How to Build a Work Portfolio (With Tips to Follow)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A portfolio is a great way to show potential employers practical examples of your best work in an area of expertise. To ensure it adds value to your job search, it helps to keep it up-to-date and relevant to the open position. Learning how to build a work portfolio can help you create one that helps your job application differ from the other ones submitted. In this article, we explain what a work portfolio is, discuss who can benefit from one, outline how to put one together and provide tips to make an existing one more relevant.

How to build a work portfolio

Knowing how to build a work portfolio can help you supplement your resume with tangible evidence of your skills. When you submit a customised resume for a job application, it usually includes your contact details, qualifications and references. This information can help a potential employer decide if you meet the job's requirements, but doesn't show them how you work or give them a practical example of your skills. For example, your resume can list that you've designed an online shopping website for a client, but a portfolio shows potential employees what it looks like.

A portfolio can illustrate any notable work you've completed, along with listing your career highlights. If you make any claims on your resume, a portfolio shows you follow through on what you claim to do and how you do it. Your work portfolio's layout and order depends on many factors, including what type of job you're applying for and what aspect of your experience you're highlighting. Below are steps on how to draft a portfolio of your work:

1. Compile your information

Reviewing your resume can help you determine what information to include in your portfolio. You can move some of your resume details to your portfolio and the rest can remain behind. If you aren't sure what to move, it's a good idea to consider elements of your resume that you can present visually in your portfolio. Including your contact information in both your portfolio and resume to ensure the reader can locate this crucial information easily. You can also summarise your skills and qualifications in your portfolio to recap what your resume lists in detail.

2. Select your most relevant work examples

A potential employer might have questions for you about the work samples you've included in your portfolio. It can help to only include work samples you can confidently discuss. If you're unclear about any aspect of a past project or job, you can contact a colleague or team leader who worked with you on it for clarification. It also helps to confirm with a past employer that you have permission to share these examples. There might be client confidentiality issues that prevent you from sharing it with others.

3. Short-list any special awards and accomplishments

Your portfolio is an ideal space to showcase any awards you've won or any accomplishments that don't strictly count as work samples. This can include any volunteer work or community service efforts that you've done. It's best if you only include examples related to the open job. For example, if you're applying for a job as a cosmetologist, you can provide makeovers for unemployed people facing their next job interview. You can then visually present this volunteer work by including their before and after photos.

Related: How to Include Volunteer Work on Your Resume (With Examples)

4. Organise your portfolio's contents

Any portfolio is more likely to be memorable if you logically order it and make it easy to follow. To ensure this, decide in what order you're going to present the content. This information can appear in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent work and working backwards. You can also group it according to the different sectors you've worked in. Once you've decided on the order, create a title page listing what each section covers and place this at the front of your portfolio. A contents page can help readers navigate your portfolio easily.

5. Make your portfolio presentable

A visually appealing portfolio can help enhance your job application. If you're applying for a role in a creative field, you can have the leeway to make it colourful or unique. Even if you aren't applying for a creative role, you can use colour in your portfolio. Colour coded section dividers can help you organise your content. You can also bind it with a firm backing and laminate it to protect its contents from external damage and keep it in good condition for potential employers.

Tips for improving your portfolio

Like your resume, a portfolio can be beneficial if you update it regularly and ensure it's relevant. Here are some tips on how to keep your portfolio current and interesting:

Create an online version

While a hard copy portfolio can make an impression on anyone who receives it, a digital copy can also be useful. You can easily send a digital portfolio to someone by email, social media or other internet services. Having a soft copy can help you submit a job application to someone in another city or country and it can also help you apply at the last minute. If you have different portfolios tailored to different jobs, make sure you label it clearly. This can help you quickly respond to a job posting with a customised and relevant resume and portfolio.

Have multiple copies handy

If you're planning to print a copy of your work portfolio, printing multiple copies can be useful. If you are preparing for an interview, you may find the interview panel comprises several people. Having multiple copies ready shows you came to the interview prepared. It also ensures that every person who might influence your interview has a copy to refer to. You can also use your printed portfolio in other job applications provided you customise your resume for relevance.

Include recommendations, testimonials or reviews

Resumes often include testimonials from former clients or managers. Including them in your portfolio instead helps those reading it connect the words of others to the work you've done. For example, you can include a testimonial from a client after showcasing the work you did for them. The testimonial can include their photo and a biography to show their role in the outlined project. It can also show their importance in the industry or why their reference is important.

Related: How to List Achievements on Your Resume (With Examples and Tips)

Include a 30, 60 and 90 day plan

Many portfolios include a 30, 60 and 90 day plan. This outlines what you plan to achieve if you get the job in your first month, after two months and after four months with the company. It shows that you've considered what tangible value you can add to the company. It also shows that you have a detailed plan of action that you can immediately put in place for the business to benefit from.

Related: The First 90 Days and How to Succeed in Your New Job

Benefits to having a professional work portfolio

There are many benefits that accompany having a professional work portfolio. Here are some of them:

  • Demonstrates growth: A portfolio shows employers how your skills have developed. It gives them an idea of how your abilities might further improve in the future as you build on your skills.

  • Helps employers visualise working with you: You can use a portfolio to showcase the equipment and software you can use. It also allows them to see your personal style, particularly if the role is creative.

  • Proves you're consistent: Showing employers you've provided the same quality of work throughout your career shows that you're dependable. It means they can rely on you to add value to the business in the future.

  • Sets you apart: Job postings can receive many applications to fill a single post. Including a portfolio can enhance your job application.

  • Complements your interview skills: Most interviews involve answering an employer's questions or presenting something to them. Bringing examples of your work can also help you divert conversation to work you feel confident about.

Related: Interview Question: "Tell Me About Yourself"

What jobs require a work portfolio?

A diverse range of professions from different industries can benefit from building a work portfolio, including the following:

  • architect

  • copywriter

  • model

  • software developer

What to include in your portfolio

A portfolio that makes a good impression on employers can include certain details, including the following:

  • a statement declaring your work is original

  • a statement declaring whether your portfolio is confidential

  • relevant completed projects or achievements

  • professional memberships or certifications

  • awards

  • examples of volunteering or community service

Explore more articles