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What’s a Professional Portfolio? (And How It Can Help You Get the Job)

Image: What’s a Professional Portfolio? (And How It Can Help You Get the Job)

What do you think of when you hear the word portfolio? For many, the word conjures up an image of someone displaying creative work like sketches, photographs or graphic design. But the word portfolio applies to any collection of material that demonstrates evidence of ability, and almost anyone—professional or student—can benefit from putting together such a collection to showcase his or her skills as a job candidate.

In fact, because many people think of professional portfolios as only applying to certain types of work, having one can help you stand out in a crowded field of applicants. Follow these five tips for creating a portfolio that illustrates the experience and expertise you bring to the table to help promote you and your personal brand.

Top 5 Professional Portfolio Tips

1. Know Your Audience
Your portfolio contains evidence that you can produce high-quality results in a particular endeavor. For example, you may have written an award-winning short story in school, but if you are applying for a job as a technical writer, that story does not belong in your portfolio even though it is an example of your writing. The recruiters who will examine your portfolio only want evidence that you can do the job they need done.

Related: What You May Not Know about the Recruiting Process in Today’s Job Market

2. Showcase Your Best Work, Not Your Favorite Work
Ideally, your favorite projects and your best projects are the same ones. But the people reviewing your portfolio are only looking for evidence of skill, and projects that are your favorites often reflect other qualities that, while important to you, may seem irrelevant to others.

3. Keep It Current and Keep It Brief
You should regularly review your portfolio to add updated material and, equally importantly, eliminate outdated or irrelevant samples. Your portfolio should give a comprehensive overview of your abilities but not a comprehensive history of everything you have ever done. Respect the time of those who will review your portfolio by keeping it short and up-to-date.

4. Bring Your Portfolio Every Time
You may not be asked to bring your portfolio with you to an interview, particularly when applying for jobs or programs not traditionally associated with portfolios, but you should always bring it with you anyway. The portfolio gives you the opportunity to offer a real example of your ability when answering questions about your experience. Do not force your portfolio on the interviewer, but keep it as a resource to use if appropriate.

Related: What Questions to Ask (and Not to Ask) at an Interview

5. Keep It about the Work
Particularly if you create a portfolio for design work, you may be tempted to use the portfolio itself as a showcase, but this approach has risks. Of course you want your portfolio to be attractive and well put-together, but an overly complicated portfolio can distract from the work within, and in the worst case, can actually make it more difficult for the people reviewing your work to find what they are looking for.