A strong portfolio is critical for professionals in the engineering and tech fields. Whether you’re applying for a new job, working as a contractor, or pitching to clients on behalf of your employer, a portfolio is the best way to demonstrate your skills, experience, and accomplishments.
Going beyond your brief, text-based resume, a portfolio visually represents your biggest wins and how you approach work to make those wins happen. It’s a way to help you stand out from the crowd regardless of your area of expertise or the amount of professional experience you have. As one Redditor explains, “We don’t require senior-level engineers to produce a portfolio, but if they have one we generally just throw out all the other applicants.”
You’ll often be given the opportunity to present your portfolio in job interviews, but if it’s publicly hosted on the web, it can be an effective tool to passively attract employers and clients. An online portfolio can be as simple as a PDF or slide presentation hosted for free on your Google Drive. But, there are several other options available including:
- GitHub Pages;
- Paid hosting at sites that are specifically for portfolios, such as Coroflot or Carbonmade; and
- Paid hosting on business and blogging platforms such as Squarespace, Wix, or wordpress.com.
Regardless of where it’s hosted, a well-designed and thought-out portfolio can have an incredible impact on your career.
What Is A Professional Portfolio?
A portfolio is a collection of documents and images that tells your story. It provides an overview of your skills, accomplishments, and interests. Overall, it’s an excellent way to demonstrate what drives your brand.
In most cases, the purpose of a portfolio is to provide information to potential employers and clients. While a portfolio is especially important for those in the early stages of their careers, it can be a game changer for anyone, at any stage of their career. As with your resume and LinkedIn profile, it’s a good idea to keep your portfolio current. It might attract unexpected opportunities and will be a valuable resource if you decide to shift your career path or leave your full-time permanent position to strike out as an independent contractor.
If your portfolio is created as a PDF or PowerPoint/Google Slides document, printed copies could be useful in certain situations (such as handing them out to an interview team to use for reference). But, even if your portfolio can be printed, it’s important to have an online version. While few employers will require a portfolio during the hiring process, a study revealed that a significant majority of hiring managers (86%) will visit a link to a portfolio if one is provided on an application, and 71% say that once visited, the portfolio will impact their hiring decisions. When notified of the survey results, one HR professional provided this feedback:
… the (only) way to stand out to an employer nowadays, is to create an online portfolio. It is like the candidate designs its [sic] own career story, directing the recruiter and hiring manager to their strengths, skills and experience. It creates a human link and is so much more personal than just the quick CV and cover letter introduction.
Your Portfolio As Your Brand Statement
A strong personal brand has become a critical tool for engineering and tech professionals. While the concept of personal branding has been around for decades, few professionals have leveraged its potential, leaving branding to celebrities, social media influencers, and politicians.
However, your brand exists regardless of whether you actively shape it. Everything you share online says something about you as a person and as a professional. That can be distilled into our brand.
Rather than allowing a potential employer or client to piece together and interpret your brand by searching for your public posts, shape your online presence to reflect what you most want people to know. Taking control of your brand will allow you to maximize your potential and the opportunities offered to you.
Your portfolio is a terrific place to establish and advertise your brand. Start by considering your values, strengths, and goals and reflect on what’s most important for people to know about you. Try to develop a broad definition of yourself. Are you an innovator or a problem-solver? Are you a lifelong learner, committed to gathering new knowledge? Are you an expert? A leader? Once you know who you are and what you want to achieve in your career, you can shape your portfolio to reflect that, which will help employers and clients understand what you can bring to their team.
What Should Be Included In a Professional Portfolio?
While the focus of a portfolio should be a visual overview of your projects, it should also tell a story about your professional career. For that reason, it should also include text-based documents.
It’s important that your portfolio is well designed, visually appealing, easy to navigate, and filled with relevant information. It should be creative and uniquely your own so that it stands out. While creativity is encouraged, a strong portfolio includes certain elements, including:
- An eye-catching title/home page;
- An index/menu;
- A brief and impactful introduction to yourself and/or a personal statement relevant to your career goals;
- Your resume;
- Proof of certificates and licenses;
- A selection of your best projects, with the one(s) most relevant to the job applied for placed at the top of this section; and
- Testimonials or statements from instructors, coworkers, supervisors, and/or clients.
While your portfolio should be comprehensive, it shouldn’t be exhaustive. Include only the most relevant information and the most compelling projects. Avoid an overabundance of material; make it easy for employers and clients to find and digest your standout elements.
Designing Your Portfolio
Once you decide what to include in your portfolio, the next step is determining its style and layout. While it’s recommended that you stick to a clean, professional look, you can still be creative and have fun with the design. The key is for it to be visually appealing and engaging.
Website design principles can be applied to your online portfolio to give it a professional appearance. When designing your pages, work towards incorporating:
- Balanced use of blank space to give your portfolio an uncluttered, clean appearance;
- Bite-sized chunks of relevant text;
- Well-chosen, sharp photos;
- Judicious use of color;
- Jargon-free text, keeping in mind that hiring managers and senior executives may not have technical knowledge; and
- Error-free text – proofread, and then proofread again!
A blog hosted at The Engineering and Design Institute has some very specific suggestions about page layouts. For example, it suggests developing a hierarchy of content, featuring the most important content at the top, and using the “rule of thirds” when placing text and photos on a page. An online search for tips regarding the layout of your portfolio will turn up endless options if you need more direction or inspiration. As well, depending on where you build and host your portfolio, there may be templates to help with the visual design.
Showcasing Your Projects
The projects that you include in your portfolio should showcase the very best of your capabilities. While you shouldn’t include every project you’ve ever worked on, a diverse range of projects can nicely demonstrate your abilities and versatility.
How you ultimately present your projects within your portfolio depends on several factors, including your area of specialty, how you incorporate your brand message and your personal design preferences. While you shouldn’t be afraid to be creative in designing this section, the content needs to provide a brief but comprehensive overview of each project by including:
- Visuals (photographs, diagrams, charts, and/or short videos, as appropriate);
- The objectives and scope of the project;
- Your role;
- The methodologies employed;
- The challenges you overcame;
- Skills that you developed or further honed while working on the project;
- Significant outcomes such as increased efficiency or reduced costs; and,
- Any awards or recognition received for your work.
At a glance, this may seem like a lot of information to include for each project, but it’s not necessary to go into detail. A bullet point or brief statement to address each item on the list will provide the type of overview that employers and clients are looking for.
Updating Your Portfolio
An up-to-date portfolio is a valuable resource. While it’s helpful during a job search, it can also passively attract unexpected opportunities for you. Whenever you complete a stellar new project, take the time to update your portfolio (recognizing that non-disclosure agreements may prohibit many of your work projects from being included). Periodically updating text descriptions or adding new visual components can keep your portfolio fresh and modern.
While the creation of a portfolio can require a considerable time commitment, it’s one of your most valuable personal resources and well worth the effort.