The Who, What, & Why of Portfolios
As a career and college counselor, trust me when I say everyone can benefit from having a portfolio. Sure, not everyone needs one, though some people do!
If you intend to go into...
a skilled trade (e.g. carpentry, welding) visual arts (e.g. painting, photography, tattooing) design (e.g. graphic design, architecture, interior design) writing (e.g. journalism, poetry, fiction) aesthetics (e.g. makeup, hair coloring or styling)
...then you are among those that will need a portfolio.
But truly anyone pursuing any career will have more success pursuing future jobs with a portfolio in hand.
Okay, right — let's back up. A portfolio is a collection of materials that exemplifies your skills, qualifications, education, and experiences. It provides insight into your personality and work ethic, your professional style and personal strengths. While every portfolio should include a resume, general cover letter, and letters of recommendation, the rest of what's inside will depend on your future field of work and the experiences you've had thus far.
For example, someone in education might include the best lesson plans or curriculum units they've created, while someone in business will include a summary of a startup they helped create. If you're going into environmental science, save the newspaper article highlighting the eco-driven service project you coordinated. If you're pursuing writing, put that award you won for your short story in there.
Common portfolio items: up-to-date resume general cover letter letters of recommendation samples of your work (varies based on your industry) awards you've received news articles about you or projects you've worked on
If you don't have some of these items yet, don't sweat it. While some people might need a portfolio by their senior year to apply to a particular apprenticeship, program, or school — like art or architecture, writing or welding — others won't use their portfolio until it's time to apply for internships or jobs. For now, create a resume that you can update over the years; write a cover letter describing the experiences and values that have led you toward the occupation you're pursuing; save any work you create that aligns with your future career goals.
Like I've said, some portfolios are created out of necessity; the field you're interested in might require a portfolio as part of the application process, not for a job itself but for the training or education needed to get future jobs in that industry.
Other portfolios, though, are created as a tool to help you stand out when applying for internships and jobs. If, during an interview, you are asked about a favorite project you've been a part of, many will simply describe the experience. But what if you have an actual copy of that project — or a summary of it, or award from it, or a news article that highlights it — to hand them? Wow. Now they can (1) see what you've created and (2) see that you came prepared.
In any case, having a portfolio certainly makes applying to jobs easier. Rather than trying to, in the moment, gather materials from the past that you might use in the application and interview process, it is much simpler to keep copies of those items in a designated place to reference and use as needed. So start today by simply creating a digital folder on your computer, or a physical folder you keep in your desk. Another option is to create a portfolio website on a blogging platform such as Wix or Google Blogger. As time goes on and you continue to pursue what you love, it will become a collection you're sure to be proud of.
Want personalized help creating a portfolio of your own? Have questions about how to prepare for your future? Make an appointment with your career & college counselor! Central, Eastern, & Southern Oregon: Allison Styffe Portland, Salem, & Eugene: Jennifer Tracewell