The ABCs of the Professional Portfolio

The portfolio is no longer the prerogative of professionals in design, photography or graphics. It serves as a tool to showcase one’s achievements and strengths to potential employers. Here’s how to create your own.

Forget the portfolio with photos, colors and sophisticated design. Outside of the arts sector, the professional portfolio is sober. It focuses on the skills of the job candidate rather than on the chronology of the positions he or she has held. As the artist uses the portfolio to showcase his or her best work, the worker will describe his or her most significant skills. But beware, the CV is not going to disappear anytime soon! Far from replacing it, the portfolio is complementary to it.

A tool first and foremost

“A manager who has done a thousand and one things in his or her career doesn’t want to look lost when applying for a new job. The portfolio is used to make connections between each of the positions held,” explains Mathieu Guénette, guidance counsellor and director of professional services at Brisson Legris.

Patricia Dionne, Assistant Professor in the Department of Career Guidance at the Université de Sherbrooke, sees the portfolio as an excellent opportunity to step back from her work experience. “The portfolio highlights a common thread in the worker’s experience.

In his portfolio, a person specifies his interests, his values and highlights the uniqueness of acting his skills, i.e. that with equal competence and experience, two people will act differently. A portfolio will take time to build, and will take a long time to read. This is why it should be seen more as a personal exercise, as few recruiters will take the time to read every line of it. In fact, for Patricia Dionne, the portfolio prepares for the job interview in an unparalleled way: “It allows you to have the words in your mouth. Although it will not be read systematically by potential employers, the portfolio can also be brought to the interview, placed at the centre of the relationship and used as a reference during the interview.

All on his skills

How do you build your portfolio? First, it starts with a cover page: your contact information and a table of contents. Then, a copy of your updated CV is included.

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Then it is the body of the portfolio, which requires the most work. It involves looking back on one’s professional experiences and drawing from them three to five major skills.

One skill, one page of document. For each competency, the applicant describes the tasks related to it. He then details the resources mobilized to carry out the task: his values, his contact network, the specific instruments he has mastered (software, numerical controls), etc.

The Centre de développement professionnel et de placement en droit de l’UQAM also recommends adding letters of recommendation written by previous professors or employers, work of which one is particularly proud, photos of significant events in one’s career (awards, honourable mentions, etc.) and articles in which one is mentioned. Be careful not to overdo it, however. “Hiring is in a hurry. Only what is relevant to the job is retained,” advises Patricia Dionne.

Still marginal

Although the tool is interesting, for Mathieu Guénette the professional portfolio method is still marginal in the world of employment. “If we want to sell the fact that we are original and that we act differently, it’s a good idea. But in certain sectors, marginality is less well accepted,” he warns.

This is why he recommends a CV by skills. In it, the worker describes his or her most suitable actions in a difficult circumstance, and then the results obtained. “By reading the CV by skills, the recruiter imagines the candidate in action. It creates images that stick,” he says.

Otherwise, he suggests creating a website on which all the worker’s achievements are listed.

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