How to Build a Portfolio
In many professions, it’s important for job seekers and freelancers to maintain an online portfolio to display their best work.
This is often a requirement for coders and developers — as well as for writers, artists, designers, photographers, web designers, illustrators, and others in creative professions.
In these industries, your portfolio is as essential to your application process as your resume is.
Sometimes, it’s even more important.
Your portfolio is a demonstrated history of your skills and talent in action, after all.
Many employers won’t even give you a chance to interview if they can’t vet your work first.
For other professionals, an online portfolio may not be a requirement but can be a big help in landing interviews.
For example, a marketer can showcase innovative campaigns they worked on. A manager can present case studies of successful projects.
Since so much of every job application process is now done online, you need a digital space to host your portfolio.
There are different platforms you can use for this and we’ll talk about a few of them in a moment. But first a few general best practices for online portfolios.
Online Portfolio Best Practices
No matter what your industry or what platform your portfolio is hosted on, there are a few things you’re going to want to be sure of when submitting your portfolio to employers.
Here are some online portfolio best practices to be aware of:
1. Have User-Friendly Navigation
Don’t make it difficult to navigate or understand your portfolio. You want the user to be able to find what they are looking for quickly and painlessly.
The easier it is to browse, the better.
Think about your audience and what you want them to see.
Make it easy to find your best stuff. Think about organizing so viewers can sort by project type or other criteria that are relevant to what you do.
2. Include Detailed Descriptions
A well-written description can help to add context and depth to the visuals.
Your description could include a personal blurb about the primary challenge or goal of the project, your role, key techniques or processes used, and any positive results or things you’ve learned.
A personal backstory, especially when it demonstrates the skills you’ve used to overcome challenges, is always a great touch. Just be careful not to get overly wordy and present a wall of text in your description. The piece in your portfolio should be the main draw, not the description.
Additionally, if you can, mention the client you created the project for. This is a great way to showcase the range of industries and clientele you’ve worked with. Together with the visible proof of the work you did for them, it will add to your credibility with other potential employers.
3. Lead Strong
It goes without saying that your portfolio should contain your strongest work.
You may have many years worth of work, or you may be just starting out.
However many pieces you have to work with, you may find it hard to narrow it down to the best.
To help you be selective, let the job description be your guide.
Pay attention to the kind of work they are specifically looking for and the adjectives they use to describe it.
Do your research on the company and get a feel for their culture and values.
With this information in hand, it will become easier to match the best examples in your portfolio with what the employer is looking for.
And of course, your samples should showcase your core strengths as well as your range, industry expertise, style, and technical skill.
You don’t want your best work to get lost in a sea of only-okay examples.
First impressions and last impressions have been proven to have long-lasting effects, so start with your strongest piece and end with your best runner-up.
4. Include Mobile Optimization
This means if your portfolio is not optimized for mobile users, you won’t be making a great impression on most of the people who see it, as your materials will show up cut off, too big, too small, or have other formatting issues.
The good news is that many platforms understand this and offer mobile optimization as a built-in part of their profiles and platforms. It is, however, worth doing your research to make sure the platform you choose works for mobile users.
Platforms For Hosting Portfolios
Speaking of platforms, let’s talk about a few options to get you started with building your online portfolio.
1. A Personal Website
One of the most popular ways to showcase a portfolio is to build a personal website.
And it’s understandable why this is such a popular decision.
You can make a lot of design choices that are unique to your personal brand and create a cohesive experience for your users.
These days, it’s extremely easy for anyone to make a website, even without any programming knowledge.
Many sites such as Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress offer free accounts to begin your web design — with the option to purchase a more advanced plan if you require more features.
These platforms often have built-in portfolio templates, which can make it really simple to set-up.
In just minutes, you can have your site’s pages designed and be ready to start uploading your artwork, photography, writing samples, or whatever else you’re showcasing.
Many visual artists opt to forego a personal website entirely and simply host their work on Instagram.
This can be a great choice for some creatives.
Instagram is a very visual and very shareable platform.
Just be sure to keep your private accounts and your portfolio separate.
Your online portfolio should only be about your work.
You don’t want a hiring manager to have to weed through a bunch of selfies of you and your friends in order to get to the relevant samples.
If you work in creating or editing videos, you can use Youtube or Vimeo to build a portfolio.
You can create private videos and choose who you send your links to — or you can opt to keep it public and searchable by viewers.
Hiring managers can also search your channel and see all of your relevant work in one place.
But just as with Instagram, make sure if you share a channel, that there are only videos you would want a potential employer to see listed there.
Behance is a platform owned by Adobe that lets you showcase creative work of all types.
Because it was specifically designed for building creative portfolios, many users find it very simple and easy to use.
Behance may be a great fit for you if the idea of making a whole website is a little overwhelming and you’re not a big social media user.
LinkedIn allows you to feature videos, documents, links, and other work examples as part of your profile.
This method may not allow as much creativity as others, but it’s definitely very accessible for recruiters and hiring managers.
And your work being more visible can only help you.
Even if you have a portfolio elsewhere, it’s a good idea to include a link to it on your LinkedIn profile.
Consider featuring your best work in the profile “About Me” section. You can also include links and examples in your work history and project sections.
Building A Portfolio as a Student
If you are a new graduate or someone who is trying to get into freelancing or an industry that requires a portfolio, you may be wondering how to get samples to display.
Work that you have completed for your classes definitely qualifies as usable samples.
Don’t feel like you can’t use work just because it wasn’t for a paying client.
Assignments created in Art, design, or coding classes are a great way to build your portfolio.
As you begin your professional life, you can gradually replace the work you completed in school with work you did for clients until your schoolwork no longer appears in your portfolio.
If you are not a student, there are still ways to build a professional portfolio.
Research a list of non-profits related to the industry you are wanting to break into.
Call them up and offer to do the work for free.
Non-profits usually operate on tight budgets and will likely be very open to hearing your pitch.
If pitching an organization feels too intimidating at first, bring it closer to home.
Many, many people have side-hustles or small business ventures they maintain in addition to their day jobs.
These ventures often need websites, logos, content, and marketing help. Chances are there are several people in your friend group, family, and other social networks who fall into this category.
Connect with them and explain that you are trying to build a portfolio and would love to help them out for free in exchange for using your work as a sample for future clients.
Be creative in your thinking and you’ll find that you have lots of opportunities to gain experience.
All you need is 3-5 solid samples and you’re off to the races!
There are many good options available online to display your work. Whatever your chosen platform, be sure to follow some simple best practices, choose to display work that is relevant to the job you are applying to, and be thoughtful about the layout and design of your portfolio.
Your dream job is waiting, so get out there and start creating!