The Least Talked About (and Most Important) Aspect of the Job Search, According to Recruiters

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What is a career portfolio?

A career portfolio is a collection of your work experience, achievements, and qualifications for a type of position or a specific role. It goes beyond your resume or cover letter to provide a comprehensive view of your qualifications. While some people create career portfolios for a specific application, others have portfolios that can apply to several positions. Career portfolios are especially common in creative fields, like product design or advertising, but they can be influential to the application process elsewhere, too. 

What should be included in a career portfolio?

While the contents of each portfolio are unique to its creator's career, here is a list of things you should consider including in your portfolio, according to hiring professionals we spoke with. 

1. Your personal information.

Kick off your portfolio with personal information that makes it easy for your reader to get in touch. Be sure to include your full name, phone number, recent email address, and, preferably, links to your LinkedIn profile and any websites or social media accounts that are relevant to your work. For instance, if you're a graphic designer, you may want to include a link to your freelance business's website or the Instagram account you made for your digital art projects. If you're a writer, you may want to include a link to your blog and your Twitter account. 

2. A career summary and list of goals.

After you've laid out your contact information, share a short summary of who you are as a professional. What work have you done, what is your career philosophy and what makes you a unique opportunity for future employers? Then, include a list of your career goals over the course of the next "five years," according to Scot Chrisman, CEO of THE MEDIA HOUSE.

3. Your resume.

Next, your portfolio should include a copy of your resume. The resume should be updated with your most recent professional experiences and tailor-made for the job you're applying to. In other words, make sure the roles and accomplishments you include make a case that you'd be great in the role you're seeking. 

4. A list of skills and accomplishments. 

Your career portfolio should also include a list of your skills and accomplishments. These can be drawn from work you've done as a professional, as a volunteer or as a student. Each job you apply to will include unique required skills in its job description — "add at least three to five skills that are important to the job requirement you are applying for" to your list, Chrisman says. 

5. Work samples. 

Work samples are the shining gem of the portfolio. This is your chance to show off the best work you've done over the course of your career and to illustrate the skills and accomplishments you claimed in your resume and earlier in your document. The hiring employer may specify that they'd like to see a certain amount of samples. If they don't, remember that quality is more important than quality. 
"Make sure to only include quality work samples in your portfolio," Lewis Keegan, owner and operator of, told us. "Don't add everything just to make it look like you've already done many projects. What's important is the quality of your projects, not the quantity."
If you don't have work samples you're proud of for a role, it's worth it to make new samples to include in your portfolio. 

6. A list of continued education qualifications or professional development activities. 

If you've invested in continuing education or professional development, now is the time to show it off. Be sure to include any courses you've taken, certifications you've earned, conferences you've attended, or speeches you've made in this section of your portfolio. 

7. A reference list — including testimonials, if applicable.

Lastly, include a list of professional references who can confirm the skills and accomplishments you've laid out in your portfolio. These can be clients, former managers or former colleagues. If you've worked with clients or have especially good relationships with your former managers, ask them for a testimonial to include alongside their reference. 

What should my career portfolio look like?

When creating a career portfolio, "always go for simple, minimal design, as it looks more professional," according to Sarah S., HR Manager at The Fashion Jacket. Many of the hiring professionals we spoke to mentioned formatting is important. We suggest using a clean header with your personal information to begin the document, then using a header for each of the sections, aside from your resume. Be sure to use an identical, professional font throughout and cut down on colors, except for within your work samples. If you can, prioritize making a personal website where you can host your portfolio online. This makes it even easier to share with potential employers or professional contacts. 

Why should you use a career portfolio?

Sometimes, using a career portfolio will be a necessity. Some employers will specifically ask for portfolios in job descriptions — often for creative roles or project-based roles. However, even when not required, portfolios can add a lot to your application. They showcase so much more than your resume, which can provide a huge leg up, according to some of the hiring professionals we spoke with. 
"[Portfolios] showcase how good you really are! Instead of just saying you're good at X or Y, or have done X or Y, you now have something concrete that backs it up," Ron Auerbach, Author of Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success said. "It can make a huge difference in terms of how impressed they are with you. And separate you out from those applicants who may not even have a portfolio at all."
Need more proof a portfolio is worth including in a job application (or at least linking to!), even when you're not asked for one?
In a conversation on career portfolios with CareerOneStop, Verizon Wireless “talent connector” Krystal Dominick said " only three or four applicants out of the 300 interviews she conducts annually come in with a portfolio" and "all of them got jobs... The portfolios really help them showcase their experience and their job histories.”

This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Una Dabiero is the Associate Contributors Editor at CNBC Make It. Prior to joining CNBC, she managed the editorial career advice at Fairygodboss. Una earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

What’s your no. 1 piece of career portfolio advice? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!