A professional portfolio is an excellent way to highlight your best work, attract clients and impress future employers. But many people assume portfolios are only appropriate for artists or advertisers with years of experience. Think again. A student portfolio that highlights your collegiate achievements can help you stand out from the crowd as you apply and interview for many kinds of entry-level jobs, from graphic design to journalism, or even teaching or programming.
If you decide to prepare a portfolio, you'll want to create three kinds:
This is the version people often think of when you mention portfolios. A display portfolio will contain a wide range of samples – almost anything you can imagine referring to during the interview process. You'll show it to interviewers to drive home your skills and experience, so it should be nicely bound and easy to handle.
A tighter version of your portfolio, carefully curated for maximum impact, that you'll leave with the interviewer following your meeting. They should be the exemplars that clearly illustrate why you're the right candidate for the job, so you'll customize it each time based on the industry and role.
Your digital portfolio is easily shared with others. It can be included as a link in your cover letter, featured on your LinkedIn and other networking platforms, and easily sent to recruiters.
Here's our how-to guide for leveraging your coursework with a career and college portfolio.
Benefits of creating a career portfolio
There are three primary benefits to creating a career portfolio:
- Demonstration of intent
Putting together a professional portfolio demonstrates to recruiters and employers that you do your homework and you have enthusiasm for the role. Because few people take this extra step, it's certain to make you memorable in the interview process.
- Interview preparation
The process of creating your portfolio provides an opportunity to be reflective about the roles you want and why you would be the best candidate. Because you'll have data and visuals at your fingertips to help tell your story to the interviewer, you can more easily drive home the points you're trying to make and overcome any nerves you may have.
- Tangible reminder for the interviewer
As you'll leave it behind, this physical packet will also remind your interviewers of your talents, even after they may have met with other candidates. The hiring manager can quickly refer to your skills and accomplishments without having to dig through their memory bank.
Highlight your achievements
Pat Roque, a career transformation coach at Rock On Success, says all applicants should present their best work, and he recommends that you begin creating a student portfolio by cataloging your achievements. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Curate a digital folder to archive the digital copies of your best work and awards (anything that's printed or tangible.)
- Take inventory of any thank you emails, testimonials or accolades that might demonstrate the value of what you've created.
- Also consider creating a short video portfolio that can you can update with new content as you accumulate more experience, especially if you have digital roles in mind.
How to structure your portfolio
No matter which field you're hoping to enter, be sure to include this information in your professional portfolio:
- Career Objective: A brief statement that highlights what sort of position you're looking for and the skills you have to succeed in it.
- Traditional Resume: Your resume should highlight your professional and academic achievements as well as relevant skills and be included in your portfolio. Be sure you know how to write a resume that will impress employers.
- Cover letter. While your portfolio will help establish your credibility as a hard-working potential employee, a well-written cover letter is still the key to getting in the door. Learn how to write a cover letter from top to bottom, and be sure you understand this: Every cover letter you write must be customized to the specifics listed in a job advertisement (the same goes for resumes).
- Accomplishments: Showcase your on-campus accomplishments, especially those that highlight your leadership skills, such as serving as class president, organizing a student chapter of a professional organization, volunteering with a nonprofit, or landing a coveted internship.
- Samples of your work: Did you have a class project that you're proud of, especially one that includes visual elements like a Powerpoint presentation? Distill your assignment down to one page that showcases its highlights and outcomes. If you received high marks, special recognition or encouraging comments from your professor, note them.
- Research papers, projects and presentations: Include some writing samples to show that you have the communications skills employers want in today's fast-paced digital world. Just remember to shrink things down to a short abstract or executive summary that's easy to display. If an employer wants to see the full assignment, you can send it to them separately.
- Testimonials and letters of recommendations: Collect letters of recommendation from internships, professors and employers. Try to secure these letters while you're still regularly in contact; it will be much easier for them to write a detailed letter when they still see you every day.
- Awards and honors: Include certificates of awards, honors and scholarships. Did you make it on the President's List or graduate with distinction? For recent graduates with limited work history, this information shows that you are motivated and goal-oriented.
- Transcripts, degrees, licenses and certifications: Describe any relevant courses and information about obtaining your degree. Instead of a full transcript, you may want to highlight the stellar grades you received in classes that are relevant for the role.
- References: Most companies will require references, so go ahead and figure out which professors, mentors and employers you can rely on for a good reference. Include their phone number and email addresses. Of course, be sure to get their permission before listing them.
Quick tip: Be sure to create both a print and digital version of your career portfolio. You should package the print version neatly and leave it behind after an interview. The digital version can live online, which makes it easy to send a link to recruiters when applying for a job.
Roque suggests buying your own name as a web domain and using that to host the digital version. If creating your own branded website feels out of reach, another option is to utilize a portfolio site like Clippings.me. The free version of the service allows you to add links to articles, upload PDFs and embed audio and video clips.
You should also take advantage of LinkedIn to promote yourself. You can post updates of your accomplishments and invite others to view your full portfolio on your website.
Even with an eye-catching portfolio ready, a solid resume and a well-written cover letter will be your first impression and best chance at landing an interview. It's at that interview you'll have the opportunity to show off your impressive portfolio. Our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder can help you craft application materials that will get your foot in the door.