in a non-graphic position, like accounting. Remember, you want it to tell a story about your experience and expertise.

Your resume is a good place to start – in fact, if you have a well-done resume, it will make this much easier. For each bullet point on your resume, it should reinforce your big accomplishments and skills, right? So each bullet then represents a visual story opportunity.

Let’s use some examples, shall we?

Example 1: “Held benefit fairs at three sites across the U.S. to ensure enrollment for over 500 employees.”

Fabulous – so you were involved in the logistics of this fair, maybe you are in HR or Facilities or Administration. It doesn’t matter – what matters is, you want to show this deliverable. So insert a color-copy of a flyer or an email that was sent out to the employees, with the fair information. I know, you probably didn’t create the flyer, but that’s not the important part – what’s important is that you can use that as a talking point to start discussing what you did for the event.

Example 2: “Increased sales by 32% in one year through decreased production costs.”

Maybe you’re in Accounting or Manufacturing with this example, and there doesn’t seem to be a fancy graphic, flyer or email to go with this one. That’s ok – you can create it! Create your own chart or graph (in color), to visually show this improvement – maybe it’s even two charts: one showing the sales growth the other showing how you decreased production costs.

Example 3: “Managed residence hall with 200 students in residence.”

Not the best bullet, keep working on it, but you are probably using your Resident Assistant or Resident Director experience here. There doesn’t seem to be a clear graphic to go with this, right? Wrong – create a graphic that shows the characteristics of your students. Think of it as a mini infographic – how many people, what were their genders, their year in school, their interests, what were your daily/weekly/monthly tasks and how did they impact the students? Think outside the box here and create something that matches the valuable information you want a potential employer to know.

3. Write the story.

Don’t go through all of this work, just to slap the pages in any random order. Like a movie, you want to create a story of progression. There are many different approaches, but the key ingredient is to ensure there is a flow.

  • Story Line 1: Chronological order (either newest to oldest, or vice versa)
  • Story Line 2: Impressive order – put your most impressive items as the front and work backwards
  • Story Line 3: Group like items together
  • Story Line 4: Follow your resume

Another thing to consider is the length of your portfolio. Remember that this is going to be part of the interview process, maybe even supplemental for left over time. You don’t want it to be a novel. You want to showcase only the most awesome things, in the best story line for your work.

4. Create a masterpiece.

I’m usually about efficiency, but I like pretty things too. This is one project that you shouldn’t just slap together. You should spend time on it, and choose “full color printing” over the “grayscale fast printing” for each item. Once you have it, you will always be able to use it – you will just keep adding to it, every year, so invest the time now. Trust me – I had to redo one, way back when.

You want to highlight the best of your experience, so think of it as your resume expanded. You want to spend just as much time and effort on your portfolio as you did on your other resume materials. This is part of your sales materials – make sure you approach it from the employer’s perspective.

If you don’t have an artistic eye, partner up with someone else to help you. You don’t necessarily need to hire a graphic designer to help you, but you can get ideas or tweaking from friends or sites like Fiverr or 99Designs.