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All eyes on it: How to make a page-turning portfolio

August 31, 2022 - 14 min read

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Why are portfolios important?

Physical versus online portfolios

Structuring a portfolio

5 tips to keep in mind when making a portfolio

But what if…? 3 (not really) problematic scenarios and how to tackle them

Moving forward

You probably remember that show and tell was always fun at school. You'd talk about your prized possession and show it to your classmates, telling everyone how cool it was. 

That's what a professional portfolio allows you to do. Learning how to make a portfolio is a way to show people what you're all about and why you’re great at what you do.

But creating your portfolio is no easy task, even if you have an eye for design work. You want it to be eye-catching and demonstrate your best work, but how exactly do you do that? How do you determine your best work? If you're creating an online portfolio, how do you navigate web designs, and do you need a custom domain?

If you’re unsure, take a deep breath. We'll explain how to make a portfolio for a job and why portfolios are great ways to showcase your skills.

Why are portfolios important?

Portfolios are important because they put your skills and experience in clear view. Rather than describing a project or a piece you created, it's right there for people to see. It helps show people your niche, brand, and personal values. Having your resume stand out is one thing, but an eye-catching portfolio will truly showcase your abilities.

A well put together work portfolio will entice people to take a deeper look at your application. It's a way of stimulating interest. Your portfolio helps open doors to new job opportunities to further your career path.

Simply talking about your experiences is great, but showing them creates a whole new experience and makes long-lasting impressions.

And you’ll stand out to whoever you're looking to impress, whether it's a hiring manager or potential client. One survey found that 71% of employers either agree or strongly agree that the quality of a portfolio influences their hiring decisions.

Various types of work require portfolios. Whether you're a graphic designer, video editor, photographer, or writer, a portfolio showcases your best work. Any creative could benefit from having a stellar portfolio available. 

Find someone to support you as you learn how to put yourself and your work out there. At BetterUp, our coaches will provide the guidance you need to confidently display your work in a portfolio, and have the communication skills to describe it to someone.

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Physical versus online portfolios

You have lots of choices of how you'd like to design or create your portfolio. First, you have to choose whether you'll make it physically or online. 

Online portfolios introduce you to various platforms and ways to showcase your work. You also don't need to be amazing at web development or know the best SEO practices to have a good portfolio, either.

Many platforms have tutorials that show you exactly how to customize your portfolio page, so learning how to create an online portfolio doesn't have to be a source of stress or confusion.

If you’re a graphic designer, you might already have a layout planned. But if you’re not as visually creative, you can find portfolio templates on many websites. Your portfolio is unique to your experiences, so find a template that works best for you and reflects your personality, brand, and work. 

Here are a few popular sites to create your own online portfolio:

  • WordPress
  • Zero
  • Squarespace
  • Behance
  • Dribbble

Be aware that each site might have different pricing, depending on what plan you choose. Your portfolio website plan might only let you create a few pages or limit the number of photos you can include. But a portfolio site will still allow you to showcase high-quality media and is easy to update and share with others.

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Although online portfolios are popular, some people still prefer something printed. Before you spend lots of time creating your online site, double-check to make sure whoever you're sharing it with wants it online.

Knowing if you need to create a physical or online portfolio will help you as you start visualizing how you'll structure it. 

And, if you’re lucky, you can print an online portfolio with little hassle. 

Structuring a portfolio

While a portfolio is supposed to show your creativity and vibe, it should also have a clear structure for the person viewing it. You don't want someone scrolling through your site for ages just to miss your name or your best work.

Here are four basic sections so you know what to include in a portfolio:

  1. Introduction: Who are you, besides what you do for work? This is where you include a little homepage to welcome people to your portfolio and introduce yourself. 
  2. Your work: Here's where you want to make a big impact. Choose your favorite projects that showcase your passions, skills, and experience. Display them in a way that also fits your industry and creative process. List your accomplishments and do some self-promotion
  3. Your services: Are you a graphic designer who offers web development, knows different tools and is looking for full-time work? Say that here. It'll help solidify what you're looking for and available to do. If you’re open to freelance projects, it might help to list what type and what rates you charge.
  4. Contact information: Once you've wowed someone with your portfolio, they’ll want to get in touch. A dedicated contact page or contact form is how you'll hear from hiring managers or potential clients.

