Build a great professional portfolio

Increase your chances of being hired with an online portfolio that does more showing than telling

Build a great professional portfolio

A professional portfolio shows employers what you can do.

For many job seekers, the maxim “show, don’t tell” rings true. While your resume claims that you do amazing work, your professional portfolio is proof that you’re as skilled and talented as you say you are.

“Recruiters look to portfolios to provide a substantive window into your work, enabling them to assess your work before they invest heavily in hiring and training you, so it’s essential that you take time to assemble a hearty, compelling portfolio,” says Laura Labovich, founder of Bethesda, Maryland–based The Career Strategy Group.

There are steps to take to build a great professional portfolio.

Start by determining whether you need one

“Certainly, creative professions, such as writing, advertising, graphic and web design, and the like, will require you to create a portfolio. But, if you are not in a creative field, don’t despair,” Labovich says. “Portfolios are a great way to showcase your work visually, even if you are not in a creative profession.”

Let’s say you’re an event coordinator. Labovich suggests using mind-mapping software, such as MindMeister, to visually document an event you conceived and ran. Meanwhile, if you’re a sales professional, you could create a bar graph that displays your outstanding numbers from last year. If you work in marketing and represent big clients, creating a portfolio that shows the logos of the companies that you work with can be compelling to prospective employers.

Still, portfolios aren’t right for every occupation, says Jenny Foss, a recruiter and job-search strategist. “Before you apply effort and a ton of hours into creating a portfolio, think about whether your portfolio will show your ability to perform your job,” Foss advises. “If a portfolio is not contributing to your overall strategy of what you’re trying to demonstrate to your target employer, it could end up muddying the waters.”

Create a professional portfolio online (without breaking the bank)

Your online portfolio should be easily accessible to prospective employers. You can build it cheaply, easily, and professionally with platforms like Squarespace, WordPress, or Wix. Premium plans are often less than $10 a month and include a custom domain—e.g., yourfullname.com—among other great features like 24/7 support and an ad-free interface. Tiffani Murray, HR professional and resume writer at Atlanta-based Personality On a Page, recommends creating a custom domain in order for your website to appear in search results if prospective employers Google your name.

The best part is you don’t need coding experience to build a great online portfolio. “Most websites don’t require a lot of skill to build something that’s visually impressive,” according to Foss.

The caveat? You may want to make your portfolio password protected. “If there is sensitive information in your portfolio—maybe you worked with clients who don’t want you sharing what you did for them with the world—that would be an instance where you’d want to have your portfolio protected by a password,” Foss explains.

Choose the right work samples

Labovich says compelling portfolios—the kind that represents your best work and showcase a diverse set of skills—usually consist of 10 to 20 work samples. But, selecting the right content for your portfolio can be challenging, especially if you have a ton of work samples to choose from.

The best way to focus your efforts, Murray says, is to zero in on your greatest accomplishments: “What is the work you are most proud of or what projects were you recognized for, either by a manager or by the company, perhaps with a promotion? This is the best place to start when selecting work samples for your portfolio.”

When making your selections, Labovich recommends asking yourself these three questions:

1. Am I proud of the work I accomplished with this item?

2. Does this represent the type of work I’ll be asked to do with my target employers?

3. Did I enjoy doing this, and do I want to do this type of work again?

“If you can answer yes to all three, include it” in your portfolio, Labovich says.

Pro tip: If you work with your hands—say, you’re a chef or a hair stylist—consider including a photo of yourself on the job. This would give recruiters and hiring managers “a chance to see you in your element,” Murray says.

Tell a story

Although most professional portfolios rely on visual elements like photographs, offering context is important. “Captions are an inspired way to give the reader context around any goals you tackled, challenges you faced, and results you achieved,” Labovich says. “Adding a storytelling component gives the reader insight into your work style and personality.”

Promote, promote, promote

Since your professional portfolio is online, you should to take steps to drive traffic to it. You can do this by sharing a link to your portfolio in your social media profiles, which will not only up your chances of being discovered but will also give prospective employers a broader picture of who you are. You may also want to include a path to your portfolio in your email signature—a simple link to your website will do—and including the website address on your business card, Labovich suggests.

The exception? “If you’re able to be open about your job search and are not flying under the radar, you can share your portfolio more broadly,” Foss says, “but if you’re trying to avoid tipping off your employer that you’re job-searching, you may not want to promote your portfolio across your social media.”

Update on a regular basis

A portfolio that isn’t well maintained is a waste of time and money. Not only could it suggest to potential employers that you’re neglectful, it could also indicate that you haven’t produced anything worth posting in a while.

Every time you complete a project, add it to your online portfolio. Then notify your social media followers that it’s been updated and they should check it out.

Boost your job search

A professional portfolio can improve your chances of getting noticed, and you can double-down on your exposure by having a presence on Monster. Want to know how to get started? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. After all, your portfolio won't do much good unless people see it. Monster can help you achieve that visibility.