How to create a standout portfolio.

Creating a standout portfolio is essential because it helps you stand out from the crowd, is one of the main faces of your brand, and your first introduction to prospective employers and your industry. The problem is that it is equal parts art and science with no set formula for success. In this episode, we will look at the trends that are affecting how people see your portfolio, the foundational pieces you will need, and how to build your brand messaging, work case studies and talk about your experience.

Listen now:

We have been talking a lot about big, personal issues over the last few shows so I wanted to shift gears and go back to something more practical. I want to talk about the one thing that can make or break your career – your portfolio.

This is an update or an evolution of episode 9 where we talked about this before but that was 3 years ago. The frustrating part for me is that I see so many portfolios where I swear the person put more creativity and effort into their last Instagram post than they did their portfolio. Your portfolio is your introduction to the world, the face of your brand. Your portfolio should be a constant project as your brand is always evolving and you never know when you may need it.


I talked in episode 89 about some of the trends that are emerging when it comes to hiring. If you didn’t listen to that episode then there are a few trends you should be aware of as they may affect you and how your portfolio is viewed. Portfolios are not the end-all and be all that they used to be for a few different reasons.

Portfolios are starting to die.
• Too many good storytellers
• Companies want proof to back up what they see in a portfolio
• Some companies are skipping portfolios all together

Real files or products
Some companies are skipping portfolio all together in favor of seeing real products that have launched or working files to hear what someone did on the project.

Exercises and tests
Other companies want to see your skills in action so they are using tests
These have their pitfalls and listen to episode 89 to hear more about those and ways to avoid them

I have started to see some portfolios where people will reference these trends directly by saying they are open to testing and can provide files or they will not participate in these things under any circumstances.

Starting out

There are so many variables that go into making something great. In my experience, there is no secret formula for creating a standout portfolio except being memorable. You remember the things, people and experiences that stand out from the crowd but the temptation and pull will be to be like everyone else. Or you may be tempted to fall into that social media trap where you need to go to extremes and start doing things that are not like you to stand out.

Do your homework to understand what you are up against because your resume and portfolio don’t exist in a vacuum. Develop your palette.

No matter what you do, your industry or role – put your portfolio online.

• Making it a PDF
• Having a portfolio full of just images
• Avoid Pinterest blindness where you make your portfolio look the same as everyone else’s by using the most popular theme, photoshop mockups, etc.
• Quoting other people
• Skills infographics
• Not keeping it up to date

Technical pieces

Pick a platform
I recommend this instead of custom coding a site to balance creativity with your free time and sanity
• Wix
• Squarespace
• Fabrik
• Carbonmade
• Moonfruit
• Behance
• I recommend and use WordPress

Pick a theme
WordPress lets you put themes or skins on your content to give it a unique look, animation, behaviors, etc.
• Balance easy with your style so it is original and stands out
• I like Theme Forrest
• Look at and use the live preview

Add customizations
You can take the base them and add plug-ins to be able to create more unique content that will enhance the base theme
• I use and love Slider Revolution to create rich animations

Make it searchable and SEO friendly so it can work for you all the time

Make it sharable

Make sure it works on all platforms
You may have to change or customize some content to be sure it works on all platforms. Slider Revolutions is great because it lets you design for each form factor but you have to go in and create the designs for each of them.

Your brand

More than anything your portfolio needs to start with a strong personal pitch and message.

Your site is your first introduction and it is where you sell yourself
• Not where you sent to school
• Not where you worked

Make it clear who you are and what makes you different.
If you don’t know how to do this then go back to episode 6 which lays out different ways to get this done.
You can customize or tailor it for a job or company you want but don’t lose yourself or become someone you aren’t

Strike the balance between overly egotistical and painfully generic.
Write in a way that gives people a sense of who you are and not a bunch of generic corporate buzzwords

Describe your creative process and approach to problem-solving

You can do this by answering questions like:
• What is your unique value?
• What are your skills that are unique to your experiences?
• If you were a consultant, what services would you provide?
• What problems do you like solving?
• What are you obsessed with?

Your work

The point of any case study is to show off your thinking FAR MORE than the end results. Be thoughtful about what work you are going to include. Infuse everything with personality.

Think about the order you put the work in putting the strongest pieces in a strategic order

Password protect projects that can’t be shared openly.

The blueprint I use my work is:
• The challenge
• My role
• Process
• Problems we overcame
• The work
• The results
• Press/awards

Mix visuals with content to keep it interesting. This is your chance to show off with no clients and no constraints so take advantage of it.

Make it memorable.

Your experience

Your portfolio should also contain more than just your work especially as your career progresses, you move into leadership and your experience starts to take on a different shape and tone than when you start out.

Include things like
• Leadership style
• Initiatives or internal projects you have launched
• Public speaking
• Awards

For many of us, I think we feel like things will get easier as we get more experience but for me, it has only gotten harder.
• Your experience becomes less visible and tangible.
• The stories of what you have achieved through coaching and leadership become harder to tell.
• You network less because you have the position you have been driving for.

Get feedback on your portfolio.

Review and revise all the time – this makes it much easier to keep it up to date.

Be prepared to keep it up to date – not just when you want to get a new job.

Final thought

No matter the platform.
If you buy a theme or design it yourself.
If you have a ton of work or three projects.
Or anything else.
Make it memorable.
Make it you.
That won’t be for everyone but that’s the point.

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