Thinking About a Portfolio Site?

I get asked pretty regularly by people about how to go about building a portfolio site. My controversial answer is, “Don’t.” What I want to talk about today is why I recommend limiting your time making a portfolio site and using that time on other things.

Time Investment

My primary reason for telling people to limit or avoid building a portfolio site is to consider all the items they want to apply to jobs. Here’s a pretty common list of things people are trying to prepare:

  • Resume
  • Cover Letter
  • Portfolio Site
  • LinkedIn and endorsements
  • GitHub activity

Let us look at the same things from the lens of how much time it takes to get these items to a point where they don’t hurt your chances of getting a job.

Item Time Scale
Resume hours-days
Cover Letter minutes-hours
Portfolio Site weeks-months
LinkedIn weeks-months
GitHub weeks-months

When it comes right down to it, a lot of these items are massive time investments, and their purpose is fulfilled when you get a call for an interview. More than likely, the time you want to spend on building a portfolio could is better spent doing mock interviews, working your networks, or polishing your resume.

When Do People Look Anyway?

So you want to build some awesome GitHub projects to show you’ve got the right stuff. It’ll take some time to get the first one done, but you want more than one to show you’ve got more to offer than, well, one thing.

You send an application into a job, and people review it. When do they look at your GitHub projects?

They look after they read your resume.

Everyone I’ve talked to sees your resume first. That means that hiring folks are deciding based on your resume to spend one second more on you. If your resume convinces them to look a little longer, that’s when they might look at your code or portfolio.

Look at it another way. Conceptually they’ve already said, “Yes,” to you because of your resume. Now, you could quickly turn that into a, “No” by putting a jarring portfolio site full of errors or showing GitHub projects that offend that company’s sense of quality. But you could also make that “Yes,” louder with a few complete projects and an elegant portfolio.

So, if you think that your portfolio site is doing the heavy lifting, you might be surprised to find out they were mentally accepting you based on the strength of your resume or a personal recommendation first.

So What Are They For?

I started the article with a firm stance of not building these extra items, but I want to end with where I see value in portfolios.

When you’re starting your career, you don’t have a lot of experience to prove to people you have what it takes. A clean portfolio, GitHub projects, and those other items help with that doubt. Once you have some experience, those things become less important, but companies want to know you can do the job in the beginning. That’s where these items shine.

Remember how much of your time you have to give to these things to get them in the condition people will realize you’re ready. Remember, they look at those things because they’ve already given you a mental thumbs up from a recommendation or resume. What you’re after with these other things is a stronger conviction to bring you in.