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Another good thing to include is testimonials. Think of them as mini references. Having someone else's positive words about your work will solidify that you can deliver. It'll also help people feel more assured that you're the person for the job.

5 tips to keep in mind when making a portfolio

It can be overwhelming to create a portfolio. You could run with so many different themes, templates, or designs. It's enough to make your head spin. 

But we have you covered. We have some tips to keep yourself grounded while designing your portfolio. 

Here are five tips to review:

1. Be thoughtful with what you include

Every single piece of work you've ever done isn't relevant to your portfolio. Perhaps you've changed your niche, or you don't feel as passionate about some of your previous work.

Consider what skills each of your pieces will demonstrate. Some key hard and soft skills include creativity, certain design or project management software, emotional intelligence, and adaptability.

2. Show the extent of your creativity

Having a variety of pieces with different formats and content will show how adaptable you are. You still want to follow a specific theme for your portfolio, but don't be afraid to have a good creative mix.

You don’t want potential clients to think you’re a one-trick pony or only have one type of content. But you also don’t want them to feel like you have no clear brand or style they can expect.

Grey-haired-woman-at-home-smiling-in-front-of-laptop-how-to-make-a-portfolio

3. Keep readability in mind

Funky fonts are cool, but how easy are they on the eyes? The design of your portfolio should be easy to read and digest. Your readers don't want to be distracted or jump back and forth between sections. Think of how your portfolio will flow and how you can break up text with pictures, and consider using accessible fonts.

4. Decide on the length

Your portfolio doesn't have to be overflowing to be great. And your readers won't make it through the whole thing if it seemingly goes on forever. Canadian researchers at Microsoft found that the average person’s attention span is just over eight seconds.

If you’re going to capture someone’s attention, you need to do it quickly. When you think about the functionality of your portfolio, think about how long someone will spend going through it.

5. Think of the details

After you have the basics down, it's time to hone in on the details. Even the smallest things will make your portfolio seem more professional and impressive. Think of things like a domain name, a logo, or links to your social media like LinkedIn.

If your portfolio references your e-commerce business, link to your other website. A solid basic structure will do the job, but thoughtful details will add to the wow factor.

But what if…? 3 (not really) problematic scenarios and how to tackle them

Portfolios are visual things. But what if your best work, or any of your work for that matter, isn't something you display? Or you don't have any work yet? 

Displaying design work or creative pursuits, like a photography portfolio, is mostly visual. But some professionals' careers don't really lend themselves to visuals, like writing or project management. It means these individuals have to become more creative with conveying their transferable skills and experience.

Here are three situations that you might encounter while trying to make your portfolio and how to handle them:

  1. When you have no work to show: Let's say you're just beginning your career or going through a career change and have nothing to show just yet. Put on your thinking hat and get creative. Try making mock clips or samples. It still represents what you're capable of doing — even if it isn’t published.
  2. When you're not allowed to share your work: This is when you need to choose your words wisely and with detail. If you can't display your work due to NDAs or contracts, describe it in as much detail as you're legally able.

    Try saying things like, "I've been writing blog posts with SEO strategies in mind and helping with band visibility for three years." Writing mock articles also demonstrates that you have the skills you’ve described.
  3. When your work isn't visual: Not everyone's work is visual, and that's OK. But your words can create a story with lots of imagery. Try describing your work by writing case studies. Or, if you'd love some visuals to break up the document, try creating infographics or photo essays that best represent your work.
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Moving forward

Learning how to make a portfolio takes effort, we won’t lie. A high-quality portfolio doesn't come out of thin air, even if you work with the most popular website builders or templates. It demands you to be purposeful with your work and have a keen understanding of what you want to display.

That's why when you create a portfolio, it needs to fully represent who you are. Think about what's meaningful to you. And if you don't find it does that, then customize it so it does. For whatever type of work you do, you can let your interests shine. 

Whether you're creating a physical or online portfolio, never forget that it's your way of sharing your skills and passions. You don't want a cookie-cutter portfolio that makes you blend in with everyone else. You want your work — and yourself — to stand out.

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Published August 31, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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