Killer Job Portfolios for Any Position

BIG FAT MYTH: Only creative types need portfolios.

MIND-BLOWING FACT: Anyone looking to stand out in a crowd and nab the job of their dreams can pack a portfolio to get there faster.

Going into sales and marketing? PR and communications? User-interface web design? Software development? Professional baking? Finance? Great – so are thousands of other job seekers. Do yourself a favor, and make an impression: pull together a dynamic work portfolio now.

Who Benefits from a Work Portfolio?

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The short answer is, nearly everyone, except perhaps those who are knowingly going for the most basic service jobs (think hourly retail or burger-flipping). By the way, there’s no shame in that.

But if you’re aiming higher, a portfolio of past successes can help you clinch that dreamy job offer, provided you put it together with care and a mind for what type of hiring manager is going to check it out.

Depending on your field, a “work portfolio” could mean a dozen different things, from a slick multimedia presentation on the web to a simple WordPress site that contains a biography, a list of clients, and a page of work samples or clips. It might be a collection of infographics or sales projections you created for a previous job. It might be a link to a website or a code repository (programmers, listen up). You may want to include links to your participation in social media professional chats, get-togethers, or Q&As (think LinkedIn discussions and Twitter hashtag chats). And, yes, of course, creatives will include a sampling of their strongest and most successful visuals.

The bottom line is, in a crowded job market, you must figure out a way to stand out. And a portfolio, even if it’s light on gorgeous graphics, isn’t just for creative professionals anymore. Stop thinking of it as a picture book, and understand what a portfolio really is: a collection of stuff showing, nay, proving what a fantastic job candidate you are!

What Should I Include in a Killer Portfolio?

Without knowing your field, I can’t tell you specifically what will or won’t work. But when you’re pulling together pieces of your professional puzzle – designs, photos, awards, whitepapers, client testimonials, letters of recommendation, publications, etc. – here are a few criteria to use when deciding what to leave in (or out):

  • Stronger is better than more. Don’t overstuff your portfolio (especially at the entry level mark) to pad your experience; it’s better to include fewer, stronger pieces of work.
  • Cater your portfolio to the job. Include work that reflects the direction you’re headed in – not just where you’ve already gone.
  • Simple is best. Whatever you choose (a social resume-building site, a blog template, a custom website, or a traditional carry case) must have logic, flow, and most of all, be easy to navigate and evaluate. This is your chance to get “in front” of an employer. Make it count.
  • Make sure you emphasize what you are best at, but don’t forget to show that you have some range, too – demonstrate your willingness to try new tasks.
  • Case studies are a great tool in many fields, from PR to web development. It’s a great, often visual or multimedia way (think slideshows or PPTs) to show not just the outcome of your work, but your process in approaching and solving a problem for a client or employer.
  • If you feel you’re lacking an item – say you’re a writer who wants to demonstrate a proven ability writing brochure copythen create it. You don’t have to get paid for it; do it yourself. Pick a fake client, or a client you wish you had, and solve the problem you identify – and then tuck it into your physical and virtual portfolios!

Have an online version of this portfolio, as well as an offline one. The online version needs to be strong, easy to navigate and use, and effective, because you’ll include the link in your cover letters. (Google "online portfolio sites" to find a number of templates, tools, and social sites that help you build a portfolio if you're not technologically-savvy.)

The offline portfolio, which presumably builds on your online portfolio, can include printed collateral like letters of recommendation and even transcripts, depending on your field.

A cool tip is to bring a netbook or iPad to your job interview to display any multimedia files or point to a piece in your online portfolio when questions about past experience arise. It works like a standard portfolio case, minus the size!

Perform Regular Portfolio Maintenance

Like a resume, a job portfolio needs to be re-examined every few weeks or months to reflect new interests, accomplishments, and even contact information. Don't make the critical mistake of having a great portfolio with, say, an incorrect email address on the contact form. Here are some things to consider when updating a portfolio of past work:

  • Update your portfolio periodically to reflect new work (or better work).
  • Make sure it works and looks good, whether it’s on paper or online.
  • Make sure YOU are as up-to-date as you can be, in skills and knowledge – a portfolio could shut the door in your face if it seems outmoded and disengaged from pop culture and current trends in your field (and in the world at large).
  • Not finding the right work? Request an informational meeting with a more advanced colleague or possible mentor in your field, and ask for feedback. Do this more than once, until you find your niche and develop your portfolio into a regular job-seeking missile.
  • Think about your portfolio when you take on a new project. Even if you’re stuck in a job you don’t love, try to take on opportunities that will benefit you in the future – and look good in a portfolio. Consider it a living, breathing record of your on-the-job skill-building!

Short on time? Don't forget that sites like LinkedIn and Brazen Careerist allow you to create social-professional profiles (and even pull your blog and Twitter RSS feeds) as a catch-all job portfolio solution for even the laziest job seekers!

If you've got a great example of a virtual portfolio that you'd like to share, link to it in the comments, especially if you're not in one of the "typical" fields that uses portfolios. We'd love to see some great examples.

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About the Author: Lindsey Donner

Lindsey Donner, is a writer who graduated magna cum laude from NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2006. Her diverse experience includes working as managing editor of an English newspaper in Mexico and copyediting a novel about Cleopatra in the Czech Republic. In 2009, Lindsey launched her own design and writing consultancy, Well Versed Creative. Be sure to read her blog about the business of writing.

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