Online Portfolio 101: The First Steps to Your Professional Career

While crafting the perfect resume or cover letter is now standard, many people still opt out of creating an online portfolio to showcase their work. This is a mistake.

No matter what sort of career you’re pursuing, whether it’s journalism or computer science, you’re producing some form of deliverable content that employers will be interested in. That could mean anything from photographs and videos to games and data analysis. If you’re looking to be an educator, perhaps you have some innovative lesson plans. If you like to write articles, perhaps you have a Medium account or some Her Campus articles published. Whatever you’ve produced, putting the best of your work in one place is a great way to showcase your skills, especially when you’re just starting out.

If you’re currently in college or just starting out in a career, an online portfolio is a place to store your work, regardless of whether it’s relevant to your future career or not. As you build up more experience and work on more projects and opportunities, you’ll have more to show for it, and can then start curating your portfolio more. But first, try to pull together the projects you’ve worked on and consider what might be the best way to display them.

  1. 1. To start, try looking at examples

    Don’t feel overwhelmed or scared when you see professional examples but keep an eye out for what you like and what you feel would reflect your own work well. A quick Google search yields plenty of results in a variety of fields, so make sure to narrow down your search to topics relevant to your interests after an initial glance through different styles.

    My favorite way to find real examples is searching on LinkedIn using hashtags — use words relevant to your field, like "#datascience" or "#photography" and add "portfolio" to narrow down the results. Alternatively, you can skip to step two and pick a platform before looking into the templates provided by your preferred platform or service.

  2. 2. Choose a platform that suits your type of work

    An iphone (in the screen you can see the app of instagram open) next to a plant

    If you’re a student at a university, you may have access to the Adobe Creative Suite or other similar programs for free — this is how I was able to create my first portfolio, using Adobe Portfolio. This had the added bonus of showcasing my skills with a variety of Adobe programs. Other options include Wix, Squarespace, and Wordpress, among others. Some people even use Instagram to create portfolios of their photography, while many in journalism may point to their author profile or compile their work on a separate platform such as Muck Rack, which is designed for journalists and PR specialists.

    While these are great options for anyone looking for ease of use without specialized knowledge of the coding, creating a separate website where you can compile work from a variety of projects offers more versatility. For a first portfolio, however, starting with a template is a great step!

    Next, consider how much you want to pay for this website to be hosted for you. If you’re an avid coder, you could also consider making your own website using GitHub or another service — there are plenty of examples available for these as well, along with templates. Be sure to consider what others in your desired industry use. 

  3. 3. Compile your work and resources

    woman wearing yellow sweater typing on laptop

    No matter if you worked on several projects in different classes or jobs, or just created things for pleasure, it’s important to organize your content so all the relevant material for each project is ready for you when you start building your portfolio. Once you’ve collected everything, it's time to organize these projects into different categories, depending on the range of your work.

    If you, like myself, indulge in a variety of creative work, from writing to photography and even graphic design, think about whether you want these to be separated on your portfolio, or whether you’d like to show all the work as individual projects rather than by category. Look back to the examples you researched and the platform you’ve chosen to see what method of organization is doable. Also keep in mind the examples from your industry, and consider what kinds of portfolio someone in your industry may be looking for when hiring you. 

    If you’re a photographer and use Adobe Lightroom, you may want to organize your projects into different albums to import directly into Adobe Portfolio. If you’re using GitHub, make sure your files are named appropriately and organized in a coherent manner for anyone looking through your virtual workspace.

  4. 4. Start creating your portfolio

    woman studying on laptop

    As with any other task, one of the most difficult parts of creating your online portfolio is getting started. Once you do, your vision may change and you may be unsure of the direction. You’ll likely change up the color scheme. The dimensions might look wrong. But that’s OK at first! The most important thing is getting started. Commit to your platform of choice (for now) and start creating.

    If you still haven’t decided on a method of organization, start with your About Me page. Consider what you want people to see when they first land on your page. Make it inviting by using your own, authentic voice. Be honest, include an appropriate image of yourself, and your contact information (perhaps direct links to your LinkedIn and any other appropriate platforms). This is also the space for you to add some humor or highlight some aspect of yourself that you want to showcase if you'd like. Just remember to keep it minimal so it doesn't detract from the rest of your portfolio.

    For each project, make sure you have a little bit of description to contextualize the project and how you created the work. If you used particular tools or software, it's important that you mention that!

  5. 5. Make sure it's consistent

    Cross-reference your portfolio with your LinkedIn profile and your resume to make sure the information is accurate and consistent across all three. This will help you make sure the relevant work, projects, and skills mentioned on your LinkedIn profile and resume are also demonstrated on your portfolio. 

    Make sure links to your contact information are available throughout the website. If you use a particular logo or style on your resume, consider implementing that into your portfolio as well. You could also use this as an opportunity to update your resume and work on streamlining your document, especially if you’re considering creating a creative resume on top of a traditional one. Just try to maintain consistency across platforms and documents in terms of what work you are presenting.

  6. 6. Update it regularly!

    Woman working at laptop outside with coffee

    It’s super easy to let your portfolio slide to the back of your mind during busy months, but you should still try to update it every time you have a new project to add.

    One thing to be careful about when adding new projects is the potential for work you upload being confidential or unreleased — if you’ve worked on a project that includes something integral or confidential to the brand’s company, or they have some trademark or copyright to the work, you may want to ask your manager if it’s OK for you to display this work in your personal portfolio first.

Related: 7 Easy Ways to Upgrade Your LinkedIn

For many people, the idea of creating an online portfolio is daunting, but it can also be a very creative and rewarding process. Plus, you can update it over time and I guarantee you’ll make changes as you learn and grow in your field and work on projects that more closely align with your goals or want to explore some hobbies. If you put the link on your LinkedIn, perhaps making a post dedicated to it, you're likely to reach more people. Remember, this isn’t just a space for your future employers — it’s also a space for you!