Collating Your Career Portfolio

A career portfolio is a personal collection of materials documenting your:

  • work history
  • professional development
  • achievements
  • career and career planning
  • job applications and other job information.

A career portfolio helps you organise information so that you can apply for jobs, scholarships and grants.

A career portfolio is particularly useful when you're preparing for a job interview. You use items from it to build a smaller, more specific interview portfolio for each new interview.

During the interview, you can use portfolio items to show your prospective employer what you've created and achieved.

Once you have a job, a career portfolio is still useful. It documents work and learning experiences that you can use for credit on training courses. You can also use it when you're negotiating promotions or changes to your working conditions.

A career portfolio keeps you on course in fulfilling your career goals. And it can get you thinking about alternative career pathways you might follow.

Your portfolio can be a hard-copy folder containing printed documents, an electronic file on your computer (containing scanned documents as well as word-processed resumes and so on) or a combination of both. If it's electronic, keep an up-to-date backup in a secure location.


What goes into a career portfolio?

There are no rules about what you should put in your portfolio. It's up to you to present your unique skills, abilities and experiences in a creative way to suit your career. The portfolio you present at interview will be different for each position you apply for.

Common items people include in their portfolio fall into three groups: official records, evidence of achievements and personal items.


Official records

These prove you have the qualifications you say you have. They include:
  • official transcripts of your student record(s)
  • licences
  • training certificates
  • evidence of your membership of professional associations
  • written references
  • certificates or letters of nomination for awards, honours and scholarships
  • official evidence of specific skills like typing speed
  • work experience or placement reports
  • job appraisals.


Evidence of achievements

These documents are informal but more interesting ways to show that you're suited to a job. They might include:
  • photographs demonstrating your skill – for example, a photo of some drawers you have built if you're applying for a job in cabinetmaking
  • work samples – for example, reports you've written, presentations you've created, samples of different kinds of writing
  • a list of seminars and workshops you've attended, including a description of each
  • newspaper articles or profiles from staff newsletters that highlight your accomplishments.


Personal items

These items show your range of personal experience and interests, and something about your hopes for the future. They might include:
  • copies of your resume
  • a fact sheet that lists your skills
  • a description of experiences that don't fit into your resume – often these are the things that stick in an interviewer's mind, particularly if they have had similar experiences
  • a personal statement or philosophy statement that relates to your career field.


Present your portfolio well

Your portfolio creates an image of you in an employer's mind. Make that a strong, positive image by presenting a well-organised, professional-looking portfolio.

For each work or evidence sample, provide a short statement on the opposite page that:

  • says what the item is
  • describes (briefly but clearly) the context in which it was created
  • lists the skills it developed or demonstrates.

Here are some examples:

  • (on a photograph) 'Window display of Company X products at Homewares Galore. Sales of this package, which had been minimal despite national advertising, increased by 45 per cent in the month after I created this display.'
  • 'A pine bookcase I designed and made at home. Note dovetailing and recessed drawer handles.'
  • (on a printout of a PowerPoint presentation) 'Presentation about occupational health and safety delivered to volunteers. Audience responses were ...'
  • 'A report about choices at the staff canteen I produced while doing work experience at Company G.'

When planning your portfolio consider the following suggestions.

  • Put a table of contents at the beginning to make it easy to find information. Don't use page numbers, though, in case you want to add to or rearrange items later.
  • Use dividers and/or title pages in a contrasting colour to separate the sections and help identify materials.
  • Organise and order the different sections to match what the employer is looking for (use the job description as a guide).
  • Put the most important and relevant materials close to the front, where the employer is most likely to read them.
  • Put similar items together for example, reference letters, photos of work samples.
  • Present the portfolio in a loose-leaf binder, with each A4 page in a plastic sheet protector.
  • Use copies rather than original documents.

When you apply for a job, mention in your cover letter and on your resume that you can provide a portfolio on request. Even if an employer hasn't time to look at it, just having one makes you look organised and professional.

Always take your portfolio to job interviews. You might be able to use portfolio examples when you are answering questions. If you don't get the chance to show your portfolio during the interview, show one or two items at the end of the interview to reinforce the good impression you've made.

Never leave your portfolio with an employer. It has personal material in it and any work samples you include could be confidential or copyrighted to the companies where you produced them. The point of a portfolio is just to show what kind of work you can do, not to leak company information.


Keep it up-to-date

A career portfolio changes as your life changes. Even when you have no thought of changing jobs, keep your portfolio current, so that you are ready for a future job search or career change.

Save copies of articles and papers you write in your job, projects and ideas you work on, and notes about activities and decisions you make that get good results.