Career Portfolios: Examples and How To Make One

Career Portfolios: Examples and How To Make One

If you’re new to the world of freelancing, you may be wondering, “What is a career portfolio?” and “Do I need to create one?”

In this article, we’ll discuss:

What a career portfolio is

A career portfolio is a collection of materials that showcase your work experience and skills to potential clients and employers. A portfolio may also be referred to as a “work portfolio,” “professional portfolio,” or “job portfolio.” It’s much more detailed than a resume or a cover letter and can be a very effective way to bundle your work accomplishments, education, skills and training, work samples, testimonials, and more into one appealing package. We discuss this in more detail in the what to include in your portfolio section.

Not all jobs will require portfolios; however, a portfolio is a common request from clients and employers seeking to fill writing, design, publishing, or even tech roles. For example, a client in search of a content writer is more likely to hire a writer who includes samples of their best work with their application. These samples provide clients with proof that the writer is capable and can meet their demands.

On Upwork, freelancers can easily create a career portfolio to showcase their work. Use different types of content, including images, videos, links and even blocks of text to show  your work in the way that represents you best. Simply go to your Find Work > Profile and scroll down to click on the Add (+) button next to Portfolio to get started.

The purpose of a portfolio

Think of your portfolio as a tool to help you show off—in a professional way of course.

A portfolio is an evolving collection of your work that reflects your talents, skills, experiences, and professional accomplishments. It showcases your best work so potential clients or future employers can really get a feel for your capabilities.

Your resume, Upwork profile, or LinkedIn page usually have to follow a set template. A portfolio is a chance for you to get more personal and creative with demonstrating your knowledge and skills.

A career portfolio is tangible proof that you’re qualified, and helps truly set you apart from other freelancers or job applicants.

What jobs require a portfolio

Not all jobs will require a professional portfolio. However, for some types of work, it’s as essential as, or sometimes more important than, your resume.

For independent professionals, roles that almost always require a portfolio include:

  1. Graphic designer
  2. Web designer
  3. Photographer
  4. Videographer
  5. Video editor
  6. Writer
  7. Software developer

Some roles will require more visually impactful content in portfolios, while others may require text or data to show proof of work. Upwork makes it easy for you to showcase your experience in elegant ways by making the most of different file formats that best suit your work. Add images if your work is more visual, upload a video to tell a story about your project, or dive into the details with a block of text.

For more inspiration on how to make a portfolio that stands out, check out some of our portfolio samples below.

What to include in your portfolio

Different roles may require different kinds of portfolios; however, certain elements of a career portfolio are the same for all.

Whether you’re applying for freelance jobs on Upwork or looking for full-time work elsewhere, your career portfolio is made up of a few essential elements. Below we discuss some of the top items to include, with special mention of how to incorporate them into your Upwork profile.

1. Biographical information

An “about me” section in your work portfolio is an opportunity to tell your potential clients or employer a bit more about you. This is a good place to showcase your personality and establish a human connection with the client.

Your bio doesn’t have to tell your whole life story, but including a few details that give clients a peek at who you are and the work you do will work great. Talk about your work history, experience, and accomplishments and don’t be afraid to sprinkle a bit of your personal life into it as well.

For most portfolios, it’s perfectly fine to write your bio in first person, e.g. “I am an amazing writer.” (Though maybe don’t say it quite so literally.) Think of this as answering the “tell us a little bit about yourself” questions at an interview.

On Upwork: Your biographical information is best included in the profile overview section.

To add an overview to your profile:

  1. Go to Find WorkProfile
  2. Scroll down to the Overview section and click the ✎ icon
  3. Type in the message that you want clients to see about you first and click Save

Remember that only the first 250 or so characters will appear in the freelancer search results list so make the most of it! For more advice on how to create a great overview, check out Upwork Profiles: Why a Great Title and Overview Can Make a Difference.

2. Skills and abilities

What is it about you that makes you uniquely qualified and valuable to potential employers and clients? Prove it by highlighting your skills and abilities within your Upwork profile and your portfolio.

Include technical or hard skills that are specific to your role but also consider highlighting your soft skills. For example, if you’re a web developer, you obviously need to include your skills in web development or specific programming languages. Additionally, you may also want to mention and demonstrate how you’re skilled in problem-solving, time management, and effective communications.

On Upwork: Describe your skills briefly within your profile overview. Additionally, you can also tag your profile with relevant skills.

