Why everyone needs an online portfolio

online portfolio graphic
Graphic Illustration by Milan Fredricks

So you’re applying for that dream job (or that “I don’t have the personal fortitude to be a starving artist” job to pay the bills) and you start where everyone does: your resume. You struggle through awkward Microsoft Office template layouts and crack open the thesaurus for different ways to say “assisted”. Finally, you cobble together something that you can be (semi)proud of and send it out into the ethos, with fingers crossed and breath bated. There is nothing inherently wrong with this scenario. Despite being 2019, a time when the technology for self-driving cars and rocket vacations to Mars are coming to fruition, the traditional, paper resume (or CV for my more continental readers) is still the backbone of any job search or job recruitment effort. Resumes provide a summation of your skills, experience, and education and employers still rely on resumes to weed out potential new hires. And if you are unable to precisely define your career objectives and abilities in your resume, it doesn’t bode well for your job search.

That being said, it’s 2019 people, and we have self-driving cars, for goodness sake! Why are we still relying on the resume alone to get the job (no pun intended!) done? This is where having an online portfolio comes into play. Resumes are great, and as explained still a necessary evil, but they don’t tell the whole story. They can be like an unfinished painting. You may have some vague idea of where the artist is going with it. You attempt to fill in the blanks but without the whole picture, the meaning is lost. Your portfolio can provide that missing context. Resumes tell, but portfolios show. Why just say “excellent writing skills” when you can also provide a sample of your best writing to a potential employer? Why briefly mention your “social media prowess” and not offer a glimpse into how you built and cultivated a diverse social media following?

That is what the portfolio does. It provides you with the room to expound more thoroughly on those key skills and accomplishments that you want to show off. Self-promotion at its best! And why shouldn’t you sell (and upsell) yourself? It’s what employers want to see. They get to see the dynamic person behind the more severe and impersonal resume (which makes them connect with you and more likely to hire you), you get to show off other skills like creativity and writing (even if that’s not what your industry is or the job you’re applying for), it’s something that you will have forever and can grow and change with you as you move further in your career, and you set yourself apart from your competition. As in almost every other scenario, the person that goes the extra mile to leave their mark makes the best first impression.

So, are you interested in creating your digital portfolio? If you are, there are a few things to consider before you begin.

Consider your goals: How do you intend to use it? What do you want to get out of it the most? Do you want to find a job? Network and build your professional community? Are you angling for a promotion at work? Applying to grad school? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself first. Before any work is done to build your portfolio, you first need to know why you are building it in the first place. So, get to thinking!

Consider your audience: Who are you sending your portfolio to? What is the industry? This is important because it also determines how you will build your portfolio. This will help you figure out the preferred style, technology use, content, etc. for your portfolio. Think of it as a blueprint to help guide you so you don’t waste your time creating a masterpiece that is not appropriate for your intended audience. You can (and should) tailor your portfolio to match that targeted audience. Which is a great segue into my next point…

Consider having multiple versions: Trying to cram every project, design, resume/CV, image, and other materials into one portfolio will make you look, at best amateurish and at worst like a lunatic! Since you have already done the necessary work to think about why you need a portfolio and who you would send it to, determining whether you will need separate portfolios to suit those individual needs will be easy. You can have one portfolio for design, one for writing samples, and so on.

Consider your best work: When you have determined the number of portfolios you need, now you must consider what to put in them. There are many format options to choose from: documents, video, images, links to an external website, social media profiles, etc. Whichever format, or combination of formats you choose only one thing matters above all: make sure that it’s your best work. This is your opportunity to highlight the work that you are most proud of so don’t be shy!

Consider your personality: The last step of the portfolio process and in my opinion, the most fun. Resumes follow a basic format. There are different layouts to choose from but no matter how differently you rearrange things, it’s all the same when compared to other resumes. They follow a basic formula and the same type of information is required on all resumes, no exceptions. Portfolios are different; they are your chance to show your personality in a way that is typically frowned upon in a resume. Use color, typography, and interesting layout styles to create interest and give your audience something to be excited about. If they love your portfolio it stands to reason that they will love you. So let ‘you’ explode all over it!

Now that you know why you should have an online portfolio or personal website, what are you waiting for? Go create!

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