Online Portfolio Tips & Tricks

In a recent live virtual session with my graduate students, we discussed online portfolios – what to feature, what goes into the write-ups, and best practices with blog content. As this content is new and updated from previous posts and course content, I am passing it on here as well.

Let’s begin with the online portfolio value proposition…

“A solid, cohesive, and comprehensive portfolio establishes your distinction in a sea of candidates. It provides “evidence” to an employer of your accomplishments, skills, and abilities. It is a good way to show the scope and quality of your experience and training. A portfolio can also help demonstrate your talent and ability to produce high-quality work in your field.”

Alison Doyle, The Balance Careers

What to Feature

Showcase your Core Competencies

Source: “Career Readiness Defined” by NACE (n.d.)

NACE – National Association of Colleges and Employers (est. 1956) is a professional association made up of college career services professionals, university relations and recruiting professionals, and business solution providers who serve this community. Through a task force of college career services and HR professionals they worked with employers to identify the following 8 competencies most associated with career readiness and strength:

  1. Critical thinking and problem-solving
  2. Oral and written communications
  3. Teamwork and collaboration
  4. Digital technology
  5. Leadership
  6. Professionalism and work ethic
  7. Career management
  8. Global and intercultural fluency

Career readiness as defined by NACE

“Career readiness is the attainment and demonstration of requisite competencies that broadly prepare college graduates for a successful transition into the workplace.” – NACE

Points to ponder…

What are some examples of past assignments or professional work that fall into these categories that you could feature in your online portfolio?

Here is what we discussed:

1. Critical thinking and problem-solving
Examples related to analysis, problem-solving, data-driven decision making, and originality

2. Oral and written communications
Examples of presentations, writing samples, proposals, white papers, strategic plans

3. Teamwork and collaboration
Work where you were a member of a team, collaborated with others inside and outside the organization, managed conflict

4. Digital technology
Showcase of original creative work: design, audio, video, digital content creation using tools such as Adobe, Canva

5. Leadership
Examples of projects where you took the lead, trained others, served as a project manager, or traffic coordinator

6. Professionalism and work ethic
Samples that exemplify personal accountability, ethical work habits, time management, and professional work image

7. Career management
Examples of materials that speak directly to the position descriptions you seek – those that articulate your strengths, knowledge, and experiences that coincide nicely with the types of work you want to do

8. Global and intercultural fluency
Samples of work that demonstrate openness, inclusiveness, sensitivity, and the ability to interact respectfully with all people (e.g. social justice)

Write-Ups & Reflections

Preparing and outlining

  • Step One

    Decide on the structure and CMS tool – introduction (who you are), showcase of work (portfolio index), your services or work history, ways to contact you

  • Step Two

    Decide on what of your BEST WORK you will showcase – use the categories listed in previous slides to help narrow it down

  • Step Three

     Provide context for each project including:

    >Lessons Learned

Breaking down context

Describe the overall purpose, goal, and framework for the piece you are showcasing. Outline your role, others involved or who it was for, and timeline.

Here you can describe the elements of the task – what it took to complete (writing, design, interviewing others, research). It is also a good place to note if you stayed in budget, on track or if not – how challenges were overcome

Process includes the steps you took in the project, why you did them, and the value of those actions. Be sure to share your specific approach and contributions, any decisions made or concessions, and ideas or pathways that did not pan out.

Lessons Learned
This is your reflection section – things that went well vs. challenges, as well as outcomes, and any data you can provide that demonstrates success or forward progress – even if milestones and goals were not fully achieved.

Points to ponder

What else have you seen that you think is a value-add in a showcase of work or portfolio?

Online Portfolio Features

  • Key achievements and skills
  • Testimonials
  • Hobby projects (e.g. wood working, photography, crafts, knitting)
  • Blog and published works

Online Portfolio and Blogging

  • If you plan to write about professionally-relevant topics or work experiences – you can create a blog section within your online portfolio.
  • If you plan to write about topics outside your profession, create a separate blog or self-publish in places like Medium and LinkedIn.
  • If you want to monetize your blog, I suggest it is separate from your online portfolio to limit “muddying the waters.” You will have to enable e-Commerce and paid ad features that may not be in line with your personal brand or the core purpose of your professional portfolio.


Showcase core competencies – keeping in mind those attributes most valued by employers

  1. Critical thinking and problem-solving
  2. Oral and written communications
  3. Teamwork and collaboration
  4. Digital technology
  5. Leadership
  6. Professionalism and work ethic
  7. Career management
  8. Global and intercultural fluency

Provide context for each project

  • Background
  • Scope
  • Process
  • Lessons Learned

Additional resources:

#KeepGoing #KeepGrowing

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Professional Pathways – Never Stop Learning series. Check out more posts in the Professional Pathways category.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Cooney is a Clinical Associate Professor of Strategic Communication and Director of Murrow Online Programs at The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She is also a Research Associate for the Center of Excellence for Natural Product-Drug Interaction Research. Rebecca has more than 26 years of professional experience. Her core areas of expertise include user experience design, integrated communication, brand strategy, and digital communications. She holds a BA in organizational communications and MS in communications and is the recipient of the 2019 Oaks Award for innovation in teaching, 2015 Scripps Howard Visiting Professor in Social Media, and 2014 Plank Center Educator Fellow awards.

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