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What Should a Portfolio Look Like?

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A portfolio should show off your accomplishments to potential clients or employers. That's the goal of any portfolio, whether you create it online or in hard copy. Portfolios were traditionally used by artists and designers, but in the modern business world they're popular with professionals, from project managers to software coders.

Portfolio Contents

There are no absolute rules on what should go in a portfolio, but some common suggestions include:

  • Your CV.
  • Samples of your work.
  • A list of skills and accomplishments beyond those listed on the CV.
  • Awards.
  • Any certifications you've earned.
  • Letters of recommendation. 
  • News articles about yourself or projects on which you worked.

Work Samples

If you're working in a visual field, your samples can include copies of your fashion, decorating or art work. A reporter, writer or editor can include published stories.

If you work as a project manager or IT professional, finding portfolio-compatible samples is tougher, but doable. If your work involved bringing a product to market, photos of the product, with an explanation of your role, can help. A letter from your boss about how you brought in the project under time and under budget would be a great inclusion.

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Picking and Choosing

You want your portfolio to make you look as good as possible. Rather than throwing all your work in at random, be selective. Everything you include should be something you're proud of, but the opening pages in particular should focus on your best accomplishments. The last page should also feature a strong piece of work. In between the beginning and the end, choose selections that showcase the scope of your talents and accomplishments.

Web or Print

An online portfolio allows you to showcase a greater range of items – for instance, film clips or links to websites you've designed – and to present your items with multimedia, animation and other eye-catching visuals. It's also much easier to update and add to a web portfolio, switching out one item with another that's more impressive, or changing your contact information. Clients searching for people in your field can find your web portfolio without any effort on your part.

Hard-copy portfolios aren't obsolete, though. They're usable even somewhere without Internet access. It's easier to talk to a client about your work if you're showing him a portfolio instead of having him stare at a computer. If there's sensitive work you don't want to post online for everyone to see, you can use it in a hard copy.

The best solution is to have both types of portfolio. Then you can use whichever one seems best in a given situation.

About the Author

Over the course of his career, Fraser Sherman has reported on local governments, written about how to start a business and profiled professionals in a variety of career fields.. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com

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