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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Why You (Yes, You) Need a Professional Portfolio

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Years ago, only artists and other creative professionals had portfolios. These days, every professional can benefit from having one.

For those not in a particularly artistic field, a professional portfolio doesn’t have to be about showing pretty pictures of your work. The real purpose is to provide tangible proof of your value in the workplace, and there’s a whole host of ways to do that. From outlining project descriptions and showcasing work samples to offering up letters of reference and customer reviews, a portfolio can document your professional accomplishments in any way that makes sense for your gig.

The Big Why

Think of it like this: As a professional (regardless of your field), you are a business of one. When a company chooses to employ you, it is “purchasing” your business’ service. You can think of your professional portfolio as a marketing brochure for the services you’re selling. By showcasing your skills, abilities, and achievements, your portfolio helps your customers (your employers) and prospects (your potential future employers) understand what services you provide and why they are special—and worth the purchase price!

A professional portfolio can help in any circumstance where you want to make a strong impression, provide proof of your value, and differentiate yourself from your competition. Here are just a few examples:

Job Interviews

Whether you’re a copywriter or a consultant, take your portfolio to a job interview and refer to the items inside while discussing your work experience. Saying “I planned a fundraising event from beginning to end” is one thing—showing the event invitation, program, budget, and volunteer guidelines you put together is completely another.

In addition to acting as a handy reminder of the great things you’ve done in your career, having a portfolio on hand contributes to your professional image. You’ll look prepared and organized, and your interviewers will see that you’re proud of your work and take it seriously.

Performance Reviews

Your performance review is the time of year where you’ll want to recount your specific accomplishments and accolades to your employer—and for many, this type of self-promotion can be uncomfortable. But with a portfolio by your side, you’re able to cite objective, verifiable facts. It’s not just your opinion that you’ve done a great job; you have profit-and-loss reports and client emails that prove it!

As an added bonus, your reviewer will be happy to see that you’ve been tracking these things on your own and that you’re prepared for the discussion. You may even be able to draw your reviewer’s attention to accomplishments he or she overlooked.

Salary Negotiations and Promotions

Getting what you want in a salary negotiation is all about leverage. The person with whom you’re negotiating is doing a mental calculation that boils down to this: Are you worth it? Does your request make sense given your current and future value? A portfolio full of work samples and lists of accomplishments provides the necessary leverage to help you get what you want, whether negotiating a starting salary or a raise in your current pay.

Likewise, promotion requests are bolstered by the presence of a portfolio. Your employer wants to know you’re both capable of performing in the new role and deserving of the increased responsibility (and pay, and visibility, and so on). And a portfolio featuring the work you’ve accomplished over the years will provide evidence of your past performance (widely considered the best predictor of future performance) and your potential contribution in the new role.

What to Include

While the items included in a professional portfolio can vary depending on your experience, profession, and industry, there are a few things that anyone can include:

  • Your resume or professional bio
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Client feedback, letters, or emails
  • Awards and recognitions
  • List of trainings and courses completed
  • Work samples
  • Project outlines or write-ups
  • A list of key accomplishments

Pull together the items that make sense for you—either by compiling hard copies or by putting everything online. No matter what you choose, I promise, it’s a worthwhile investment of your time.