What Do You Include in a Portfolio?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 19 October 2022

Published 26 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A professional portfolio is a great method to showcase your work and demonstrate the skills that are needed in a potential role. Although not every hiring manager or position requires you to present a portfolio, a strong display of your work can set you apart from other candidates. Understanding the definition and function of a portfolio can help you use your work to find jobs. In this article, we explain what a portfolio is, what to include in a portfolio, how to put one together, and what not to include.

What is a work portfolio?

A work portfolio is also called a career portfolio, job portfolio or professional portfolio, and it includes a collection of your best work to show potential employers. Your portfolio can contain proof of your skills, samples, visual demonstrations of your craft and letters of recommendation along with your resume. Companies can require portfolios during the hiring process for jobs in the art, design, publishing, and technology industries.

These are the top 20 things you can include in your portfolio:

  • Biographical information

  • Headshot

  • Career summary

  • Academic transcripts

  • Licences and certifications

  • List of your skills

  • Published articles

  • Press releases

  • Designs or artwork

  • Ad creative or spec ads

  • Reports and surveys

  • Project plans or lesson plans for teaching

  • Evaluations

  • Spreadsheets

  • Information about past employers, especially if they are well known

  • Accolades or awards from previous jobs

  • Photos of you at work

  • Community service activities

  • Testimonials from past employers or your professors

  • Contact information

How to make a professional work portfolio

Follow these steps to build your work portfolio:

1. Gather your materials

Consolidate all the materials you wish to include in your portfolio. Use the information and examples that are most recent, relevant, and significant. Depending on the industry and nature of your job, you can classify the materials of your portfolio into these four main components:

Introduction

You can include a career summary in your introduction. A good career summary describes what you do and what makes you unique. Add a biography as well to demonstrate your personality. This gives the interviewer a face to the application, which forges a human connection. In the introduction, you may want to address the typical "tell me about yourself" question posed in interviews. Remember to include your contact information here, so there's a clear call to action.

Professional experience and education

Lay out your past work and academic qualifications, and experiences. If you have no work experience, you can touch on your experiences in your school's co-curricular activities. Beyond that, you can also include community service or military experiences if they are relevant.

Accomplishments and awards

You can include scholarships, achievements, and awards that you've received when you were still a student or even at your past workplaces. Use details and statistics to back them up. This also makes them more tangible for the hiring manager. You can quantify your achievements, such as mentioning how you were chosen out of thousands of employees for an award. You can also attach your references or testimonials here.

Samples of your work

The main point of a portfolio is to showcase your work to back up the skills, experience, and accomplishments you claim to possess. Make sure you include projects that demonstrate you're the ideal candidate for the job. Including examples across a broad spectrum of your work can put you ahead as well. Versatility in your job can give hiring managers the impression that you're well-rounded and able to adapt to different environments.

Related: How To Create a Portfolio and What Content To Include

2. Organise your portfolio

An organised and thoughtful portfolio shows that you put in effort and are serious about the job you're applying for. You should organise your portfolio such that it highlights your achievements. If you have skills and experiences that are directly linked to the job you're applying for, you can prioritise showcasing those. One other way you can organise your portfolio is to assemble the materials in chronological order, so your potential employer can witness your professional growth over the years.
If you have an extensive portfolio, it's even more important to organise the materials well. Include a table of contents and headers to give your interviewer an easier time when they look at what you have to offer. Make sure you include the materials in the correct sections too.

Related: Job interview Tips: How to Make a Great Impression

3. Make it aesthetically pleasing

A lengthy portfolio does not necessarily translate to a more experienced or employable candidate. Thus, it's important to focus on the quality of the items included in your portfolio and the way you put your portfolio together. Employers may refer to your portfolio to understand your competencies not just for the tangible projects but your mindset and workflow. Hence, this means you have to understand your objectives in submitting this portfolio and be intentional about creating a visually appealing portfolio.

Maintaining consistency in the formatting of your portfolio, resume, cover letter, and other materials that you submit can enhance the whole presentation of your application. Not only that, when you standardise the fonts, colour schemes, and layout, employers can see that you have a strong personal brand. This also improves the flow and experience of going through your materials because all the items are well formatted.

Read more: How to Format Your Resume (With Examples)

4. Personalise your portfolio

The key to customising your portfolio is to understand the industry and position you're submitting your portfolio for. The type of portfolio materials required and the way you create your portfolio can change due to multiple factors such as industries, majors, objectives, skill sets or personalities. Before sending your portfolio, take the opportunity to review and identify the pertinent information to include, and remove the redundant items.

Especially if you have years of experience and a huge portfolio, it's good to filter out the unrelated work. For example, you may not need to include your secondary school transcript if you have already been in the workforce for several years. The focus will be on your accomplishments in the recent years rather than how you fared in your chemistry examination.

Read more: Hard Skills Vs. Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

Tips to improve your work portfolio

These are some tips to keep in mind when working on your portfolio of work:

Build a simple yet solid portfolio

For both physical and digital copies of your portfolio, make a portfolio that's easy to browse. You can use binders, folders, dividers, and page numbers for physical portfolios. For your digital portfolio, you can format it like a slideshow, and add pictures and infographics to make it visually appealing. When your online portfolio is ready, include a link to it in your resume or cover letter, your professional networking profiles, and your email signature.

Make it stand out

Working on an eye-catching portfolio can increase your chances of getting hired. By being selective and choosing the best pieces of work, your portfolio doesn't become overly cluttered. To stand out from other candidates, it's to your advantage to filter out the mediocre work.

Tell stories

Make your portfolio personal and memorable by sharing your personal story in the section where you introduce yourself. It also helps to share the stories behind each project you've included. As much as you want your portfolio to be a glorious highlight reel, it can lose its appeal and engagement with the viewer without a narrative to link everything together.

Give examples of real-world work

By showing your work in the industry, you show your prospective employer that you create work of value that your past employers or clients have endorsed. If you need to boost your portfolio in this area, you can include passion projects or related work that you've done in school. This serves more than demonstrating the skill in your craft, but your passion and enthusiasm in the work you take on.

Related: How to List Projects on a Resume (With Example and Tips)

Write descriptions

If your work revolves around prototypes, sketches or abstract elements, it's vital to write descriptions for each project. Include the context of each project so that viewers can understand what you're trying to achieve. Pay more attention to the first section of your portfolio, such as your opening headline because that's what your prospective employer will see first. You want it to catch and retain their attention such that they want to keep on reading. Including the good results from those projects may also help with your application.

Update your portfolio periodically

Try to update your portfolio every few months or once a year. Revisiting your portfolio regularly will help you add relevant information while it's still current and remove outdated parts. It's also a useful way to review your progress and look for areas of improvement.

Explore more articles