A portfolio and a CV aren't the same thing, but they are complementary

Remember college art students lugging around huge black leather folders from one lecture to another? Ever wondered what that folder was? Spoiler alert – it was their portfolios, stuffed full of ideas, drawings, and collages, and used to build up a picture of their work, which would eventually help them get a job. Well, no need for all that lugging around nowadays. Let's take a closer look at the difference between a portfolio and a CV.

The main difference between a portfolio and a CV

In the job-search landscape, there are key differences between a portfolio and a CV. It's fair to say the two are similar in function, as they're both used to showcase a skill set for a prospective role. While the CV provides an overview of qualifications and experience, the portfolio enhances this by providing the evidence.

What is a CV?

Simply put, a CV (short for Curriculum Vitae) is a written overview of your work experience, skills, and qualifications, and is usually an essential component for any job application. It usually stands at two pages long, though there are some exceptions to this, such as a graduate CV, an academic CV, or a medical CV.

The CV structure is flexible, and can be moulded to your unique situation. However, there are some sections that employers expect to see, regardless of your circumstances. They include:

  • Name, professional title, and contact details

  • Personal profile 

  • Key skills

  • Experience and employment history

  • Education and qualifications

Typically, a CV offers an overview of the last 10 years of your employment history as well as your relevant qualifications, along with keywords and key phrases to boost your ats score.

In summary, the perfect CV is a targeted, professional document, no longer than two pages, and designed to sell your skills, abilities, and achievements to potential employers. 

Expert tip: While you might have a generic copy of your CV on file, you should always tailor it to the vacancy at hand when submitting a job application. 

What exactly is a portfolio?

A portfolio, sometimes referred to as a career or professional portfolio, is a collection of work that truly demonstrates your skills and abilities. It often contains samples and tangible evidence, such as drawings, that show what words sometimes can't convey. They are very common in creative roles, such as design and writing, but also in teaching, project management, and technology sectors.

Portfolios are sometimes referred to as creative CVs and, as a result, the portfolio may also include an overview of qualifications and work experience.

A portfolio can come in a physical format (picture those art students again), but nowadays it's more likely to be digital, with some websites even offering portfolio templates. Complementing your CV, portfolio examples vary, from a personal website hosting samples of your work to a content management system such as clippings.me or Dribbble, or a PDF. 

Below are examples of job titles of professionals who would potentially have a portfolio:

  • Architect

  • Artist

  • Copywriter

  • Filmmaker

  • Graphic designer

  • Illustrator

  • Journalist

  • Make-up artist

  • Photographer

  • Videographer

  • Web designer

Notice how most of these jobs display their skills in a visual way, hence why having an up-to-date portfolio is a must.

To summarise, a portfolio contains evidence of your work throughout your career, such as photos, designs, articles, project templates, or lesson plans, and you can include a link to it on your CV. 

Expert tip: The best place to include your portfolio link is as a hyperlink in the contact details section, after the hyperlinks to your email address and LinkedIn page.

Why create a portfolio?

Ultimately, a portfolio and a CV are not the same thing, but the portfolio certainly complements the CV. The famous saying, “A picture paints a thousand words,” shows how much meaning and emotion just one image can convey, as opposed to the written word.

Say you're an accomplished graphic designer, and your CV lists your experience in design roles over the years – the projects you were a major part of, the types of designs you produced, and the software you've used. With all of that experience, it's likely that you would've crafted a strong CV for a graphic design position.

That might be all well and good, using words to describe your style of design or illustrations, but how can a potential employer really get to know your style without seeing your expertise first hand?

If you're keen to seal the deal, a portfolio can come in handy. By including a link to your portfolio, which showcases a collection of your graphic design work, prospective employers will see your talent first-hand, leaving no room for doubt. 

How to create a portfolio

Many of us are familiar with the basics of how to craft a CV, but perhaps less so with creating a professional portfolio. A portfolio can help give you a competitive edge when applying for jobs, as they're an excellent way to show off your skills and abilities. This is especially true for recent graduates or school leavers with little or no work experience, as you can include samples of projects completed during your studies.

See some tips below on how to create one:

  1. Be clear about the objective when looking to create an online portfolio. For example, is its purpose to highlight your best graphic design work or are you showing off your insights on a blog?

  2. Consider the hosting and design. If you haven't created a portfolio before, a hosted content management system is best.

  3. Choose relevant samples of work to include. Aim for between 10 and 20 pieces of your best work, and organise them logically.

  4. Include a biography to showcase any relevant achievements, along with your contact details.

In addition to visually demonstrating your expertise, a portfolio can also provide a great talking point in an interview.

Things to add to your portfolio

Unlike a CV, a professional portfolio is a more fluid document with greater scope for making it special. Sections to add to your portfolio include:

  • A statement of originality – this is a paragraph stating that the work contained within the portfolio has been created by you, and is original, confidential, and private. To stop others taking your images and using them willy-nilly, you should state that no one can share, copy, or duplicate any images without your say so.

  • A mission statement – this lays out your motivation and values within a professional setting, explaining why you love what you do, and why your role is crucial to the industry.

  • A short biog – this describes you, your career path, and your goals, along with those ever important contact details.

  • A career summary – not as detailed as the one on a CV, this should be short, listing your job title, name of the company, and dates, alongside your achievements and experience, plus any qualifications that are relevant. 

Should I put a portfolio on my CV?

You should now understand the difference between a portfolio and a CV. To enhance your chances of securing a position in your chosen field, add a link to your professional portfolio within your CV, so a prospective employer can have a 360 degree view of you as a professional and potential new colleague.

Including details about your portfolio to supplement your CV is a surefire way of strengthening your job application. If you have a basic CV and a portfolio, but aren't sure of the best way to go about linking the two, our professional CV writing service can help. 

This article was originally written by Laura Slingo and has been updated by Elizabeth Openshaw.

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