Although you may have a refined resume and an articulate cover letter, a career portfolio can potentially make all the difference when you're on the job hunt. While a resume provides a concise work history and a cover letter serves as a statement of purpose, a portfolio fills in all the gaps and provides tangible work samples. Essentially, consider a portfolio a more holistic look at your professional experiences. For employers,  a professionally compiled portfolio not only demonstrates ambition and initiative,  it also provides them with a broader spectrum of resources when considering you for a position. 

However, a portfolio can be challenging for many young job seekers to put together. It's hard to know what content to include, especially when you're still at the beginning of your career. Don't let this deter you from showcasing your work though. Create a portfolio to stand out from the crowd. Here's a basic guide to professional career portfolios:

What exactly is a portfolio?
Portfolios have long been used in creative industries such as journalism, architecture, fashion, graphic design and photography. In these professions, workers generally use past projects to demonstrate their abilities to potentially new employers. Today, portfolios have become common across many professions. Since the job market has become more competitive and the Internet allows hundreds of job seekers to apply for a specific position every day, strong portfolios can be used to easily identify quality candidates.

Though a portfolio is not the same as a resume or cover letter, it can include both of these items. What a portfolio really brings to the table is evidence of your professional accomplishments. Whereas a resume might state past job responsibilities, a portfolio will tangibly demonstrate these skills. For example, your resume could mention that you were an editor for your school or university newspaper, but a portfolio will include articles you wrote or edited while active in that position. Overall, a portfolio – whether digital or on paper – highlights your achievements, work contributions, capabilities and general knowledge in a way a resume and cover letter cannot.  

What should a portfolio include?
A quality portfolio is meticulously organized and often includes the following elements:

  • Introduction and a table of contents
  • Job specific resume and cover letter
  • Work samples
  • Professional artifacts
  • Professional licensure and other certifications
  • Awards and honors
  • Any materials that would specifically apply to the position in which you are hoping to get hired. (For example if you're applying for a position in finance, past budgeting materials might help make your portfolio stand out.)
  • Letters of reference

Your portfolio should have consistent styling throughout its entirety. Pay attention to aspects such as font type and size, organization structure, and that your information is up-to-date. Regularly edit your portfolio to ensure employers are viewing your contemporary skills and accomplishments. 

Why a portfolio?
Simply put, a portfolio will leave a lasting impression on employers and hiring managers. However, there are a number of other reasons this document is so important. A portfolio is an invaluable resource when you're interviewing, because it helps prepare you to discuss your work experiences. Furthermore, when an interviewer asks you about past job roles, you'll have evidence on hand to show them what you've accomplished before. With your portfolio as a reference point, you'll be able to clearly communicate what you have achieved. This makes the interview process less stressful and gives you a jumping off point for answering tough questions. 

Moreover, a portfolio serves as a living document for your career accomplishments. It can be continually added to so that any time you're looking to move on to a new opportunity, you have a reference guide to use during your search.