Toot your own Horn with a Career Portfolio, Written by Angie Sokol, Ph.D

I recently had a coaching session with a young female engineer and I asked her what her plans were for career advancement. She replied, “My work will speak for itself.  I will work hard and management will notice.” While doing a good job is fundamental to a promotion, it doesn’t mean management will notice.

In a recent training class in London, the topic came up again. Only this time, the participant asked, “How can introverts be as effective as extroverts at “tooting their own horn” to be noticed for their accomplishments? I recommend putting together a career portfolio.

In my college class, several students told me the career portfolios I made them put together as an assignment landed them a new job. The employers were impressed because no other candidates came to the interview that prepared. This is a wonderful tool to help you communicate your accomplishments for your current position, during a performance review, or to get a new job.

A career portfolio will make you stand out among the competition.  The portfolio is a process that grows along with your skills. Your first portfolio may be thin but with experience and opportunity, you can add to your collection. There is no “one right way” to put together a portfolio.  It is an on-going process.

Portfolios provide proof of what you have accomplished. Consider including the following categories:

  1. Statement of Originality: Include a paragraph stating that the work is yours and it is confidential.
  2. Work Philosophy: Document a “philosophy” of your approach. Are you quality focused? Are relationships important to you? Do you want and get results? This paragraph should describe your work values and beliefs for yourself and the industry. If you are not comfortable with a work philosophy, you might include your career objective showing how it specifically relates to the job you want.
  3. Career Goals: Always update your career goals and skills to address the job description. Research shows that when goals are written, they are more likely to be achieved. Put goals in writing and add them to your portfolio. Your employer will probably ask you where you see yourself in 5 years.  Document specific things you want to accomplish. Make sure each goal is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timed (SMART). It is important that you communicate clear direct goals in an interview or performance review.
  4. Work Samples: Provide the specific objectives and results of projects. This would be a good place to highlight both individual and team accomplishments.  Remember to include virtual team success. This is a growing trend and employers like to know you have experience in this area. Be sure to give concrete examples of successful results.
  5. Proof of Skills: Include different tabs or pages on what you want to highlight about yourself. Technological skills and training examples are both good things to include in a portfolio. Don’t toss your certificates after training. File them in your portfolio. It is proof that you are continually trying to improve. Any relevant coursework or projects, which highlight a skill, can be used to support your claim. Another consideration may be to include a checklist of skills.
  6. Letters of Recommendation: Ask a current boss, instructor or someone you respect in your field to write a letter of recommendation for you.  Ask them not to date it so you can re-use it when applying for a job.  It doesn’t hurt to have more than one. File it in your portfolio.
  7. Transcripts of Grades: If you were a good student, you may want to include your transcripts. Transcripts document courses taken and imply competency so even if you were not at the top of your class, you still may want to include transcripts in your portfolio.
  8. Certifications, Degrees, and Awards: Certifications, degrees and awards give you credibility. You generally have to pass a test to show your competency. They give you a competitive advantage. Certifications typically involve a set number of hours in training each year to keep the certification. Be sure to document the training as well.
  9. Professional Development: If your employer requires training or professional development, be sure whatever courses you take are documented in your portfolio. Training and other learning experiences (reading a book, writing a blog, giving a presentation or lecture, teaching a class, etc.) all count.
  10. Community Service: Employers like employees who are well rounded and involved in the community. Be sure to get a certificate or letter for doing community service so you can document it in your portfolio.
  11. Professional Memberships: Professional memberships are a great way to build your network and gain knowledge in your field. Document any memberships at the national, regional or local level.


Career portfolios can be done in hard copy or electronically. I recommend you develop both versions. Electronic portfolios posted on a website allow you to share the link so others can get immediate access to your information. It will make you stand out from the “pile” of resumes employers receive. Portfolios should be used along with your resume and cover letter. They are not a substitute.  You may think your work speaks for itself, but putting together a portfolio to “toot your own horn” will set you apart from the competition.


  1. Power Your Career: The Art of Tactful Self-Promotion at Work, by Richard Dodson and Nancy Burke