How to Create Your Own Web Portfolio and Get a Great Job
Earlier this week we showed you why learning WordPress is a great career move for students. If you didn’t read the article, we show how using WordPress to create your own website helps you develop job skills that employers value.
So if you’re following along, here’s the next step: make a web portfolio. This is great for students who are starting their job search. But it also applies to anyone looking for a job who doesn’t have a personal website yet.
Recruiters spend about six seconds reviewing your application before they decide to take the next step. And 53% of hiring managers expect to see a web portfolio, while only 7% of applicants actually have one.
Creating a solid website to market yourself is a necessity these days. Plus there are a lot of advantages. To name a few:
- A well-designed site shows your work ethic and good taste.
- Websites make it easier to access and read your information.
- Just having a website makes you stand out from the crowd (you’ll be one of the 7%).
- Webpages give you more space for content (a one page resume can only hold so much info).
- You can compile all your info and resources (project examples, pdf resumé) in one place.
So why not give it a shot? The worst-case scenario? You’ll learn a bunch of stuff and create an online presence. Here’s how to build a personal web portfolio with WordPress in 3 steps.
Step 1 – Build Your Website with WordPress
While you can use a site-builder platform, such as Wix or Squarespace, we strongly recommend WordPress. The WordPress community is infinite and the platform offers more flexibility. You want to change themes? No problem. Add a function? There’s a free plugin for just about any purpose. Bottom line: WordPress is the long-term solution because of it’s flexibility and support. Plus you’ll learn a lot more.
Choose a Domain Name and Hosting Service
When you build your own site, you’ll need to find a domain name and hosting service. Your domain name is like an address, and the host is like a house. MOJO Marketplace is partnered with hosting brands, such as bluehost and Hostgator. They’re all great, but bluehost is especially great for WordPress users. It’s up to you, but I personally love doing it all right from bluehost, so I’ll show you how that works.
For a personal website or portfolio of your work, it’s best to choose a domain with your name in it. Why? Well, it’s about as clear as it gets, fairly short, and easy to remember. But also, having your name in the domain gives you some control over what comes up when people search your name on the internet.
Once you create an account, you can search for domains in bluehost. If yourname.com isn’t available, you have a couple options. One, you can use a different Top Level Domain, or TLD. (That’s the “.com” part of the URL). For instance, if you do video work, yourname.tv could be a good choice. Alternatively, you could add your expertise to the url–yournameillustration.com or yournameaccounting.com.
Install WordPress to Your Domain (with One Click)
When you sign up with bluehost’s hosting plan, you’ll get a free domain and one-click WordPress installation. This takes a lot of the confusing work out of buying a domain, pointing it to a host, and uploading WordPress to the cPanel. (If that sentence makes no sense to you right now, don’t worry, that’s why I’m suggesting bluehost). All you have to do is click this button in your cPanel.
Choose a WordPress Theme for Your Portfolio
Choosing a WordPress theme might be the hardest part of this whole process. There are too many quality themes to choose from, and it really comes down to personal preference once you start using the theme.
There are free themes and premium themes. Free themes are great, but they lack a lot of the features premium themes offer, such as drag-n-drop page builders, high-quality demos (a pre-configured site you can import and add your content to), and options in the visual customizer.
For a personal website, you want either a portfolio-specific theme or an all-purpose theme that you can customize to your liking.
For example, the theme we use for the MOJO blog, Highend, offers a ton of customization options right from the WordPress dashboard. You can change the layout, choose different headers and menus, set up logos for different types of screens, and much more. Here are just a couple of the options out of a huge list. (You also don’t have to mess with the options if you use default settings or import a demo).
At the minimum, if you want your website to stand apart from the crowd, so your theme should allow you to customize the following:
- Navigation style
Also, there aren’t too many of them out there anymore, but don’t mess with a theme that isn’t responsive. People access the web from all sorts of devices, so you need your website to account for that.
Step 2 – Install and Customize Your Theme
When you install WordPress, you’ll receive an email with login credentials (you can change them in the general settings tab of the WordPress dashboard). You can always access your dashboard by typing “yourdomain.com/wp-admin” into your browser. This will open the login prompt.
Once you’re inside, you can install your theme by going to Appearance > Themes, clicking upload, then upload theme, and finally click “choose file” and locate the .zip file for your theme.
Click through the steps to install your theme
Once you’ve installed your theme, you can play with it and see if it gets you where you want to go. A couple tips:
- Use the theme’s documentation to help you make progress. Here’s an example from Highend’s documentation.
- Try the theme test-drive plugin to test out multiple themes without changing the current one (useful if you’re updating the theme for a website you’ve already built and have driven traffic to).
- Be patient–it’s hard, but there is a fast learning curve–and get help if you need it.
- You don’t have to (obvi) but if your purchase a theme from MOJO, you can swap it out for one of equal value if it doesn’t work for you.
