Class Assignment: Creating an Employment Portfolio

Every semester I have my students create employment portfolios. The assignment serves two purposes: 1) to help students gather their employment documents and best work for discussion during an interview and 2) to provide students a self-check of what they have accomplished compared to what they think they have accomplished during their college careers thus far.

Creating the portfolio is easy. Here are the instructions I provide to my classes. The points assigned in any given semester depend on the other assignments in the class and the weight I wish to give the portfolio toward a student’s course grade.


  • Hard cover three-ring binder in a professional color (e.g., black, burgundy, gray, navy)
  • Sheet protectors
  • Tab dividers that extend beyond the sheet protectors (look specifically for these; not all tab dividers will extend past your sheet protectors)
  • Labels for your tab dividers (usually these come with the tab dividers). You must type the labels.
  • A formatted resume
  • A reference sheet with information on three references
  • A letter of reference from a superior. Do not wait until the last week of class to ask for this.
  • A description of your degree program listing all of the courses required for your major. This is not available on the Internet. You will find printouts of these outside departmental offices.
  • An official transcript.
  • Three writing samples; create descriptions for your samples telling what the sample is; where, when, and why you wrote it; and what skills/abilities the sample shows.
  • Three samples of other work; create descriptions for your samples telling what the sample is; where, when, and why you wrote it; and what skills/abilities the sample shows.
  • Any other awards or certifications (optional)

Assembly of Your Portfolio

  •  Create a title page with your name and a title indicating that this is a professional employment portfolio
  • Create a table of contents
    Note: Your title page and table of contents do not need tab dividers
  •  Put all documents in sheet protectors. You may place two sheets of paper in one protector. Documents longer than 10 pages may be placed in one sheet protector or stored in the back pocket of your binder.
  • Put your documents in your binder in the following order: resume, references, letter of recommendation, transcript, degree program, three writing samples, three other examples, any other awards or certifications
  • Create a title sheet for your writing and work samples describing what the sample is; where, when, and why you wrote it; and what skills/abilities the sample shows.
  • Insert tab dividers between sections, making sure to type your tab labels. Use the labels that come with the dividers, and make sure the tabs extend past the sheet protectors. The labels must fit the tabs.
  • Make sure your portfolio creates a positive, professional first impression.
  • Turn your portfolio in sometime on or before class time on the due date provided in your course schedule.


  • Required materials = 5 points for each item; points are deducted if any materials are of poor quality, contain typos, or are otherwise unprofessional.
  • Assembly = 5 points for each step; points are deducted if the steps are not followed or if they are not followed well and result in an unprofessional appearance.

If students struggle with anything in this assignment, it is how they might use portfolios in an interview. I tell students that they will need to show the portfolio—that an employer is not likely to ask what they’re carrying around in that binder. To help students become comfortable talking about their work, on the day portfolios are due, we have a show-and-tell, where students present their portfolios to a small group. While they are presenting, I visit each group and ask the students questions about their work.

Feedback from alumni, employers, and students has been positive. Most students take pride in their work and turn in portfolios that far exceed my expectations.

I have not assigned electronic portfolios, though we have discussed the benefits of LinkedIn and VisualCV (which is no longer in business) for this purpose. The goal for this assignment is to provide students with something tangible to use in an interview.

If you have used a similar assignment or have experimented with electronic portfolios, please share your experience.

3 thoughts on “Class Assignment: Creating an Employment Portfolio

  1. Hi, McClain~
    Thank you for the link. Great stuff, indeed! What are your students using to create their online portfolios?

    I’d also like to hear about your advanced course. We offer one here for the undergrads and one for the MBA students, so I am interested in learning what you do.


    • Paula – I am creating the assignments and narrative of the advanced course this semester. (It will be required in the Fall 2012 catalog but no one will need it until Spring 2013.) It will be speaking/presentation-intensive and feature units on social media in business, teamwork, and portfolio finalization/presentation. If you are doing anything with these topics in your advanced undergrad or MBA course I would love to see your syllabi.

      As for what 3rd-party tool students will use for their portfolio, I am trying to decide whether I/we want to ‘force’ students to use 1 particular product OR ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ and give students info/support for several products in that market and let them choose for themselves. Part of me says that it will be easier for everyone if I just picked one and required them to use it BUT that might require cooperation/agreement with the provider and I’d rather not go down that road.

      Any advice? I’d be happy to switch over to email if you’d rather do that. Feel free to drop me a line. Thanks again to you and Kathy for such a stimulating and useful blog.


  2. This is great stuff, Paula, and very timely for us at UT-Dallas. Beginning in Fall 2012, we are requiring all of our biz undergraduates to create and maintain their own online professional communication portfolio. It will house similar materials as yours and be a *demonstration* of their skills to employers. As you have suggested, there is a big difference between saying “Yes, I can write clearly” and SHOWING “See, I can write clearly.” This portfolio will be finalized and presented in their senior year when they take our new required advanced bizcom course.

    One reason to do it online is that employers WANT to see that recent biz graduates can use the web and social media in professional and confidence-inspiring ways. Great stuff about this here:

    We have around 1000 undergraduates graduating every year so the logistical challenges of requiring this – and providing out-of class support – are pretty daunting. That’s what makes it fun, though. Thanks again!


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