ATD Blog

Using a Career Portfolio

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A professional portfolio is a career development tool that can be used for a number of purposes. Most people think of portfolios as a way to demonstrate their abilities to employers and potential employers. Like a résumé, there is no one right way to create a career portfolio. There are no standard specifications, but there are strategies and approaches that separate good portfolios from bad ones. A person with a well-designed and -developed portfolio will stand out when competing for jobs. If all other things are equal in the competition for a job, individuals with a portfolio will win over those who don’t have one.

Types of portfolios 

There are two kinds of portfolios: working portfolios and presentation portfolios. It is important is to know the differences between the two to determine when each should be used. A working portfolio contains all of your portfolio items. Think of it as your portfolio inventory master file.  

A presentation portfolio (sometimes called a showcase portfolio) is what most people think about when they think of professional portfolios. It contains selected items customized for a particular job. For example, you may have a number of presentations relating to instructional design. However, if you are applying for a job that focuses on instructional design within the context of e-learning, you should choose portfolio items that reflect your work in e-learning.  

Basic portfolio elements

There are basic elements that should be included in every portfolio. Portfolios are a reflection of an individual; therefore, portfolios should be tailored to the individual career goals of each person. Accordingly, each portfolio and its contents will be different. A basic career portfolio for learning and performance professionals may include (in the following order):

  • table of contents
  • brief biography and contact information
  • career goals and objectives
  • résumé, highlighting competencies andachievements
  • list of references, including names, titles, and contact information
  • client list (if appropriate)
  • employee evaluations or other measure of your performance
  • five to six artifacts of your work. 

Understanding artifacts 


Artifacts are actual work examples that demonstrate or corroborate knowledge that you have, a skill that you possess, or a personal competency you demonstrate. Artifacts can be in a number of formats, such as electronic files (documents, PowerPoint slides), multimedia products, paper (hardcopy), video and audio, or websites (that you created or that contain your work).  

For a learning and performance professional, some artifacts could include

  • course or curriculum you have taught, designed, or developed
  • e-learning modules you created
  • course surveys or evaluations
  • videos to demonstrate training delivery
  • job aids
  • reports, memos, or any other evidence that documents competencies.

If you have a specific job in mind, the artifact selection process should follow these five steps: 

  1. Identify the job competencies from the job description.
  2. Identify the issues or challenges that the organization may have.
  3. Identify your own competencies from your working portfolio.
  4. Match your competencies to those needed by the job.
  5. Organize the selected artifacts in your presentation portfolio by competency. 

Presenting your portfolio  

Your portfolio is a career tool. It won’t do you any good unless you know how to use it properly. Just like your résumé, you need to be familiar with the content. In an interview, you should be able to talk about your accomplishments by using artifacts in your portfolio. This means you have to practice your portfolio artifact presentations. Ideally you should be able to discuss your portfolio without having it right in front of you.  

First, you should identify real needs in the organization, and match them with items in your portfolio that can address them. Anticipate the questions interviewers will ask about these needs.  


Second, you need to develop talking points. Craft a response that demonstrates how you have addressed similar needs in the past. Your responses should be short and focused (about one minute long). These mini-presentations should talk about an issue that the organization has, what you did to address similar problems using your competencies (as demonstrated by your artifacts), and what the result was.  

Third, you need to practice. Try role-playing with a colleague or friend. Interviewing is a skill. As with any other skill, you will get better with practice. Your audience will not always be familiar with all aspects of training and learning, so keep your presentation short, simple, and free of jargon.  

A training portfolio gives you the chance to show a complete picture of who you are and what you can do. Given the growth of instructional technology and new media, the training profession is increasingly becoming a field where competencies can be communicated tangibly and visually.


This article is excerpted from Infoline Digital Series, Career Management. which is designed to help you plan and manage your career. It includes five single Infoline issues and a T+D article, which cover professional self-assessment, building career skills, improving your resume and training portfolio, job-searching technologies, social learning competencies for learning professionals and much more!

This collection includes:

  • Assessing Time, Career, and Life Directions
  • Building Career Success Skills
  • Build Your Training Portfolio
  • Tune Up Your Resume
  • Jumpstart Your Job Search
  • Social Learning: A Call To Action
About the Author

Dr. Greg Williams has more than 25 years of experience as a faculty member, instructional designer, project manager, and consultant in education, business, and the federal government. He currently serves as the director of UMBC’s graduate program in instructional systems development, and also teaches in the program, as clinical assistant professor. He served for 10 years as the director of training for Montgomery College’s business industry services, a unit that provides training to external organizations. Contact Greg at

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