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Work Samples and Portfolios

Guy holding a briefcase

You probably heard in school the old saying “show, don’t tell” or “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Those sayings even make sense when considering the possibilities for showcasing your qualifications. Presenting a picture of your work accomplishments may provide immediate impact and understanding of your skills.

Today, work samples and portfolios are a major asset for most job seekers, regardless of their career field. If you have a job where you produce something, even a haircut, you can show photographic evidence of your ability. If you do not have evidence it may be time to start using your smartphone or camera to capture images of your work. A chef or baker can show photographs of culinary creations.

Once you have the photos, share them on social media websites such as Pinterest or Facebook. And don’t stop with photos. Have a video taken of yourself that demonstrates a skill, such as public speaking or teaching, then load it to YouTube. Post it to other sites where potential employers can see it as well.

Photos and videos aren’t the only way to reveal your skills. Tailors or seamstresses can wear examples of the clothing they designed and sewed. An administrative assistant can offer a writing sample. A sales person might have a graph showing sales results. Staff members can present brochures, reports or newsletters as samples of their work. A mechanic can present pictures of auto restorations. Facilitators or trainers can use participant evaluations and videos of presentations. Other sources of work samples include hobbies, sports, scouts, hunting, fishing, crafts, volunteer work and other interests.

Work samples build self-confidence, prove your credibility and show your ability to finish tasks. Use them to illustrate your skills, abilities and accomplishments. After all, you’re proud of what you’ve done and you should not feel apprehensive about showing it.

Despite the obvious advantages of having a portfolio, few employers see them during interviews. So how effective are they? Verizon Wireless “talent connector” Krystal Dominick says only three or four applicants out of the 300 interviews she conducts annually come in with a portfolio.

And how many people in that small group were hired? “All of them got jobs,” she says. “The portfolios really help them showcase their experience and their job histories.”

Paper Portfolios

A portfolio is a method of organizing and presenting your skills that resonate with your occupational objective. An excellent way to illustrate your skills, your career, training and education, portfolios can help display your best work and provide you with a story to tell employers about your career and the challenges you overcame in various positions.

How do you start? For a paper portfolio, begin with a loose leaf binder with dividers. The first page can be a fresh copy of your resume, or you can place that in a pocket in the front cover. The content in the rest of the portfolio is best displayed in clear page protectors.

The first section of your portfolio should be used for your research on your target company. Go to the company’s website to find information about it. There you can find “about us” statements, mission or value statements, and press releases. Even include a copy of an article that shows a challenge or problem a company’s industry faces. Those articles can initiate a dialogue.

In the first section you could have a page that matches your skills with those sought by an employer if you are responding to a specific job opening notice. That will address quickly why you are a serious candidate for the job since your skill set will match the position, and the fact you went to the trouble of creating a portfolio will reveal your ambition and focus.

How you organize the rest of the information in the portfolio is up to you. If your job requires working among different product categories or divisions, you can divide up the content in that way, with a handful of examples from each one. You could have partial samples of your output and offer full versions if the interviewer requests them. A 30-page PowerPoint in a portfolio is overkill, but a page or two would be fine. If the interviewer says, “I’d love to see the whole thing,” email it later.

As the interview moves forward, refer back to the portfolio any time you can. Look for opportunities to show and tell the employer what you have done. Each time, pull out a copy to show the interviewer. Have a photocopy available to leave behind.

The content of the portfolio will be dictated by each person’s experiences.


E-portfolios such as or are online compilations of what was just described in the previous section. You can use many of the same components in an e-portfolio, such as work samples, photographs, personal data, resumes, references, educational backgrounds, career objectives, volunteer activities, letters of recommendation, awards, badges and military records.

After creating a site, you can email a link to prospective employers, references, your network and anyone else who might have an interest. The pages are built to be clean and inviting, with a good, colorful template that allows for modification. Give it a test run to see if you can make it work for your career.


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