Building an online portfolio that’s right for you

Digital portfolio

Showing samples of your work is essential if you’re expected to speak on behalf of an organization or present many original ideas. In other words, if you’re applying for jobs in publishing, public relations, web design, or another creative field, be prepared to share an online portfolio. Here’s how to begin.

Consider whether you need an online portfolio.

Career counselor Elizabeth Shrimpf
Elizabeth Schrimpf: Ask colleagues for guidance.

Are you creating tangible products such as architectural drawings or magazine articles? Do you hope to secure a book deal, launch a brand, or get hired as a consultant? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you probably need an online portfolio.

Also consider the focus of your industry and the jobs you’re seeking. If you’re a chef eager to start a restaurant or land a TV gig, you may want an online portfolio for sharing photos of your creations and stories about yourself. If you’re more interested in helming a kitchen full-time, you might not need one.

Conduct informational interviews.

See if others in your profession have online portfolios. If they do, ask what type of content they included and why. Which tools did they use, and would they review your online portfolio before it debuts?

Give your best work the starring role.

I learned a memorable lesson about portfolios from an unlikely source: the TV show “Antiques Roadshow.” A woman asked an appraiser to estimate the value of a painting by an aunt the entire family thought was a noted artist. The painting was worth pennies but its celebrity-designed frame was worth lots. The moral of this story? Don’t let the frame (your portfolio’s design) outshine the content (your work samples). Visit the portfolio section of careeronestop.org for ideas on how to present your work in just the right way.

Navigate potential pitfalls with care.

Does your employer forbid you from showing your work online? If so, consider volunteering your best skills and presenting the fruits of this labor online.

If your employer is concerned about you sharing company property, see if a less public option is acceptable. For example, if a portfolio website has too wide an audience, could you share a Google Drive folder with a handful of people for a few days?

Simply having this conversation with your supervisor demonstrates that you’re thinking about career advancement. This could put you at the top of his or her mind when a promotion opportunity arises.

Career Corner is a monthly feature written by UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies staff. Elizabeth Schrimpf, a career counselor, can be reached at elizabeth.schrimpf@wisc.edu.