A portfolio is more than just a souped-up resume. The process of creating a professional portfolio to describe your past work may help prepare you to talk about your areas of expertise with a potential employer, and may help you discover skills you didn’t know you have.
My introduction to portfolios
I created my first portfolio in 2004, when I applied for a position at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. I found the process to be enlightening–it reinforced in my mind that I had solved interesting problems in my past work experience and was fully qualified for the job. I got the job, and in that position I met Professor Dale Fitch (now at the University of Missouri) was working on a project to incorporate online portfolio creation into the curriculum (see his article, The use of ePortfolios in evaluating the curriculum and student learning, for details).
His scholarly findings go beyond the scope of this blog post, but for me a key takeaway was this: the process of creating a portfolio helps people better understand their own skill development.
How can creating a portfolio help me?
For a student, this may be pretty obvious. You’ve taken classes, written essays, taken tests. At the end of a few years, you get a diploma. But what job-worthy skills have you demonstrated? The process of creating a portfolio can help you identify and describe the skills you’ve acquired.
Likewise, in your work history, each project you’ve undertaken has required a variety of skills. Thinking about the processes for each project can help you integrate what you’ve done with competencies you demonstrated and skills you developed. This process can help you better understand what you already know how to do and are capable of undertaking–and give you the words to describe it to a potential employer!
Some fields, like graphic design or architecture, regularly require portfolios as part of the job application process. Even if your line of work does not require a portfolio, it’s a good idea to create one. Not only will the process of creating it help you identify your current strengths, providing it to a prospective employer can give you a leg up over candidates who submit only a resume and cover letter.
How to create a portfolio
I’m not going into details about how to format a print portfolio and organize it in a binder, or how to create a web-based portfolio. That will be a challenge I’ll leave up to you. Here is my advice on creating the content:
A portfolio is basically a collection of projects. For each project, include:
- Project description
- Project timeframe (and duration, if applicable)
- Project challenges
- Project solutions
- Project outcomes
Example Project Entry
In one of my past jobs I was the advertising production manager for MLive.com, a Michigan news & information website. Requests for a new ad graphic or advertising web page could be triggered by various means: paper insertion orders delivered by the office manager, or phone calls or e-mail messages from members of the sales staff. The requests often lacked all of the necessary information to get the ad creation process started, so I created an online form that would prompt the requester the fill in all the necessary information, which then automatically went into an online queue. Here’s what the portfolio entry might look like:
Online Ad Request System, 2002
Challenge: Advertising creative requests were received from disparate sources and were hard to track by both the ad production team and the sales staff. Additionally, they often contained incomplete information, resulting in delays. As a result, the department often missed its target service level of a 2-business day turnaround.
Including an image, if applicable–even if it’s just a photo of a team of people you worked with on the project–can be a nice touch, and make it feel more portfolio-esque.
Have you created a professional portfolio?
Did you find the process helped you better describe your strengths and skills to potential employers? Let me know about it in the comments!