Kimeldorf Library Portfolio Library Martin Kimeldorf
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Portfolio Creation Tips

The following material summarizes how one might construct a portfolio.
For more detailed advice, please consult:   Portfolio Power   [ ISBN 1-56079-761-4 ]
especially if you want in-depth help in deciding what to put in your portfolio.

Table of Contents

  1. How long should a portfolio be?
    How many pieces or pages should I include?
  2. How long will it take to create a portfolio?
  3. What will it cost to create a portfolio?
  4. The High Tech Alternative
  5. A case study for saving costs and time
  6. The Low Tech alternative is a good place to start
  7. Biography of the author Martin Kimeldorf

How long should a portfolio be?
How many pieces or pages should I include?

Brevity is an art. You only want to take your most impressive work samples to an interview. I generally suggest no more than 10 work samples or artifacts (though, other authors set a higher upper limit). I would rather limit my portfolio to one excellent letter of reference, rather than have it distracted by two less-than-stellar notes. Also, I believe that people will be more inclined to read 10 pages or examine 10 artifacts, as opposed to 25. The lower number will also help keep the costs of printing and reproducing down. It should be pointed out, however, that your larger career portfolio may contain 20 or more items. Just cut down the final product to a 10 page sample of your most employer-relevant artifacts. And, don't forget to include a page with an introduction and table of contents.


How long will it take to create a portfolio?

Like a resume, a portfolio requires an investment of your time. I believe it will take you about 2 weeks to complete the ten steps which go into making a portfolio:

  1. Research the employer or job desired.
  2. Review your collection.
  3. Assemble artifacts or work samples.
  4. Develop a sequence for the artifacts.
  5. Develop captions and titles.
  6. Create an introduction or summary and a table of contents (front matter).
  7. Develop the first draft.
  8. Evaluate your product, get feedback on content and design.
  9. Revise and develop finished draft.
  10. Rehearse using your portfolio.

Once you assemble your first portfolio, you simply add to it or customize it to an employer by revising captions and text. If your portfolio is done on a computer, the revising and updating will take little effort and time.

To manage this task, try doing a piece of the larger task each day. I suggest setting aside two hours a day for a two week period. (Incidentally, a decent resume can take this long as well). If you work with a local copy shop, like Kinkos, you can also expect the following kinds of support:

  • Critique and advice about design.
  • Access to various kinds of software.
  • High resolution printing which can handle color as well as black and white.
  • Access to machines for scanning or turning your work into 35mm film or slides.


    What will it cost to create a portfolio?

    If you are an artist then it may cost you from $100 up to $500 for slides, leather portfolio cases, and other specialized materials. The good news is that a typical job seeker's print portfolio only uses examples or copies from school and work sites. As a result, the non-artist can put together a short print portfolio for $25 to $50. This is figure reflects the costs of paper, binding, copying and perhaps some specialized printing or computer time.


    The High Tech Alternative

    If you choose to craft your entire portfolio on a computer then the computer time and materials will elevate your total costs and time needed. However, once you have a master document on your hard drive, the costs and time for revising and updating will be minimal. Initially, you'll need to access desktop publishing software such as PageMaker, and use scanning devices to turn photos and originals into digital documents. Scanning costs at Kinkos currently run about $9.95 per scan unless you'd rather use an hourly rate and do it yourself for about $60 per hour (for volume scans). The least expensive way is to use the hourly rate. But, come prepared with all of your materials ready to be scanned. An average picture scan takes about 1 to 2 minutes. If you arrive with ready-to-scan materials, you might be able to do 12 pictures in about 30 minutes, for the pro-rated price of about $30. After you scan in the image, go in and reduce the contrast by about 15%. This will help offset the gain in contrast which is caused by most copying machines.


    A case study for saving costs and time

    Let me summarize how I begged and borrowed both ideas and technology to produce my first digital portfolio. I began by identifying the artifacts I wanted to put in my portfolio. These included letters, college transcripts, articles, certificates, and photos. Rather than scan letters and articles completely, I only scanned the photographs and typed in the text. I typed the text because I knew it would print better and I would have greater control over how the text would appear on a page. The other preparatory step included taking about 10 pictures to a friend's house where I was able to scan pictures. If you don't have a friend (with a scanner), you might try a local library or school. At home, I used some of my free software (Adobe Photo Deluxe) to improve the picture quality of an old college transcript picture.

    With the basic ingredients for each portfolio page prepared, I went to work on crafting the descriptive material which would appear on each page. I wrote a headline and caption for each artifact. This was done on my home computer using Microsoft Word.

    I was then ready to create the digital vessel for holding my text and pictures. I designed a portfolio template document in PageMaker. This helped to standardize my display, to insure that headlines, artifacts, and captions appeared in a consistent way throughout the document. It also made it easy to determine where to place things on each page. By slightly modifying my original template, I was able to create a second template for displaying two artifacts on a single page. Then, I copied the single or double-artifact template guides to a given page. It was just a matter of placing the scanned images, headlines, and captions within the template guide lines. Toward the end, making a page went very quickly.

    In the final stage, I printed the portfolio on my 12 year old home computer. I would stand with eagerness at the output tray, waiting to see my work life portrayed in a portfolio! I used these as page proofs to make corrections. Eventually the corrected portfolio was mailed out to friends and experts. Almost everyone enjoyed seeing the document and sent back excellent advice on layout, content, as well as language and typos. When I had the portfolio just the way I wanted it, I converted this document into an Adobe Acrobat PDF. This cut down the 50 megabytes of data to a single, ready-to-print 460 K file which can be read by anyone with a web browser and outputted on any postscript printer. I took this computer file to my local Kinkos and printed the final version on a high resolution printer (600 dpi) for only $5.00 per copy. I kept my print run low because I knew I might want to change things. Finally, I uploaded the PDF version of the file to various web sites.


    The Low Tech alternative is a good place to start

    The best place to start for most people is a simple cut-and-paste paper product. This is the low tech entry point. Begin by writing headlines and text for each portfolio page. Then print these in a word processor or desktop publishing program. Lay out each page with a headline at the top, followed by the work sample. Add your descriptive caption at the bottom of the page. If you place captions by the actual artifact, be consistent and place them on the same side of the artifact. With the paste quickly drying, hand your paper product to the printing person to run off a few copies. Viola! Once you are pleased with your paper product, you (or a person at Kinkos) can always turn it into a digital portfolio.



    Martin Kimeldorf is a teacher and author. He has written several books and articles on the topics of work, leisure, journal writing, community service and portfolios. His student workbook Creating Portfolios For Success in School, Work, and Life ( Free Spirit Press) came out in 1994 and a new work for adults called Portfolio Power, The New Way To Showcase All Your Job Skills and Experiences (Peterson's) was published in 1997. The author can be reached at
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