Career Tips

Young Alumni Job Search Part VI: Portfolios & Work Samples

By Dave Isbell and Kim Medlock

During a time of personal branding and persistent social media, there has been a growing prevalence of the personal professional website (also known as the online portfolio). It allows employers to quickly and easily view a showcase of your work, your ability, and your potential.

With social networking redefining the ways employers learn more about who you are and what you can do, it’s also important to remember that your online activity shapes your portfolio as well. Make sure you’re using it to your advantage and sending the right messages through your Linkedin and other professional social networking tools.

When considering where to start with building a portfolio, check out Smashing magazine and their universal tips for building an online portfolio.

Online portfolios are available in a multitude of providers and communities. Take the time to examine some of the following, considering where your personality and job ambitions may fit, before starting the work on your own

The Behance Network (great for graphic designers, artists, and creative ad)

Coroflot (for all things visual)

CarbonMade (universal for all professions; works well if you are less experienced in web design or would like to stay away from more specific communities) For those who do not have a great deal of web design experience, Weebly provides a free hosting and clear instruction for the creation of up to two personal web pages (you can pay additional fees to license custom web addresses)

Sharing Work Samples:

“What work samples?” Deciding what to send to potential employers

  • Work samples should be brief, clear, and comprehensive material to prove you possess the major skills required for the position.
  •  They should be self-explanatory, but also annotated when possible (you will likely not be present to answer questions about your work when employers review) 
  • Select pieces you already have (unless the job requests fresh or new pieces) that suit the position. If it is for PR, submit a press release. The more applicable a sample is to the specific job, the better. 
  • Often, employers are simply searching for proof of your ability to write well. 
  • Before you begin the job search process, you should be prepared to provide at least three samples. Keep a collection on hard, in universal (pdf, rtf) format or hard copy (when submitting material by mail).

Like all of your other job search tools, it is important to have the right ones, but it is most important how you use them! What you put on paper/online is important. But YOU have to be a living document that is constantly evolving. Keep looking for ways to add to the story that you are telling about yourself by staying involved in work/projects/hobbies and other activities that will help you to sharpen your skills, develop your character, build strong collaborative relationships, and get your message out to those who need to read/hear it!


Dave Isbell is the Alumni Career Service Coordinator at Michigan State University. He has been a Career Coach since 1999. He is also pursuing a Master’s in Social Work/Family Studies at MSU.  When he is not working or studying, he is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and kids, or playing rock music on his bass guitar. You can find him on Twitter (@helpingspartans) and sometimes he writes about compassion, collaboration, and career for this blog, which he owns and begs other Spartans to write for.

Kim Medlock is a Michigan State University alumnae with degrees in Professional Writing and English. She works as a marketing writer by day, but fancies herself a creative writer by weekend. As a Lansing native who has always preferred writing as an artistic medium — she remains passionately in love with both of these things. 


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