Building A Winning Work Portfolio

Fan of the spotlight? Well, you’re in luck because we’re about to delve into the ultimate show-off document. This little attention-getter puts your resume and cover letter to shame. It makes your list of references run scared. This versatile wonder is a work portfolio.

Work portfolios showcase what can’t be found anywhere else in your application because it covers not only what you’ve done, but how you did it. It’s an example of your approach and strategy in business, your philosophy and creative process in design. Nothing gives a hiring manager such a good idea of your skills than actual evidence of how they were used.

Getting Started

An interview portfolio traditionally includes your resume, transcripts, professional affiliations, licenses and certifications, recommendation letters, references, and work samples in a neat little binder. Chances are, you’ve already sent most of this information to the company before landing the interview, and bringing those same materials again is rather unnecessary. To be honest, the only sections worth sending if not requested are recommendation letters and work samples, so better get those together first.

Recommendation Letters

This is where knowing people comes in handy. All that networking will finally pay off when you search for someone to write your recommendation letter. It’s usually best to have 2-3 letters: one from your most recent employer, one from a non-family member who knows you personally, and one (if possible) from a contact you made at the company, or even a professor that you worked closely with. This way you cover all your bases, including your professional skill, your personality, and your network.

Work Samples

It’s a delicate balance. Include too many and no one’s going to want to sort through it all, and your application will go straight into the trash. Include too few and you may come off inexperienced. To avoid all that, aim for the magic number of 3-5 writing/art samples, no more than 5-8 pages. If all of your samples are rather long, include excerpts and note that the “full sample is available upon request.”


You really don’t want to bring some huge binder with your professional life story to your next interview. Paper really is a thing of the past, and honestly, I think the trees will thank us for it. The easiest way to include letters of recommendation and work samples, then, is to attach it to your online application. There’s almost always a little button that lets you attach extra materials– well, now you know what that’s for. You could also put your portfolio online using sites like PortfolioBox and Carbonmade, then include the link in the application. If you do bring your full portfolio, offer to leave them with a flash drive of all the copies of the information your interviewers just saw. Again, saving trees!

Depending on the company or industry you’re applying for, you’re going to want to include different things in your portfolio. A letter of recommendation from an accounting internship isn’t going to help you much if you’re applying for a creative position, and black and white photographs aren’t going to showcase your talents to a children’s animation company. Categorize your job search into niches, and customize your portfolio for each niche to really show you know what that company is about.

photo credit: 松林L via photopin cc

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>