To add skills to your profile:

  1. Go to Find WorkProfile
  2. Scroll down to the Skills section and click the ✎ icon
  3. Start typing the name of a skill, then select the best match from the list and click Save
  4. Repeat to include your top 15 skills

If you’re unsure of which skills to add, get some inspiration from this article: 100 Skills to Include on Your Resume with Examples

3. Education and certifications

Above all, your professional portfolio should always provide proof of your qualifications for the role or job you’re applying for. Adding your educational qualifications and certifications is a great way to do this and highlights your credibility further.

On Upwork: You can easily add your degrees and certifications to your Upwork profile.

The Education section lets you add any degrees or diplomas you have earned. To add your education:

  1. Find WorkProfile
  2. Scroll down to the Education section and click the Add (+) button
  3. Enter your school and degree details and click Save or, if you want to enter more, Save and Add More

‍You can also include a brief summary of your education, including any awards you received or your grades.

You can add certifications to your Upwork profile in two ways. If you have a Credly account, you can now add your certifications from that account to Upwork with the Credly import feature. If you have certifications that are not issued by Credly or don’t have a Credly account, you’ll still be able to add your certifications through the manual option. Learn more about how to add certifications.

4. Resume

Your resume is an important piece of your portfolio. It should include a professional summary, your work experience and history, achievements, skills, and any relevant education and certifications.

Here’s more advice on how to create a resume that stands out.

On Upwork: Your Upwork profile serves as your resume on the work marketplace. It’s your introduction to prospective clients, an important opportunity to grab attention and set yourself apart from the competition.

The most successful independent professionals have profiles that are complete and accurate and paint a compelling picture of their services, skills, and accomplishments.

Check out these 9 Tips to Help You Create a Freelancer Profile That Stands Out.

5. List of accomplishments

Have any awards, achievements, or accomplishments in your professional career that you’re particularly proud of? Highlight them in your portfolio. Feel free to mention scholarships, academic honors, and your salesperson of the month or similar awards.

Explain the impact of these accomplishments and why you were chosen for a particular award. Highlighting these awards is a great indication of your value to future clients and employers.

If you’re a military veteran, mention your military records and awards, as many clients and employers appreciate the value veterans can bring to a role.

On Upwork: Make sure to add your professional accomplishments to your profile overview. Additionally, you can also discuss them in the employment history section of your Upwork profile.

To add your work history to your profile:

  1. Go to Find WorkProfile
  2. Scroll down to the Employment History section and click the Add (+) button
  3. Enter the employment details and click the Save or, if you want to enter more, Save and Add More

You can also add your military veteran status to your Upwork profile.

6. References or testimonials

Most traditional employers will require a professional reference or two to back up your experience, professional qualities, and abilities. Include managers or colleagues you’ve previously worked with, along with their titles and contact information.

If you’re an independent professional, most clients don’t really need references but a good testimonial or review from previous clients can go a long way. If you’re new to freelancing, ask an ex-colleague or a professor for a testimonial to back up your work.

On Upwork: Client feedback is crucial for ongoing success on Upwork. When a contract ends, clients usually leave you feedback as part of that process. This feedback shows up in the work history section of your profile. A good review shows potential clients that you’re capable and have impressed other clients with your work.

Upwork also enables you to add testimonials for work you’ve done outside of Upwork. Learn how to request testimonials from external clients.

7. Samples of your work

Samples of past work are a key part of what’s in a portfolio. It’s your opportunity to show clients what you can do through projects you’ve worked on. Whether you’re a writer, a graphic designer, or a project management professional, samples of work can be useful to showcase a range of skills. Some quick tips:

  • Be selective and show your best work, rather than everything you’ve ever created
  • Highlight skills and technologies
  • Keep your portfolio updated; as you complete new projects, remove examples that are outdated or irrelevant

We share more advice on this in the upcoming how to select your best work samples section of this article.

On Upwork: Samples of your work go in the portfolio section of your Upwork profile.

To add a project to your portfolio:

  1. Go to Find WorkProfile
  2. Scroll down to the Portfolio section and choose the Add (+) button
  3. Enter the details of the project and upload any media
  4. Save as draft to continue working on it later or preview to see what it looks like for clients
  5. Publish if you’re ready and continue adding more projects

Check out this article for a full breakdown of how to create a portfolio on Upwork and other best practices.

