There is nothing worse than a poorly organized portfolio. This alone could result in a job rejection!
Let’s get specific, when it comes to an interview portfolio, do you really need one? What should you include in the portfolio? How many pages are too much? We've answered these questions and more as we walk you through how to organize your portfolio for a job interview.
What is an interview portfolio?
Picture the highlight reel for your career. It would include your proudest accomplishments all laid out for the world to see — that’s an interview portfolio. You’re taking all your skills, education, experience, training and achievements and compiling that into a portfolio with real-life examples that demonstrate those attributes for a prospective employer.
This gives your interview a leg up, because you’re not only telling your interviewer what you've done, and that you’re prepared for this job interview, you're showing them in a highly organized fashion. Huge bonus points already!
There are two types of interview portfolios:
Your career choice, organization of choice, and overall personal preference determine which format would be best for you. For example, as a photographer you’d perhaps select the hardcopy portfolio, because you're applying for an art gallery position and you want to showcase how beautiful your photos are when you send them to print.
Maybe you’re a graphic designer and have compiled an electronic online portfolio in the form of a website housing all your most prominent work. You can even bring this to the interview via your tablet if electronic fits your style of work best!
Whichever format you choose, be sure it’s tailored to your profession and the job you’re applying for. I wouldn’t recommend applying for a remote position with a hardcopy portfolio, for example. Find a way to showcase your work that will translate accordingly.
Most organizations today won't come out and ask for an interview portfolio, but having one ready is always in your best interest. It’s true that recruiters only look at resumes for an average of 7.4 seconds, so why not give them something they will actually want to look at! Be prepared with those spreadsheets showcasing your quantifiable growth at your previous job or the writing samples to share your specific writing style. There are simply no cons to having this portfolio at the ready for all interviews.
How to organize your portfolio
Taking the time to organize your crowning achievements or spotlight your accomplished deliverables is truly exciting! Let’s start at the top and go through how to organize your amazing portfolio.
1. Decide on the contents
First you must decide what you’re going to compile in your portfolio. Take some time to map out things like:
- Strongest work samples
- Works in progress
- Company specific items
It's important to note that not every portfolio will have all the items above, as it depends on the role you're looking for and the company you're applying to. Perhaps you’re targeting a new job in banking, so your portfolio should include your strongest work samples, works in progress, certifications, awards, references, reports and company-specific items related to the organization you are applying to, but your transcripts shouldn’t be necessary for this role.
While it may be beneficial to your portfolio to include specific financial reports showcasing your previous experience, that information may be proprietary to your previous organization and should only be shared with explicit permission.
If a financial report showing your increase in profits, or a breakdown of how you saved the organization money through an initiative you spearheaded, would really set your portfolio apart, review your current organization’s policies on sharing this information to external sources and if that’s not clear, ask for permission prior to adding this to your portfolio.
2. Include an introduction
Never forget the introduction. It shouldn’t be long but should still drive home the skills and credentials they are about to see in real time in your portfolio.
For a hard copy format, this could translate to somewhat of a cover letter, always highlighting your professional background, skills, experience and interest in their organization. Be sure to add in your personal information, in case they are reviewing the portfolio after you’ve already left the interview. That way, they have your contact information easily accessible!
An electronic format would have all the same necessary items, but if you’ve chosen this route, you’re clearly one of the creative people, so be creative. Add your personal flare while still keeping it professional. You have the ability with the electronic format, so take the humdrum out of the regular introductions and make it fun. For example, if you’re applying to Google, craft it to look like their landing page as you're introducing yourself. The possibilities are endless.
3. Curate your portfolio
Be sure to tailor the portfolio, not only to showcase you but also specifically target the company you’re applying to by including material that may directly relate to their organization. If you’re applying for a graphic design role, for example, and you’re using an electronic portfolio, it would be a good idea to show them some previous mock-ups that could add benefit to their organization as well.
If you're applying for a print newspaper, print off some of your previous work using the format and layout of their organization, showing them how your work can truly work for them too! Do all you can to hook them! Hook them on your work, hook them on your awards, and hook them on the fact that what you’ve done in the past could be utilized specifically for them right now.
