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How to Build a Portfolio for Your Job Search

Posted December 20, 2017 by Hannah DeBevoise - Coordinator, Social Media - AACSB International

Building a portfolio is second-nature for creative industries, whether it’s graphic art or fiction writing. For an aspiring business professional, putting together a portfolio to showcase your skill set to potential employers may not be as instinctive. However, throughout your business education, there are ample opportunities to use what you’ve learned both in the program and in outside activities in your portfolio.

In today's digital age, nearly everyone has an online presence. An e-portfolio is a great way to store all of your portfolio items in one place and to quickly and simply deliver them to potential employers. There are plenty of tools online to help you develop a free website to use as an e-portfolio, many with pre-designed templates for those who are not necessarily tech-savvy. E-portfolios are also easy to update if you obtain a new skill, switch jobs, or complete a relevant project.

That said, it is always a good option to have your portfolio available both on paper as well as online. Unless you plan to bring a tablet into an interview to refer to your portfolio, having a physical printed version is a safe backup.

Here are some essential elements to add to your portfolio:

A Personal Statement or Statement of Intent

Think of your personal statement in your portfolio as the updated version of a cover letter. This can be on the landing page of your e-portfolio or on the opening page of your physical portfolio. It should be a short but detailed statement explaining why you are pursuing that particular opportunity and what makes you an excellent candidate. Make sure to only include information that is relevant; your personal background may be an interesting story in itself, but if you aren’t quickly connecting it to the position you’re pursuing, your reader will lose interest.

Your Resume

While it may seem like an obvious item to include, it’s important not to skip over including your resume in your portfolio. Your resume provides a quick overview to employers and gives them the basic background information they need in order to decide whether they’re interested in learning more about you—your competencies, accomplishments, and potential.

Relevant Work Samples

Your portfolio is the place to include samples of your best work. This can include assignments from class that display your writing or problem-solving skills, completed tasks from internships, or actual work examples from your professional experience.

Mock or real business plans, spreadsheets, market research projects, or any item you worked on that would directly pertain to positions you’re applying for can give an interviewer confidence in knowing you have the skills to succeed in the industry. Spend time on your portfolio detailing tasks you were assigned, your approach to the job, and the successful results. If possible, include numeric results to show how your accomplishments were measured.

An e-portfolio expands your options for featuring your work samples. This format easily allows you to attach presentations, photos, videos, or screenshots in an online portfolio, which can add an interactive and multidimensional advantage to your job applications.

Awards and Recognition

If you’ve received a recognition or award for work in your career or degree program, be sure to include those recognitions in your portfolio. Whether that is a copy of the physical award certificate or a statement on why you were honored and brief description of the award, being able to prove that you were recognized for your talents will boost your credibility to interviewers.

This area is also a great place to include letters of recommendation from faculty in your business school, a mentor, colleagues, or previous employers. Endorsements from individuals who have worked with you first-hand give reassurance that you will be a good employee and colleague.

Additionally, ask for LinkedIn recommendations from people in your network. Short recommendations given on LinkedIn add trustworthy substance to your profile that can be linked to from an e-portfolio.

If you have enough work experience, you can add quotes from a recent performance review to indicate growth ability and work ethic. These reviews can include annual assessments from professional jobs or exit interviews from internships. Often, if you are required to complete an internship for your degree, you will need to submit proof of your internship and a review from your supervisor. This can be an excellent addition to your portfolio and something you have readily available.

Professional Development and Certifications

If you’ve completed a professional development class that gives you an official certification in a skill relevant to jobs you are interested in, include that in your portfolio. Certifications outside of your degree program show hiring managers and employers that you are invested in expanding your professional knowledge and that you took extra time to learn or expand on a skill.

Spending the time to carefully curate your portfolio will not only produce a well-conceived piece for job applications, but it will also prepare you to discuss your qualifications and experiences without hesitation during in-person interviews. A portfolio can enhance your personal brand and give credible backstory to your professional and educational experiences. Providing a clear and comprehensive picture of what you can bring to an organization puts you ahead of the curve.