Creating an online portfolio: the essential tools and resources

Newcomers to the Job Hacking blog will quickly realize that the central theme of what we focus on revolves around using an online portfolio to showcase your talents and skills, and integrating modern web analytics techniques to track and analyze data that helps us optimize our job applications. So far we’ve discussed the analytics side of things in some detail, including using UTM trackers to capture visits to your portfolio, how to segment that data, and using A/B tests to uncover the insights you need. This blog post will wind back the clock and start at step one by looking at the most common ways to create an online portfolio if you don’t already have one, or are looking to improve what you’re currently using.

Whatever type of work you’re looking for, an online portfolio is a great way to share your projects and talents with prospective employers. My immediate reaction to the word ‘portfolio’ involves images of starved art students dragging spattered canvases across a freezing city (it’s always winter at art school) and trying to trade their oil paints for cheap rolling tobacco and rusty cans of Chef Boyardee. However, those more enlightened than me have pointed out that a portfolio is really just a showcase of someone’s work, whether that be an engineering grad project, a custom designed database, an article that you published, or your collection of Calder inspired wireframe figures made from discarded coat hangars that represent man’s fragility in the face of an uncaring corporate enterprise. In short, any piece of work that you produce that showcases your talents can and should be considered as viable material for sharing.

Not all of us (including me) are professional computer programmers or web savvy enough to create an online portfolio, but the good news is that there are many options out there, ranging from easy to more challenging, for anyone who wants to learn how! Based on the old saying “Good, fast, cheap: pick two”, here are your options:

1. The easy and quick way of creating an online portfolio

Pay someone to do it for you. If time is of the essence and you don’t have any interest in learning how to code, there are plenty of paid services that will make the process quick and painless. The one I like best is Format, partly because their team is based in Toronto and I like to support local businesses, but mainly because all of their portfolios are dynamic (will display equally well on mobiles, tablets and desktops), fully customizable, and most importantly has Google Analytics and Webmaster tools support for all your data gathering needs.

Shut up and take my money picture

There’s no shame in this, if you can afford it.

If you want to shop around, 10 seconds of Googling “online portfolio builder” will give you hundreds of other options. Just make sure that whatever service you choose has analytics support built in, preferably Google Analytics, otherwise you won’t be able to practice any of the Job Hacking tips and leverage insights and exciting data.

2. The easy and cheap way of creating an online portfolio

For minimal effort, WordPress is the best way of creating a portfolio. WordPress.com will give you free hosting and a bunch of templates that you can access and easily customize without knowing a single line of code. This blog is built on WordPress and is currently running on the Sorbet theme, but there are plenty of responsive portfolio themed templates available for free that will let you upload and showcase your work effectively without it looking like a blog. WordPress also has built in analytics dashboards, and can also be integrated with Google Analytics with a bit of tweaking. If you are in any kind of communications, public relations or marketing field, WordPress has also become the de facto website/blogging service for many companies and organizations, so knowing how to use the platform would be a great skill to add to your resume.

Purity WordPress theme picture

Example of a portfolio built on WordPress

A word of warning: the customization options for the free version of WordPress are limited, and if you are picky about changing your template to have a certain look or functionality you may have to pay for their Premium package in order to make your portfolio look exactly how you want. Do your research before moving ahead, and take a good look at their plans in order to get the best choice for you.

3. The slow, cheap (and best) way of creating an online portfolio

Build one from scratch. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, even if you’ve never coded in your life! If you’re a complete newb like I was, I can’t recommend Treehouse Learning highly enough. They offer a Web Design course that teaches you absolutely everything you need to know about HTML and CSS programming, and by the end of the course you have built an online portfolio (from scratch!) that can be uploaded to the web immediately. They do charge a monthly subscription fee, but offer a free two-week trial which is long enough to complete the web design course if you’re serious about finishing it. It took me 10 days to get my first portfolio finished, but I was so happy with their courses that I decided to become a paying customer once the 14 day free trial expired.

For those who have some basic HTML skills and are just looking for a quick refresher, Codecademy is a free service that offers interactive coding lessons designed for beginners and experts alike. With the release of HTML5 and CSS3 there have been a lot of changes in web design technology and best practices, and Codecademy is a great way to quickly get up to speed with the latest updates.

Time permitting, this is the method I recommend to most people and the one I used myself in creating my portfolio. Apart from the benefit of having complete control over how your site looks and feels, basic programming is a great skill to have in almost every field out there. With more of our socializing, buying habits and entertainment sources shifting online, knowing the basics of how a web page is built and functions will give you a huge advantage in the job market. If you’re not sure whether coding is for you, sign up for a free account with Codecademy and start their HTML/CSS track. Once you feel things are going well, switching to Treehouse will ensure that you not only know how to code, but have all the tools for getting your website online.

Just remember to stick the Google Analytics tracking code into the <head> of all of your pages, otherwise you’ll miss out on a lot of juicy data.

What types of online portfolios do you like? Share examples of cool portfolios you’ve come across (or built yourself!) in the comments below for inspiration.


Note: I’m in no way affiliated with any of the products or services mentioned here, or anywhere else on the Job Hacking blog. I like to share resources that I have personally found helpful or feel are good value, but always do your own research before paying for any kind of service on the internet.

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