Once upon a time, creating an online portfolio as part of the job search process was a rarity — something that only the most tech-savvy and design-forward job seekers could pull off. But with a proliferation of platforms that allow you to easily create your own website — no coding experience needed! — it’s now open to virtually anybody. The best part? It can seriously set your job application apart.
“Traditionally, creative professionals [have benefited] the most from having an online portfolio because their work is visual, or content-driven, in nature,” says Andrew Burke, Recruiting Manager at website building platform Squarespace. But regardless of your career, “having a website allows you complete control over your professional brand, which has become increasingly important if you want to stand out,” he adds.
“Having a portfolio ready to go is one of those things that will set you apart from everyone else and will earn you major credibility as you start to ascend your ladder,” adds Brenda M. Cunningham, CEO of Push Career Management, LLC. ”Not to mention, having an up-to-date online portfolio helps other people stay connected to you.”
Whether you’re creating a portfolio from scratch or just want to give yours a touch-up, use the following advice to make yours shine.
1. Strut Your Stuff
“First and foremost, your online portfolio should highlight you!” Burke points out. So don’t be afraid to highlight all of the things that make you great. “This is your opportunity to surface your career accomplishments, particular projects that you’re proud of, and represent the kind of work you’re great at and like to do – all before you even go to an interview,” he adds.
A few questions to think about as you’re creating your portfolio: “What contributions, skills, and credentials do you bring to the table? Then, what impact have you made by way of your experiences and accomplishments?” Cunningham suggests.
But be warned — copying and pasting from your job description to your portfolio isn’t the way to go. “This is so much more than a list of job responsibilities… it’s like you’re painting a picture that helps any onlooker see exactly why they should invest their salary dollars in you… your past performance can predict your future behavior, so if your past is amazing you’re really gearing yourself up for a bright future,” she adds.
2. Keep Your Target Audience in Mind
While you do want to show yourself off, though, make sure you do it in the right way. One of the biggest mistakes that Cunningham sees in online portfolios is candidates “focusing too much on what they want vs. what they can do for [the company].”
“It’s great that you’re looking to grow and develop within the company, but what can you do for them? They will not invest in you simply because you want them to,” Cunningham says. “They must see value in you as a potential candidate, and your portfolio and online behaviors must all support your claims to be a real contender in your field.”
So rather than making your online portfolio all about how you want a job, make sure it highlights your skills and experience, and how those make you a strong candidate.
3. Add Some Color, But Keep it Professional
Resumes are usually text-forward, but online portfolios give you the opportunity to stand out visually as well. So when creating your portfolio, design is going to be key.
“Color is our friend. Using techniques like shading (not text boxes), and including splashes of appropriate color can really help to make information stand out. There are a plethora of portfolio design books at public libraries and online retailers — reference them for truly contemporary design options,” Cunningham says.
But with that in mind, you don’t want to go wild with loud, clashing visuals or out-there graphics.
“When contemplating design, it’s important to strike a balance between being true to your own creativity, and keeping things appropriate for the industry you work in,” Burke says. “For all portfolio websites, I recommend keeping things fairly simple so that your work can speak for itself. And of course, Squarespace has some beautiful, streamlined website templates that can help you lay out your work in a design-friendly way for maximum impact.”
4. Evolve It Over Time
Once you’ve launched your online portfolio, most of the heavy lifting is over — but don’t hang up your hat just yet. “It’s important to keep the content as up-to-date as possible. Your skills and tastes evolve; so should your online presence. While your portfolio may open doors for you, it can also have the opposite effect if your information is stale,” Burke says.
So as you add new projects and experiences under your belt, make sure to include them in your portfolio. Keep your contact info up-to-date as well, and even if you’re not actively looking for a job, check in on your portfolio every once in a while to make sure it’s still accurate and in style.
“Simply creating an online portfolio is never enough,” Cunningham shares. “You must actively manage it, keep yourself top of mind with influencers and decision-makers in your industry, and continue to develop your skills. Don’t keep leaning on the credentials of yesteryear — you must continually evolve and update your portfolio to show that you remain a thought leader who will always be in demand,” she advises.