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How To Create A Career Portfolio

Career portfolios, also referred to as professional portfolios, are becoming an increasingly popular job search tool.

What is a career portfolio?

A career portfolio is a collection of materials evidencing your qualifications, skills, experience and personal qualities. Used as a marketing tool, your career portfolio is a powerful visual aid which allows you to showcase your career accomplishments and provide insight into your capabilities.

It can be used to apply to jobs, apply to college or training program and to justify seeking a pay rise. In addition to demonstrating your skills and abilities, it allows you to keep track of your own personal and professional development.

What does a career portfolio look like?

There are two types of career portfolio: a traditional, hardcopy version and a digital or virtual one that can be accessed online. Here, we’ll focus on how to create a hardcopy version.

Any presentation or display folder with protective plastic sleeves to protect your documents and other materials can be used for your career portfolio. Here are some examples of the kinds of binders suitable for a career portfolio:

CREATING A CAREER PORTFOLIO – STEP BY STEP

  1. Choose a presentation folder suitable for your needs
  2. Identify who your audience will be e.g. Potential employer, current employer, college or university, professional recognition body etc.
  3. Decide on the sections you will include
  4. Create a Table of Contents
  5. Gather evidence materials e.g. certificates, photos, letters, articles, awards etc.
  6. Insert evidence materials in folder being sure to display them in as professionally and visually pleasing ways as you can.
  7. Add dividers to distinguish different sections using introductory title pages if appropriate
  8. Show your completed career portfolio to someone for feedback – ask them if they find it easy to read, understand and navigate

What does a career portfolio include?

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is what to include in a career portfolio. What you include in your career portfolio will depend on the purpose for which you are creating it. A portfolio developed to apply for a place at a college or university will be different to one used to apply for a job or a pay rise.

Depending on the length of your career and the amount of evidence you have, you can either begin your portfolio with your CV (if you’re just starting out in your career for example) or a Table of Contents page.

Here’s an example of a basic Table of Contents:

  • CV/Resume
  • Education, Qualifications and Training
  • Ongoing Professional Development
  • Employment/Work History
  • References/Recommendations

Another interesting and creative way to present your Table of Contents is to break it down into the demonstration of key skills and abilities.

If the role you are applying for calls for an individual with ‘superior sales skills’ for example, you could include this as a section and provide evidence by way of sales figures in graphical format, performance review extracts, sales awards etc.

If you decide not to include a Table of Contents, start your portfolio with a freshly printed copy of your CV and continue to fill the sleeves with your evidence documents as described above. You can use dividers to distinguish between the different sections of your portfolio in line with the sections of your CV.

Examples of what to include:

DEGREES, CERTIFICATES AND DIPLOMAS

  • Include copies of the originals (or originals if this has been specifically requested) along with course outlines, learning outcomes and transcripts of academic record/results
  • Academic achievement awards and any college or university related achievements can be included

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

  • Professional development activities where you received a certificate of attendance
  • Conferences, seminars and other events can be evidenced by including a flyer, programme or outline
  • If you use an e-portfolio programme to record your continuing professional development (CPD) you can include a print out to demonstrate your commitment to your ongoing CPD. Information about current or future professional development activities can be included, e.g. an accountant working towards CPA certification

EMPLOYMENT/WORK HISTORY

  • Evidence your employment such as employment contracts, position descriptions and job advertisements
  • Performance review documents, recommendations for promotion and operational documents such as sales figures etc (don’t include any commercially sensitive information)
  • Samples of your work e.g. if you’re applying for a job as an Illustrator you should include examples of the kinds of illustrations you have produced and the projects you have worked on.
  • Accolades received for your work eg. a favourable product or service review or special awards received
  • Photographs, business cards, staff profiles and media relating to you starting in or progressing in the role are other forms of evidence you can include

REFERENCES

  • Any formal references you have from past employers, supervisors or colleagues
  • Recommendations from others including those from LinkedIn for example, ask the permission of the recommender before including it in your portfolio
  • Testimonials from past or present customers or clients are another great way to boost the references section of your portfolio

How do I use my career portfolio?

Once you’ve developed your career portfolio it’s a good idea to take it along to job interviews, performance reviews or any other situation where you need to demonstrate your skills and experience.

Just be mindful that like your CV, you may need to tailor your portfolio to suit different roles you apply for. If you’re applying for a managerial role for example, make sure your portfolio is loaded with examples of your key skills and abilities most applicable for the role. Likewise, if your portfolio is full of managerial skills evidence and you’re applying for a lower level position, consider removing some of the items that show you are over-qualified for the role.