How to Make a Project Manager Portfolio

In many larger cities, you will find a part of town where there are a number of art galleries. These are places where artists can display their work for all to see…and ideally, purchase. When you walk into these galleries you will be greeted with a place of quiet reflection while you stroll from one painting to the next and admire the work of one or many artists.

This is an ideal location for artists to showcase their talents. I’ve seen this concept work on a “mobile level” for graphic designers in the work environment as well. The first time I met one of my favorite designers was when she walked in with a larger than life portfolio of the best of the best work she had done over the years. We sat there for about an hour as she flipped through page after page of her creative expertise and regaled me with stories behind each one.

Then it hit me…galleries and portfolios don’t need to be limited to the artists or creative amongst us! Why can’t we make a project management portfolio that showcases and highlights our work as well! After all, what we do requires a great deal of artistry in addition to skill, doesn’t it? The following will provide some guidelines you can use on how to make a project management portfolio and display your work for all to see.

What a Project Manager Portfolio Looks Like

If you want to know how to make a project management portfolio, you need to begin with what it looks like. It is a wire coiled book (ideally at least 3” thick, but this will depend upon the amount of experience and examples you have) that include the best of your best work. You want to take this extra step of doing a wire coil and not just GBC Binding or 3-Ring Binder because it takes the perception and professionalism up a notch that shows you are serious about the work that you do as a project manager.

Designing the Cover

The cover can be as simple as your name and any credentials you have (PMP for example) and the word Project Portfolio elegantly placed beneath. Or, you can spend a little time and money and have the cover designed professionally.

Stay away from putting dates or other words on the front cover that will allow the portfolio to become outdated quickly. For example, if you put a date on the cover and 18-24 months past, this will quickly call into question the relevancy and timeliness of the content of the portfolio.

Keeping it Protected

To make the portfolio that much sturdier, include a clear or semi-clear protective sheet on top of the cover. You can still read through this protective cover, but it will keep the cover from getting wrinkled and really adds a nice finishing touch.

Including a Table of Contents

Finally, the inside should include a table of contents put together using the divider tabs that you can find at any office supply location. It can be as few as 6 tabs or as many as you would like depending upon your level of experience. Each tab should highlight a functional area where you can provide examples of your work.

Let’s say you are an expert at Time Management, Communication, Project Planning, and Risk Management. Include these in your table of contents and then include examples that support each area of expertise.

It’s All About “YOU”

By the way, when it comes to how to make a project management portfolio, it doesn’t need to stick to any particular format or methodology of project management. This portfolio is a reflection of YOU and what makes you unique. You could include some elements of project management but then also include a section on Business Analysis, or Effective Meetings, or Problem Solving or any other skill set you would like to highlight.

What Should Be Included in Your Project Manager Portfolio

What should you include in your project management portfolio? Stories. That’s right, stories. You need to begin compiling a list of deliverables, artifacts, and examples that will allow you to tell a story during an interview.

Here’s an example. You may have compiled your own special version of a Lessons Learned spreadsheet. It is based upon your unique experience, history, and exposure to other lessons learned spreadsheets you have worked with over the years. You’ve tweaked, revised, updated and molded this spreadsheet so that it is nothing less than perfect. You now have a story to tell.

Your story should include The Problem, How You Solved It, and The Results. This is how the story would go about the Lessons Learned spreadsheet when you are sitting across from an interviewer.

“We had very similar projects that would run through our shop. The problem was that every time a new project would come in we just seemed to make the same mistakes over and over again. We would look at each other in despair and wonder whether this was the first time we had ever done a project like this before (even though we had done it hundreds of times in the past). 

So, what we did to solve this problem was put together a Lessons Learned spreadsheet that every agreed to update and own. 

Now, this was no ordinary Lessons Learned spreadsheet, it includes [list special features here]. What was the result? We were able to reduce the amount of time it took to get a project done by 30%, which allowed us to do more work in less time and increase our sales by 20%. Not bad for implementing just one little sheet of paper!”

You should have a similar story for every deliverable, report, and the example you have included in your project portfolio.

How to Present Your Project Portfolio

Now that you know how to make a project manager portfolio, how do you present it at an interview? When the time is right and the interviewer asks you a question along the lines of “what type of experience do you have?” you drop this heavy volume of project management goodness on their desk and wait for the heavy thud. This is why you want it to be at least 3” thick! You then flip to the table of contents and ask them what area would they be particularly interested in hearing about.

You have now accomplished two things. First, you know which area they are particularly interested in or where their company needs help. Second, you have taken control of the interview by bringing it into your domain of expertise.

From this point out, you have minimized the one-off questions that may cause you to stumble by not knowing how to respond. The rest, as they say, is history as you entertain them with story after story of how effective you are as a project manager.

Stand Out from the Crowd

By the way, if you go on an interview with just a resume’ and a couple of references…shame on you! Times have changed, the game has changed, and the challenge of making you stand apart from the competition has changed as well. An awesome project portfolio can make all the difference when it comes to getting your next job.

The next time you see an artist’s work on display at a gallery, think to yourself “I can do that!” Get started on your project portfolio today. At the very least start putting a stack of examples of the work you have done in the past together. This will get the process (and your creative juices) flowing and next thing you know you’ll be relishing the heavy thud of your project portfolio as it hits the desk of the interviewer.

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