How to Create a Portfolio

What Student Leaders Can Gain from Knowing How to Create a Portfolio

If you’re looking into how to create a portfolio, congratulations!  This means you at least know what an e-portfolio is, and why they’re becoming more and more important for students and job-seekers alike.  But just in case you’re new to all this, including how to create a portfolio, let’s re-cap before getting into our tips for how to create a portfolio that represents your work experience and personal and professional development.

The E-Portfolio Era

Portfolios started gaining widespread use as a teaching tool at universities around the 1980s, initially as a response to complaints that tests and exams were not giving teachers and administrators an accurate view of how much their students had learned.  Portfolios, unlike tests, could offer a comprehensive long-term picture of how students’ understanding changed over the course of a semester or full academic year.  Often a portfolio showcases all the work a student has completed for a class—papers, projects, and other assignments—and includes a reflection from the student walking the teacher through the work and showing how they grew with what they were learning over time.  Later, the arrival of the Internet and Web 2.0 technology to college campuses made it much easier to bring portfolios into classes.

Offering a Complete Picture …

Yet portfolios themselves have existed for a long time, especially in architecture, design, and other creatively focused jobs.  In this case, when the designer is thinking of how to create a portfolio, she’s going to think about how to give a clear visual demonstration of her work.  The portfolio is something that can be shared with potential clients, a representation of the quality of work they can expect.  This is why e-portfolios have now become a useful tool for all professionals, and why they are no longer strictly something for artists: they offer you a creative way of walking with your audience (such as a potential employer) through all the important projects, events, and experiences that have made you the unique candidate you are.

Once you’ve gotten your hands dirty experimenting with how to create a portfolio, sharing it with others is as simple as featuring a URL for it somewhere prominently on your résumé or cover letter.  With your e-portfolio, you can tell a richer version of the story behind your résumé, including photos, videos, audio recordings, text, and alternative timelines that document your progress as a leader and a professional.

… and Some Tips for How to Paint It

Many universities already subscribe to an e-portfolio builder, so your first step should be to explore what sort of options you have available.  If you’re coming up empty, you can look at free e-portfolio platforms available online, but we recommend even using a blog platform like WordPress.  The two things that matter most is, first, that it’s easy to use, and second, that you can feature any sort of media you want.

So what do you include in your e-portfolio?  Your portfolio should begin with a greeting page that explains who you are to your audience, and what the purpose of the portfolio is.  Explain you’re going to show them x about yourself.  This x is what’s going to convince them you’re the right person for the job.

Once you have decided what x is, the rest of the portfolio is, in theory, not going to be too difficult: you just need to set out teaching x to your audience.  You do this the same way somebody builds a case in court: by offering evidence, and exhibit after exhibit of proof.  In this case, each piece of your e-portfolio’s evidence is a page about something relevant to your career or professional development.  The timeframe here is flexible.  It could be a month-long project you were involved with, a relevant work experience over two years, a one-day event that you helped put together with your student organization, or your year as the organization’s president.  To make the experience more interactive, you can enrich these pages with photos and videos to add to the text, whatever can help document the evidence in an interesting way.  You can include as much evidence as you want, but don’t forget the important thing: your reflection section.

If you’re looking into how to create a portfolio, you should know first that reflection lies at the heart of it.  It’s where you take all the pieces on display in the portfolio and arrive at a conclusive statement about them, saying, “As I look back on all this stuff, the thing I took away from it all is this…” (But of course, you’re going to word it much more elegantly.)  From that point on, it’s a matter of going through your portfolio piece by piece and demonstrating where each of them fits in with the others in having made you the type of leader, the type of employee, and the type of person you are.  You can incorporate your reflection with your greeting page, or have it stand on its own, but it needs to be somewhere prominent so that the rest of the portfolio makes sense.

No Time Like the Present

We know what you’re thinking: “This all sounds so wonderful, but when should I get started?”  The answer is now.  There are many reasons why a portfolio is something you should not put off until later.  First of all, you should start taking an inventory of meaningful experiences while you still remember them (really, you can forget them more easily than you think).  If you’re an incoming freshman or still have a few years left in college, then you have an advantage: you can begin documenting the things you do as they happen, rather than try looking back on them from afar.

But maybe you’ve already been involved for a while on your campus or at your job.  That means the sooner you begin work on your portfolio—especially drafting your reflection—the better.  When you put the reflection off for too long after the experience happened, your insights won’t be as sharp.  And there’s another reason for getting started sooner rather than later: reflection is one of those things that takes time.  You’ll go through a few drafts as you try to remember key moments, and new ideas will occur to you each time you sit down to work on it.  But that’s part of the excitement of building an e-portfolio.

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