How can I use portfolios in my school or job applications?

In addition to resumes and cover letters, portfolios can be used to show why you’re the perfect candidate for a program or job.

What is a portfolio?

Portfolios are a collection of samples of work that you’ve done, and of other documentation related to your education and career. They show that you have practical experience, especially in technical or creative roles.

At minimum, a portfolio should include examples of your work. A more advanced career portfolio can also include other information, like your resume and cover letter. 

Some programs and industries require candidates to use portfolios in their applications. OCAD University, for example, has a video to help applicants put together a portfolio when applying.

Even when it’s not required, a portfolio can help you stand out from your competition so it may be worth it to invest some time making one.

What can be included in a portfolio?

A portfolio must include examples of the work you’ve done in your field. This will look different for different types of jobs and programs. 

For example, if you’re applying for a graphic design position, you should include samples of projects you’ve worked on. It’s okay to include samples you’ve worked on in school or even designs you’ve made for fun, as long as it showcases your skills.

A  web development job or program, on the other hand, may want to see your experience with coding, and any programs or applications you’ve made. 

A portfolio can also include statistical reports of your accomplishments, like the number of sales you’ve made.

Some other examples of what to include in your portfolio include:

  • Art and design samples
  • Writing samples
  • Information about projects, campaigns, or programming you have coordinated
  • Research you have been involved in
  • Publications that have credited you
  • Videos you helped produce 

Make a habit of collecting and storing samples of any work you do, whether for school or for a job. You can customize your portfolio by carefully selecting samples that best represent your experience for whichever role you are applying for. 

A more detailed career portfolio is an entire profile of you as an applicant, and Indeed describes 12 elements you can include in one.

In addition to samples of your work, a career portfolio can include:

  • Summary of your experience and what you’re seeking
  • Bio
  • List of skills and abilities
  • Academic and professional degrees and certifications 
  • Resume
  • Awards and accomplishments
  • References or testimonials

How do I make a portfolio?

After deciding what you want to include in your portfolio, you’ll need to figure out 1) how to organize the information, and 2) how to present your portfolio.

There are two main ways you can organize all the samples in your portfolio:

  • Chronologically showing examples of your work, starting from the most recent 
  • By relevance, using samples that relate to the position or that were the most complex first 

Choose the method that shows your experience most impactfully. For instance, if you do not have a lot of practical experience through a job, you may want to show relevant school or personal projects first. On the other hand, if you’ve had a lot of experience, chances are your skills grew over time and it may be a good idea to show your most recent projects first.  

For career portfolios, a good rule of thumb is to start with your summary and bio, and end with references and/or testimonials. Organize your skills, education, awards, and list of experiences as you see fit in the middle. 

Once you’ve figured out how you’ll organize the information in your portfolio, you need to decide how to present it.

Sometimes, applications will specify how they want you to structure your portfolio. However, not all applications include instructions or even require portfolios, so it’s a good idea to find a way to present your portfolio for any kind of application. 

How you present your portfolio may depend on the types of samples you have, and how much experience you have. 

Consider these mediums for your portfolio:

  • LinkedIn is a good place to start. You can list your work and academic experience, and include links to samples of your work.
  • Social media can be useful to show your skills. If you’re a content creator, you can use YouTube, Instagram, TikTok to show your multimedia skills (e.g., video editing, design, etc.).
  • Websites are the most comprehensive way to present your work. There are many user-friendly website-building services you can use to get started. 
  • Physical portfolios are always good to keep on hand. You can bring them to interviews and leave a copy with the employer or administrator to review. 

Where can I get help?

Start by researching online. Become familiar with your industry and the kinds of samples they may want to see. Check out other people’s online profiles and samples to get inspired. 

Upwork has several examples of job portfolios and the Ontario Colleges Learning Portal walks you through how to design a digital portfolio.

As always, you should seek help as you see fit. Not only will it help you make your application better, it will also give you an opportunity to network.

To get support for any career-related activity, including making a portfolio, you can reach out:

  • A teacher, professor, or guidance counselor
  • Someone in the field you’re interested in