Evaluate how to put your best foot forward with an eye-catching portfolio that will set you apart, but don't overwhelm your interviewer. It’s best to keep these items to 15 pages/items or less. You want to show the interviewer why they should hire you based on your accomplishments and skills, not overwhelm them with an album of your 100 greatest hits.
4. Make it easy to navigate
Whether your interviewer reviews your portfolio during, before (if you provided it prior), or after the interview, if it’s poorly strung together, they may give up entirely. While you’re highlighting all the key aspects of your career, you should ensure you keep your focus on making it reader-friendly on all levels — including your file arrangement.
If you're looking for a writing job, your portfolio may start with your shorter samples at the beginning to draw them in and lead into the longer articles, allowing them the opportunity to be so compelled by the beginning they don't need to keep reading and will just offer you the job!
For hardcopy portfolios, make sure you provide page numbers to keep your portfolio in order should there be a catastrophe once it leaves your hands. While the page order shouldn’t necessarily be confused with electronic portfolios, adding page numbers is still recommended to keep the navigation easy.
Providing a table of contents at the beginning could benefit the interviewer, allowing them to jump to the section they deem most useful at the time or most relevant during the interview. Make sure those page numbers line up and are specified in your table of contents for a reader-friendly portfolio.
For an electronic portfolio, be sure to link the appropriate pages to the main table of contents for easy navigation. The ease of navigation alone can set you apart, so don’t avoid this step!
5. Use a simple format
When it comes to formatting, it can often be overlooked because each body of work you may be submitting may be from a different time period in your professional career. We can’t stress this enough — each page should be formatted the same, with a concise layout that fits the structure you've selected.
It doesn’t matter if your previous accountant job used a number of different formats to qualify each spreadsheet, when you’re compiling it on your interview portfolio, change it so they all match.
By selecting a simple and consistent format, you’re not only showcasing your attention to detail but also your organization skills all at once. For hard copy portfolios, take note of the margins, headers and footers, page number placements, font and structure as you continue to format effectively.
As you’re formatting your electronic portfolio, make sure each landing page view is consistent and the page layouts are the same. Your portfolio will grow and develop as your career does, but keeping the format consistent will make these updates much easier.
6. Pay attention to presentation
Potentially the most nerve-wracking part of the entire process — the presentation. Prior to any portfolio presentation, electronic or hardcopy, practice your presentation skills and always politely ask if they have had an opportunity to see your portfolio and if they would like you to present it to them.
This is specifically important if you've sent them your hardcopy portfolio or if your electronic portfolio is publicly accessible. Some interviewers may prefer to do this independently, after all, the average attention span is estimated to be in the 5–10 minute range. While others may be prepared and are in fact waiting for you to take the initiative to showcase your work in person.
For a hardcopy portfolio, take the time to flip through your work submissions and give a reason why you selected each to be a part of your portfolio. If the items showcased require reading by the interviewer, allow time for them to review the piece or inform them why you selected this specific piece and encourage them to come back to it and dedicate the time it needs.
Speak clearly and not too quickly as you review the key aspects of your career page by page to your interviewer, as your portfolio is curated to their company, all that you're reviewing should be extremely interesting to them!
For an electronic portfolio, you should be equipped with your tablet or electronic medium to showcase your work. Do not rely on the organization to provide you with a computer — come prepared. If they choose to open your link up as well, that's great, but still refer to your electronic medium when presenting. Flip through your portfolio as you would any other day, highlighting your skills and accomplishments with confidence.
Job interview portfolios provide the necessary overview of your previous career history that even the most creative résumés may lack. Take the time to craft your job-winning portfolio, and remember:
- Decide if a hardcopy or electronic portfolio is the best option.
- Showcase your skills in a carefully selected and organized way.
- Present with confidence the highlight reel of your life!
Always remember, this is a comprehensive snapshot of your entire career. Be excited and confident as you organize and present this every time!
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 30 January 2017.