How to create a portfolio for a job

Learning how to make a portfolio is key. You want your portfolio to effectively “sell” yourself to your potential clients or employer as the best candidate for the job. Once you’ve collected all the information above, you’re ready to put your portfolio together.

Did you know that on Upwork, freelancers who’ve published a portfolio are hired nine times more often than those who haven’t. This means, adding to your portfolio could put you on the pathway to winning more jobs, more often.

Once you’ve collected all the information above, you’re ready to put your portfolio together.

1. Tell a story for each service you provide

If you have more than one area of expertise, your portfolio should reflect your range of skills.

For example, let’s say you’re a copywriter who loves to work on product descriptions, but you’re also a pro at writing blog posts and website copy. To show potential clients how multi-talented you are, upload three to five portfolio items that show your latest product copywriting, blogging, and website copywriting projects. Each one will be categorized separately with its own unique project description.

2. Be organized but also have fun with it

Your portfolio is more than just a list of items. Yes, it should be easy to follow, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Make it fun and leverage your creativity to truly tell the story of your best work.

Use words, images, reports, or something else to tell stories. That way, you’re more likely to get people to pay attention to the projects you want to share with them. Here are a few different ways to approach each work sample you share in your portfolio:

  • Case studies. Write a short story about a challenge you have solved or a business you have helped.
  • Snippets. Include excerpts of your work—you don’t need to use the entire project, especially if it’s large or complex. For example, you could include a summary of a longer document, or share a preview or clip of a larger piece of work.
  • Screenshots. Take screenshots of your work, such as spreadsheets, research documents, apps, social media posts, or even anonymized Google Analytics campaign results.
  • Results. Create a visual representation of your successes using diagrams, charts, or graphs.

You can organize your portfolio in reverse chronological order, so your most recent work appears first. Alternatively, you can also organize it by the type of work or specific industries—whatever makes most sense for you. A logical order will make it easier for potential clients to find what they want to see.

Below you’ll find some great portfolio examples to inspire you.

3. Provide more information for each item

When you’re ready to add items to your portfolio, provide as much information about each piece as possible by painting a clear picture of your role in each project. This can include selecting a relevant work category and subcategory, as well as tagging the portfolio item with applicable skill tags. Keep it concise; one or two short paragraphs should do the trick!

You can also link the items in your Upwork portfolio with past projects. This draws clearer connections between projects, portfolio pieces, client feedback, and client ratings, which can help verify your expertise, build credibility for prospective clients, and give these items more visibility on your profile.

4. Update as you grow your experience

Don’t let your portfolio slide. Every project you bring to the table comes with a hefty side dish of experience and growth—both of which will help make you a more valuable professional in the market. This improvement is what you want your clients to see, so don’t hesitate to push excellent work each and every time.

How to select your best work samples

Work samples in your portfolio are actual proof that you’re the best person for the job. Depending on your line of work, your portfolio should include samples of your writing, photographs, design work, project outcomes, data-backed reports, etc.

You want to make sure you’re including the best possible samples to represent you. Here are three tips to help you decide which samples to feature in your portfolio.

1. Take your reviews into consideration

If a particular project garnered you great reviews from a client, definitely include that in your portfolio. It’s a powerful double whammy as it shows future clients an actual example of your work and also highlights how a previous client was very happy with the work you delivered.

2. Use samples that have earned praise or awards

Similarly, if a particular project or piece of work has earned high praise from clients, or better yet won awards, that’s worth bragging about. Include it in your portfolio and don’t forget to mention the successes your work achieved. Once again, it shows clients you’re capable and your work is impactful.

3. Showcase work that demonstrates a broad range of your skills

Finally, showcase samples that demonstrate your skills in multiple ways. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, you may want to include a sample logo design you worked on, a business branding package, and a marketing flyer for a local business. While each sample highlights your design skills, the collection shows how you’ve used those skills across a broad range of work.

8 career portfolio samples

What better way to demonstrate what goes in a portfolio than showing you samples of portfolios?

Below we’ve selected examples of portfolios from independent professionals on Upwork. We hope they inspire you and give you ideas for your own portfolio too.

Elham Ali, project management professional

Elham Ali’s line of work is much less visual than a designer; however, they still make great use of their portfolio. Multiple items included demonstrate their broad range of skills, along with images of relevant certifications.

Ali’s portfolio items include a description of the project and keywords that describe skills, tools, and software used for the project as well as the deliverables required.

Despite the lack of eye-catching visuals, the samples of work still clearly demonstrate the freelancer’s abilities to prospective clients.

