How To Make A Portfolio: A Step-By-Step Guide

Updated 14 September 2023

Portfolios are documents that can show your professional or creative talents in greater detail than a resume can show. The exact nature of your portfolio may depend on the field you work in, but some basic aspects of portfolio-making apply across all fields. You may require a portfolio in many situations throughout your career, so it is beneficial to understand how to make an effective one. In this article, we examine how to make a portfolio and offer some tips to make your portfolio effective.

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What Is A Portfolio?

A portfolio is a collection of your best work samples that can illustrate your skills and expertise in a particular domain. It helps a potential employer or client understand what you are capable of, what tools you use and the extent of your expertise in the work you do. A portfolio can also contain your resume, a personal statement, proof of awards and recognitions, testimonials, references and a portrait photograph of yourself.

The exact form and layout of your portfolio depend on the type of work samples you include. For example, if you specialise in digital illustration, animation and book-making, you may need a physical portfolio for book-marking and an online portfolio for animation and illustration. Your illustration portfolio could be a single page with a scroll-down interface. The animation portfolio could simply be a list of embedded links within the same webpage or a separate webpage.

Related: What Is A Career Portfolio? Benefits And Steps To Make

How Do You Create A Free Portfolio?

Making a physical portfolio may incur material and printing costs, in addition to any service charges involved. If your work uses mediums that are best experienced in the physical format, then consider making a physical portfolio. For example, if you are a textile designer, you may be required to attach samples of fabric that the user can touch, feel and look at closely. Photographs or digital representations of cloth samples may not have the same effect on a user.

If such medium-specific limitations do not bound you, consider these options to showcase your work for free:

  • Online platforms: Popular platforms like Behance, Issuu, WordPress, Cargo, Flickr and Dribbble let you publish your work for free, but you may be required to take a paid membership to access premium features. You can keep your portfolio updated regularly and attach links to it in job applications, resumes or even in your email signature.

  • Website: You may also consider building a custom website on free online platforms like Wix, GoDaddy or Squarespace. This also helps strengthen your online presence.

  • Social media handles: You can also create social media handles to showcase your work in a curated manner. This may enable you to reach a wider audience and get instant feedback on your projects and work samples.

Related: How To Make a Video Resume (With Tips and Example)

How Do You Create A Student Portfolio?

As a student, you may not have enough commissioned work to put on a portfolio. Hence, your student portfolio may be indicative of your coursework, academic capabilities and achievements. You may include your academic credentials, like focus subjects, topics of interest, commendable assignment work and examination transcripts. If you have extracurricular work or explorations that you want to share, you can present them alongside your academic work in your student portfolio.

Making a portfolio while you are in school allows you to reflect on your lessons and experiences. This can help you identify your areas of interest or the fields that best suit your skills. You may escalate the complexity of work to show gradual learning on your personal journey. It is good practice to start with an introduction to your subjects and the software or tools you use frequently as part of academic work.

How To Make A Portfolio?

While deciding on how to make a portfolio, follow these steps to create one:

1. Identify your best work samples

To create a portfolio, identify your best work samples and collate them creatively. Try to maintain diversity and keep the content engaging. The person who views your portfolio may only have limited time to go through the entirety of it, so consider planning your layout in such a way that you can communicate important pieces of information easily.

2. Create a contents section

If your portfolio has many projects, it is important that you start it with a table or list of contents. This makes it easier for readers to navigate the content or sections that follow. Although you want to create this section after you have all your samples included in the order you want to display them, this is the first section that appears in your portfolio. Hence, it is required to catch the attention of the reader and motivate them to read further. If your document is large, then consider numbering your pages and including page numbers in the contents section.

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3. Include your resume

A resume complements your portfolio in most recruitment or interview situations. In your resume, you can provide basic contact information like your phone number, email address and location. You can also list your academic credentials like degrees, certifications and transcripts. If you have relevant work experience, including internships, mention them as well.

Related: How To Make a Resume (With Examples)

4. Add a personal statement outlining your professional goals

Dedicate a section to outline your long-term and short-term professional goals. Short-term goals could be those that you are working on at the moment, which can be realised within a year or two. Long-term goals may include career plans spanning five to 10 years or more. Your personal statement and goals together can enable readers to assess your philosophy, worldview and work ethic.

Related: How To Answer the Interview Question: “What Are Your Career Goals?” (With Examples)

5. List out your hard skills and expertise

If you are preparing a portfolio for an interview or hiring situation, consider what skills the interviewer or potential employer might require. List those skills that complement the requirements of the position and go into detail to indicate the extent of your proficiency with each one. In addition to hard skills, you can also mention soft skills that may have helped you professionally.

Related: Hard Skills: Definition and Examples

6. Attach samples of your best work

You want to make sure that your portfolio displays a comprehensive collection of your best work. Decide upon the layout and format of your portfolio with this in mind. For example, if you are a photographer, you can choose to make a physical portfolio with photographic prints or create a digital gallery of your best photographs. If you are an animator or a filmmaker, you may want to create an online platform where viewers can see your video work. You can also consider creating a single showreel every year, with snippets of your best work for that year.

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7. Include recommendations and testimonials from credible sources

Credible recommendations may come from your previous employers, supervisors or managers, coworkers, educators or mentors. If your workplace has employee evaluation programmes, you can also attach the latest assessment to your portfolio. You can request testimonials from customers or clients who are satisfied or happy with your product or service. Include professional credentials and contact information along with testimonials so that the reader can verify the information if required.

8. Mention any awards or recognitions that you have received for your work

If there is documentation that is associated with an award or recognition, like a certificate, include it in your portfolio. If any of your recognitions have received media coverage, you can use clippings from newspapers or magazines to provide proof of your achievements. If you do not have supporting materials, you may simply list the honors you have received and provide contextual information, like the name of the issuing authority and the date.

9. Provide references

If you have people who can vouch for your skills and talents and are interested in promoting them, you can add them as references to your portfolio. This may include your coworkers, superiors, mentors, previous clients or educators. List each reference and attach their information, including name, designation, email address, phone number and mailing address.

Related: 67 Portfolio Manager Interview Questions And Sample Answers

Tips For Making A Portfolio

Here are some basic tips to help you make your portfolio more effective:

  • The quality of the work you share is more important than the quantity. It is important that you curate your work samples with this in mind.

  • Refrain from enclosing any original work. Your portfolio need only contain the best representations of your actual work.

  • Attach digital samples or links to content wherever required. This allows viewers to examine individual works in greater detail if they are interested.

  • Keep the design and layout of your portfolio simple. Try to ensure that the document looks professional and does not come across as a casual compilation of your work.

  • Share information in an organised and systematic manner. This improves readability for viewers and helps them retain more.

  • Get your portfolio reviewed by peers and other professionals. A third person's perspective may be crucial to identifying areas for improvement.

  • Create your portfolio in multiple formats, if possible. Depending on your professional situation, you may require a digital or physical portfolio, so it is beneficial to have both ready.

Related: How To Make a Resume for Your First Job

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are associated with Indeed.

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