The days of an employment candidate making their way to an interview with a bound and bulky portfolio tucked under their arm are — thankfully — largely over. Now that the business world has become accustomed to the convenience of the internet, and even the most stubborn of the old-guard companies have accepted that there’s little use in fighting against the tide, we’ve arrived at the era of the time-saving online portfolio.
For the candidate in particular, it’s an exciting development. Think about the frustrations of trying to keep content suitably contained within the dimensions of specific paper sizes, or needing to print a fresh copy whenever you want a custom version to impress a given company. An online portfolio can showcase your skills at any time, and with greater creative scope.
But how can you optimize your online portfolio to best support your efforts? What sets one online portfolio apart from another? Here’s how to set yourself apart from other candidates:
Make it creative and easy to read
Showing creativity and design ability is an important part of having an online portfolio, no matter your desired profession, so you can certainly lose points by using a boring layout (particularly if it’s nothing more than a basic portfolio template you haven’t even changed slightly). After all, you need your portfolio to be sufficiently engaging to keep someone’s attention for a few minutes, which is a long time on the web.
That said, many people make the opposite mistake of getting too creative with their portfolios, turning them into convoluted messes laden with flashy effects and confusing messages. You’re not setting out a puzzle to be solved over several hours of close study: you’re staking your claim for a position that presumably has no shortage of good candidates, and anything unclear about your portfolio is going to be glossed over and forgotten about.
Cut the old or irrelevant projects
There may be a school project of which you’re quite proud that you worked on when you were 14, and it might even be decent — but it doesn’t belong on your portfolio unless it’s professional quality. Over time, your skills develop, and you steadily find that your oldest work can’t measure up to the level of your newest work. To ensure that you’re accurately representing your current level, only showcase a curated selection of your best projects.
Even then, you may need to strip things back further depending on the nature of the position you’re aiming for. If it’s a role with very specific responsibilities, then your portfolio should be similarly specific — if you’re going for a technical writing role, for instance, then don’t commit valuable portfolio space to a graphic design project, however impressive. It’ll look far better if it’s clear to the person viewing your portfolio that you knew what they needed to see from you.
Use images of your work (or none at all)
Stock images are extremely common in the content marketing world, and it’s easy to understand why. There’s so much demand for visual media, and so little time to pursue high-quality photography, that filling space with decent stock images is often the best route to achieving a cheap, easy, and satisfactory result. Likely because of this, some people choose to brighten up their portfolios with stock imagery — but this is a huge mistake.
Your portfolio is all about your capabilities, and everything you show should relate to them in some way. Stock imagery has nothing to do with you, so it appears sloppy at best and outright misleading at worst. The only images you should provide are those of your work, be they screenshots or photos of physical evidence. You shouldn’t even include a photo of yourself, since it shouldn’t be relevant. Your appearance doesn’t matter: only your ability.
Focus on your provable expertise
Perhaps the most bizarre trend affecting portfolios of all kinds is the inclusion of arbitrary skill or competency percentages. For instance, a candidate might boast of 80% Microsoft Office expertise, or a 90% understanding of workplace conflict resolution. These percentages don’t mean anything at all, and they certainly don’t impress recruiters or prospective employers.
Instead of trying to construct a statistical smokescreen, stick to points that reinforce your expertise with reference to real-world events and accomplishments. What have you achieved in the last year? Earned a qualification? Learned a language? Run your own ecommerce store?
When you introduce your relevant points, be as specific as possible. For instance, if you earned a qualification, explain exactly what it involved: what you studied, and how it factors into your skills now. If you ran a store, don’t just talk about the products: talk about the technicalities (e.g. you built it in Shopify, took the print-on-demand approach, marketed it with Facebook ads, etc.).
Highlight your credentials in the latest content management systems, design trends, and be specific with your case study numbers.
The best portfolios are the ones that show tangible results like so:
- Grew the business Facebook page engagements by nearly 200% in two weeks
- Designed a new landing page funnel that created a 50% uplift in organic conversions
- Successfully migrated a B2B ecommerce website from Drupal to WordPress, growing ecommerce revenue by 7% in two months.
In the end, the most important thing for your portfolio is obviously going to be the quality of the work, but it’s far from the only significant factor. If you follow these suggestions when assembling (or revising) your portfolio, you can greatly improve your chances of standing out to prospective employers.