Who Said the Print Portfolio Was Dead?
Career Growth

Who Said the Print Portfolio Was Dead?


Read any article on prepping for an interview and guaranteed, the writer will say something about “showing,” not “telling,” the interviewer about your work experience through an example or a story. But what if you could take that one step further (thus setting yourself apart from those other standard candidates) by placing the work you actually completed in their hands? That’s where the print portfolio comes in.

Yes, in the digital age where online portfolios are today's vogue, the print portfolio is still a must no matter what industry you’re in. {click to tweet} Why? It shows effort and offers tangible, visual examples when you’re discussing a project you worked on. The digital world has made everything faster and more accessible, but the joys of print will never die; don't underestimate the power of being able to physically hold something, analyze it, and enjoy it!

It’s also a great conversation starter and—by helping you focus on the accomplishments you want to highlight—a print portfolio can set you apart from the competition.

I like to think of the portfolio as a sandwich. Hear me out though, this metaphor works.  Like a sandwich, it’s made up of several layers that, together, create something really satisfying (no Paleo burgers here). With all the proper ingredients, and attention to detail, your sandwich, I mean *portfolio,* can showcase your enticing skillset. So where do you start—and how do you make your portfolio stand out?


The portfolio is a chance to demonstrate your professionalism—don’t ruin it by showcasing your hard work in a cheap, plastic white binder.

There are a couple alternatives. You could have your portfolio printed and bound—way professional—but that means you’ll need to have it reprinted any time you update it. Instead, I recommend the middle road. Invest in a nice black leather or faux leather binder (I got mine at Office Depot for only $8, and it has a nice magnetic snap on the front to help hold everything in). You can organize and rearrange as you see fit. 

People are known to judge a book by its cover, so let yours be a good one. {click to tweet} First impressions are crucial. 

Your portoflio is like a sandwich.


What’s a sandwich without the mayo, mustard, or, I don’t know, sundried tomato pesto, of your choice? A portfolio that doesn’t include your resume will seem incomplete. Your resume should be front and center, the first thing your interviewer sees when they open up your portfolio. Make sure it’s nicely formatted and easy to read. Always have a couple of copies tucked behind it in your sheet protector, just in case you have multiple interviewers.


If you’re in a creative industry and your resume has a design, make sure that branding is consistent throughout the rest of the portfolio, specifically in the executive summary and table of contents that follow. Your summary should be brief and similar to your elevator pitch.

Your table of contents should list what the viewer can expect to find inside—in order, of course. If you have diverse content, I suggest using tab dividers to categorize it. This is important because your interviewer might only want to touch on certain things in your interview, and waiting for them to find what they're searching for is clumsy and a little awkward. Help 'em out. 


This is the crucial part of your portfolio, the turkey to your Swiss if you will (can’t stop, won’t stop). What you include here depends on your experience, the job you’re applying for, and your industry. You might want to consider including the following: 

Evidence of Numbers—If you work in finance or any industry that deals with data, you’ll want to show off your numbers, potentially in a pie chart or some type of graphic. Work in sales? Include Excel sheets that highlight the revenue you brought into your company. (Bonus: if you made an Excel that documented your revenue progress over the past year, it shows that you’re also proficient in the program.). Work with social media? Take screenshots of analytics from Facebook Insights or Hootsuite. 

Visual Aids—If you’re a graphic designer or website developer, this is a great chance to share your artistry. Take screenshots of the websites you’ve redesigned and include any layouts or collateral you’ve designed. If you’re an architect or interior designer, share your sketches followed by photos of the finished product.

Research—While I don’t recommend including all of your research because it can get a little lengthy, I do suggest highlighting the best portions. This one definitely won’t apply to everyone, but can range from a snapshot of quantitative research, to an excerpt of your findings from a study, to a sample of a survey you created for primary research as a PR pro.

Campaigns—Evidence of any campaigns you’ve worked is great to include if you’re a public relations, marketing, or advertising professional. They’ll most likely come up in your interview, and proof of an ad you created at your last agency will help you discuss why you created it the way you did, and how you adapted it for different platforms.