Elham Ali portfolio

Kai Casey, animator and videographer

As a content creator, Kai Casey has work that is very visual. While their portfolio includes only two items, these two samples say everything. Each sample is a reel of work completed over a year.

View the 2021 reel, which includes a variety of Casey’s work put together appealingly in one video. While there’s no accompanying text, the video communicates more than any words could say.

Kai Casey portfolio

Olivier Travers, business analyst and solutions architect

Portfolios can be handy in any line of work, and Olivier Travers demonstrates exactly that. Despite not working in a creative field, they make good use of their Upwork portfolio by showcasing different projects they worked on, including descriptions of project goals and deliverables, as well as visuals and explanations to explain how they helped the clients achieve their objectives.

Olivier Travers portfolio

Pro Tip: Not sure where to start? Check out this Upwork Academy course to learn how to build your portfolio.

Laura Robson, web developer

Laura Robson’s portfolio is made up of samples of their work building websites for clients. Each website is unique and is for a different type of client. Some were built using Magento, others using WordPress or Shopify. By being presented different samples, potential clients can easily see the broad range of skills at work here.

In addition to the visuals, you’ll notice Robson’s profile also makes use of the certifications section to showcase their skills in development. Their employment history section also highlights their professional achievements further.

Laura Robson portfolio

Find more web developer portfolio examples here.

Grigorij Richters, PR, strategy and digital media consultant

As a PR specialist, Grigorij Richters wears multiple hats for their clients’ public relations campaigns. Richters’ portfolio items are a mix of images, videos, and detailed descriptions of the work carried out for clients. They describe project goals and deliverables and include information about content types used in the campaign and public relations services provided.

Richters’ profile includes a number of five-star reviews for their projects on Upwork. However, they take this a step further by making use of the testimonials section of their profile. Their professional work is backed by glowing endorsement from three clients, further cementing their capabilities as a skilled PR and media professional.

Grigorij Richters portfolio

Lex DeVille, copywriter

As a copywriter, Lex DeVille is best able to demonstrate capabilities with their words. They make very unique use of their portfolio by using each item as a way to demonstrate their copywriting skills in a different, creative way.

Each sample includes a similar visual, but the text is unique, and engrossing—an apt selling point for a copywriter. Each sample also links to the writer’s professional website which has more information about them.

DeVille’s profile overview is also well written and is an effective introductory section for a writer. It starts with clever copywriting and then goes on to describe their specific skills and achievements.

Lex DeVille portfolio

Leonardo De Vita, web designer

As a web designer, it’s key that Leonardo De Vita has a portfolio that includes highly appealing visual samples of their work—and that’s exactly what they deliver. Each of their samples showcase website or landing page work, including project descriptions and keywords that explain the web design languages and skills used as well as website builders and other tools that bring the project to life.

The freelancer provides links within the samples so prospective clients can get a real-life look at their work as well. De Vita’s profile is also fully optimized, including a great profile overview, multiple external testimonials, and five-star reviews from clients on Upwork, employment history, education information, and certifications. All these elements work together to create an effective career portfolio.

Leonardo Davita portfolio

Find work with your portfolio

Our final bit of wisdom is to always keep your portfolio up-to-date. As you hone and improve your skills, make sure your portfolio reflects this.

Every project you work on comes with a hefty side dish of experience and growth—both of which will help make you a more valuable professional in the market. This improvement is what you want your clients to see, so don’t hesitate to display your excellent work each and every time. As soon as a client gives permission to use the finished project in your portfolio, upload the screenshot, paste the link, and point it out to the next client to come your way.

As we’ve demonstrated above, Upwork makes it easy for independent professionals to create and update a comprehensive professional portfolio and profile that help you attract clients. A great portfolio of work to show off can be a very useful tool in helping you find freelance work.

Sign up to Upwork today and start putting your portfolio to work for you.

Note: We provide secure tools for clients and freelancers to communicate directly from the Upwork platform. We always recommend that users should be cautious when sharing any sensitive or personal information with anyone they do not know. Learn more about best practices for sharing information on Upwork here.


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Author Spotlight

Career Portfolios: Examples and How To Make One
Radhika Basuthakur
Content Writer

Radhika is a self-confessed word nerd and content expert with over 15 years of experience writing content for businesses around the world. She is a cheerleader for flexible work, a passionate world traveler, and spends her free time alternating between a good book and a good hike.

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