What Is a Portfolio?
First, let's get clear on what a portfolio is — and what it isn't.
You don't want to just take a snapshot of everything you've ever done and slap it on the Web. This may show that you've done a lot of work, but it doesn't display what makes you stand out and why a prospective employer or client should hire you.
A good portfolio takes your best work and showcases it — you'll want to choose your top projects and include something extra for each piece. For example, if you have feedback from an instructor, supervisor, or client on what made that project work, include that (with permission, of course). Consider including a reflection on each piece to show what you learned, what special skills the project required, and any other details that you want to highlight. This reflection is especially important when you're new to the field because you can prove that you have the technical skills required for the job(s) you want. Plus, it shows your ability to learn and reflect, which are great assets for your continued development.
Don't have professional work experience yet? No need to worry. You can create a great portfolio with school assignments or pro bono pieces.
How Do You Select Projects to Include?
First, pick your favorite projects. Because you enjoyed working on them, you'll be excited when you write your reflection. Naturally, that excitement will come through to those who view your portfolio.
Second, think about the type of job you're trying to get. Do your selected portfolio pieces show that you can perform the tasks of the job? If not, find some previously completed ones that fill in the gaps or seek out new projects to complete your portfolio.
Third, make sure everything you choose to include in your portfolio is the best way to solve the issue presented. Just because something ended up looking cool, doesn't mean it fulfilled the user experience, data analysis, or other requirements of the project. Always choose substance over flash.
Finally, ensure that the projects in your portfolio showcase varying levels of complexity. Don't only include incredibly complicated projects — there is value in small, simple projects as well.
Where Can You Put Your Portfolio?
Choose a public and easily accessible tool. GitHub, GitLab, and Bitbucket are good choices. You want something that is designed to showcase development or data projects — including the underlying code (i.e. the meat of your portfolio). A collection of links on a website isn't going to provide potential employers with what they need to assess your actual skills.
If you need to host more than one site in your portfolio, incorporate secondary services such as surge.sh or vercel.com. These can support site demos, their codes, and links from your GitHub portfolio.
Also, create a README file that:
- Names and describes the project
- Includes any instructions to deploy the project and the system requirements necessary — minimal and optimal
- Discusses any planned improvements in detail
- Includes your image links, project documentation, a list of anyone else who worked on the project, your testimonials and feedback and any other elements that help showcase your work
How Should You Organize Your Portfolio?
The key to a great portfolio is to make sure it's easy to understand. Keep the organization clean — the focus needs to be on the projects themselves, not on any fancy GIFS or animations.
Your Portfolio Checklist
As you pull together, organize and reflect on your projects, use this checklist to make sure you're presenting them in the best manner:
- Does the project work? Follow all of the instructions as if you'd never seen the project before. This will ensure that it will perform properly when people view it. Consider testing on multiple devices that meet your system requirements so you know exactly what it will look like on any system.
- Is your project publicly accessible in your GitHub, Gitlab, or Bitbucket account? This is of particular importance if you locked the project down at any point during development. Try accessing your projects without logging in to make sure anyone can see them and perform the tasks.
- Have you removed all unnecessary comments from the code? Although the comments can be useful while developing, they can make your code look sloppy. Useful comments include internal documentation explaining a particular line of code or notes on further development. Comments that aren't useful are those that you or a collaborator left during development about something that doesn't work correctly or an item that needs to be fixed.
- Does each project have a clear README that includes all supporting materials? And is the README free of extraneous details that will distract from what you want potential employers to learn about you and your abilities?
- Have you had a friend or colleague review your portfolio? Sometimes another set of eyes can help you catch errors and omissions that you may have missed. Make sure your reviewer is someone you trust to give you open and honest feedback and that has the time to review your materials fully. If your portfolio has grown large, consider either pruning it down to the most important pieces or asking more than one friend to help.
How Can You Share Your Portfolio?
You'll definitely be including your portfolio in any job applications, but you can employ some strategies to share it in other situations:
- Add your portfolio link to your email signature
- Put it in your social media and Slack profiles
- If you communicate through text messages, you can set a text signature and use it only on business contacts. Consider using it only once per conversation to keep from cluttering your message chain.
With these guidelines, you'll present yourself in the best possible light, regardless of what stage you're at in your career.
And if you need to build a stronger portfolio, Practicum can help. Our comprehensive data science and web development courses are built around real-world projects that mimic professional experience. We'll help you construct a competitive portfolio and connect you with opportunities to share it.