Writing—This doesn’t just go for writers or editors. I personally think writing is a requirement for any job—even if you work in finance, you’re still writing reports or emails, aren’t you? Proper grammar isn’t just important—it’s your professional tone. If you’ve got a writing sample, show it off. For the writers and editors out there, make sure your samples reflect a range of voice and function; separate your work by web, print, news, etc. (However, if the position you’re interviewing for is geared toward a certain type of content, such as career articles, it’s okay to focus on highlighting the career articles you’ve written to show how great of a fit you’d be.) The same applies for those who work in public relations; separate your press releases, articles, pitches, etc. Which leads me to...

Collateral—Brochures, flyers, fact sheets, client lists, newsletters, etc. These are a must for any integrated marketing or public relations professional. Also a must for the PR contessas out there are… 

The portfolio is a chance to demonstrate your professionalism—don’t ruin it by showcasing your hard work in a cheap, plastic white binder.

Placements—If you’ve landed any placements, whether in a magazine or on the web, be sure to include them!

Digital or Audio—Just because this is a physical portfolio, doesn’t mean you can’t include digital items. This could include broadcast or online video you’ve produced or edited, or a live reel if you’re a newscaster. In addition to a CD, include a few screenshots to help you describe the skills involved.

Social Media—This isn’t just for the social media managers, it’s for all communications professionals. Social media is becoming more of a collaborative effort in the field, whether you’re an anchor branding yourself and sharing your livecasts or a writer sharing your stories. Take screenshots of your posts, including the images, to show employers how you can create “click-bait” for them.

Again, this list will change depending on your field. If you’re a teacher, you might want to include a lesson plan, for example. Or if you’re an engineer, you might want to include sketches. 

Remember to include a brief description of each piece, including the objective and result, so the interviewer knows what they’re looking at. Some like to include this on the same page as the piece, on the opposite side, or like me, in a table of contents that comes before each new category.


Some people like their sandwiches plain—and that’s OK. If your work samples set the tone on their own, take a step back. But some people like to throw in a little. Depending on your industry, you might also want to consider including:

Awards—Employee of the year, anyone?

Letters of reference—Let employers read firsthand how previous employers have benefited from your greatness.

A list of professional affiliations—There’s nothing better than a well-rounded individual, right? This will be particularly beneficial when it's related to your field, ex: you’re on the board of the Retail Association and you’re a buyer.

Licenses or certifications—Employers love to see that you’re continuing to hone your skills and knowledge, particularly if it's on your own time; it shows you’re willing to learn.

Transcripts—This one might be for more technical or science-related fields, such as engineering or nursing.

Summary of skills—Why not bring the point home? 


No matter what your portfolio consists of, there are two things you should always keep in mind: 

  1. Quality > Quantity—Even if it looks a little lean, refrain from the temptation to fill your portfolio with less than stellar items. Only include your favorite work. If you have to question whether or not you should include it, the answer is no. Less is more. {click to tweet}
  2. Make sure your portfolio is ready-to-go—There’s nothing worse than rushing to put your portfolio together days before an interview; it only cuts into your prep time. Sure, it might need a few tweaks depending on the position you’re interviewing for, but you should continue to add to your portfolio as you produce work you’re proud of.
Only include your favorite work. If you have to question whether or not you should include it, the answer is no. Less is more.


So now that your portfolio is completed, how do you work it into your interview? Some employers might ask to see it—easy! If they don’t, next time you’re asked a question you can illustrate with a sample. Try saying something along the lines of:

“I actually have a great example of this in my portfolio. Could I show you?" 

Some might say no. That’s completely fine; continue to illustrate your point with words instead. If they say yes, make sure you’re ready to point out specific parts of your sample and explain how and why you created the piece, including its goal and outcome.

Keep in mind employers probably won’t have the time to look through your whole portfolio, so have a few key pieces in mind to show them ahead of time. Besides, that’s why you should also have an online portfolio. Make sure the address for it is visible somewhere in your portfolio (I suggest the resume or summary), and don’t forget to send them a link in your follow-up note. That way, they can go through it at their leisure, or look at what they didn’t have time for during your interview.

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Do you bring an online portfolio to your interviews? Tell us about how you use it below.