Set Yourself Apart: How To Create Your First Professional Portfolio

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Many students and new grads make the mistake of thinking that they don’t need a portfolio because they don’t have anything to put in one.

Here’s how to put together a professional portfolio that will help you showcase your work, highlight your skill set, and can serve as a valuable career planning tool.

What Is It? What Should You Include In It?

This is NOT a résumé; it’s a collection of your professional achievements. This is your professional identity in a nutshell.

Unlike a résumé, there’s no page limit, so it should include all the projects you’ve worked on, recommendations, reference letters, awards, side projects, publications, a listing of conferences and events you have attended or spoken at, courses and workshops, and anything else you feel is relevant to your professional life.

Putting It Together

How you actually collect everything and organize it is up to you. Maybe it’s a formal hard-copy document that you use publicly and share with others. Maybe it’s just an informal folder on your computer where you keep relevant documents for your eyes only.

However you choose to do it, the thing that matters is that you are keeping track of all the amazing work you are doing, and keeping it up to date and relevant. Set a recurring calendar date with yourself each month and commit to revisiting your portfolio to reflect on your experiences so far, update it with new information, and plan for the month ahead.

Why Do It?

To Jog Your Memory (And Your Manager’s)

Simply put, most people are terrible at remembering things. Unless you write down and reflect on relevant and important experiences, it’s easy to forget about them.

If you forget about your own achievements, what are the chances a potential employer will remember? It’s important to document and showcase what you have accomplished so you can communicate more effectively with your manager about how you have contributed to the team, and demonstrate ways you have gone above and beyond.

To Help You Land Your Next Job

As you advance your career, this tool should also make it easier for you to quickly gather and comment on relevant work experience.

For example, if you’re in PR, applying to a marketing job, you should be able to look to your portfolio and very easily gather all the marketing-related projects you have worked on and identify the overlapping skill sets because you have carefully organized and tracked them over the years. When you are looking for your next job or a promotion, you will often need references from your manager. You can use your portfolio to help guide your manager to highlight what is important to the job you want, not just what he/she can remember that you worked on.

Career Planning & Development

As you go through the exercise of putting together your portfolio, and continue to add to it over time, patterns will start to emerge. Maybe you notice that all of your projects have been internal and you need some more client-facing experience. Or that you’ve been to five social media workshops this year, and you still haven’t put up your hand to run the next Twitter campaign. It should help you identify where you are over- or under-indexed in certain areas, highlight gaps in your skill set, and draw your attention to opportunities for you to develop yourself.

What’s in your professional portfolio? Share it in the comments!

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About the author

Celine Tarrant is a recent Queen’s Commerce graduate who successfully hatched her career at Walmart Canada in the D.A.R.E. new graduate rotational program. Outside of the office, you can find Celine out for a run, attempting handstands at her yoga studio, or experimenting with new (mostly) healthy recipes. She is a travel addict, non-fiction lover and podcast enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram to check out her most recent kitchen concoction, or connect with her on LinkedIn.