Customizing a WordPress Theme
Before you dive in and start working your magic, make sure you have some idea of what content your putting on the site. We’ll go into detail on this in a moment, but for now here’s a list of stuff you’ll want to include. Just so you can start imagining how you want employers to experience your site. In other words, what information are you including, what order is it presented in, and how is it presented?
- Home page
- Description or bio
- Work experience
- Contact link or info
- Resources (like a pdf resume)
Depending on the features of your WordPress theme, you can customize certain aspects from the dashboard, and others from the visual customizer. Just click Appearance > Customize and you’ll see all the options in this panel.
Here, most themes allow you to alter the site identity, menus, add widgets, and more. As you can see, Highend gives you color customization options right here, so you can give the site your own feel. However, all of the general layout settings for Highend are accessed through the dashboard under a tab labeled Highend.
Check your theme’s documentation and search Google and YouTube for answers. Every theme works a little different, but as long as the options are there, you’ll be able to adjust things the way you like.
Step 3 – Create Your Pages
For this next step, I recommend creating pages for each category of content you include. You don’t by any means have to do it this way. You can create a cool one page website, or combine it all together like a standard resumé. Whatever you do, just make sure it’s clear and functional, and represents your work well.
To have the best control of your layout and opportunity to make it more unique, I recommend using a theme that has Visual Composer or a similar page building plugin. It’s a lot harder to use the basic WordPress text editor to create compelling page layouts that don’t just look like a standard blog post.
It only takes a few seconds for a recruiter to leave your website. Your homepage is a chance to shine and make them want to stay. In order to do that, you’ll need to sell it.
- Create a logo or choose a photo of yourself that can represent your personal brand. Here’s a free tool that lets you combine shapes, icons, and text to create a logo. And there’s a free alternative to Photoshop you can use to edit photos or create graphics.
- Craft a headline for your website that clearly states who you are and what you do. This can be as simple as your job title, or the task you do best. For example: “Jeremy Winger – Animator” or “Teddy Songer – Compositor.” This should be added to your site identity as well as displayed somewhere on the home page. The site identity can be customized in the visual customizer by clicking Appearance > Customize.
- Write a bio or statement of intent. This is kind of like a two sentence cover letter. Here are some good tips for what to say from The Muse, but make sure it’s straight to the point and voices what you can do, why you do it, and what you’re looking for. It’s good to get inspiration from other people in your field (try Googling your job title and portfolio for good examples).
- Make your navigation clear and present. Each section you should allow the recruiter to easily access and read about you without being overwhelmed or skipping over important details. You can create menus in Appearance > Menus. (Make sure your mobile menu works just as well as the desktop version, too.)
This part will be a lot like the experience section of a resumé, but cooler. Because you have more space, you can do more with it. Try including images, icons, or whatever your inspiration tells you to do. Here are some tips:
- Take a close look at job descriptions and try to imagine how your experience makes you a good fit.
- As you list what you did at each job or in school, try to align your experience with the skills and requirements from the job descriptions.
- Identify goals and denote the results.
- Use power words like created, achieved, improved, resolved, and mentored.
- Follow this excellent guide from Uptowork on tailoring your resumé to fit a job description (very useful research and tips for using keywords and selling your skills).
I think this section is optional, so it’s up to you. For example, many designers will list their proficiencies in design softwares (often using a visual representation like a progress bar or stars). However, I think that the more effective strategy is to demonstrate your skills by showing what you accomplished with the software in the experience section.
This is especially important for students, and if you don’t have much job experience yet, this will be your touchstone.
- List your university(s) and the dates you attended (sometimes it’s a good idea to list your GPA).
- If there are courses you took that are especially relevant to your job search, list them here and include a portfolio link or download for projects you completed.
- Display any honors or awards you earned. This is also a good opportunity to explain how you earned them.
- Discuss classes you taught, how you planned the curriculum, and what the results were.
- Also, this is where you can talk about clubs or organizations you’re a part of. Describe your role and the impact you’ve made in each.
Many themes (especially portfolio-specific designs) feature a portfolio element. For example, the Highend theme has a portfolio tab in the dashboard where you can configure portfolio items and categories.
After you add your portfolio items, you can create a portfolio page (or multiple if you have different categories of work you want to showcase). The way it works with most themes is you create a page and change the template from default to portfolio (as you can see to the right). You can then assign this page to be your home page (if that’s what you want) or add it to your navigation menu as a custom link.
Include images, links, and downloads for each project and clearly describe the goals, how you approached the project, the results you achieved, and what you learned.
Contact forms are a subtle but important addition to your portfolio site. There are handfuls of WordPress plugins that add this functionality, and some themes come with contact functions already built in. It may not be used very often, but if someone lands on your site and wants to connect, it’s a nice feature.
The other advantage is you don’t have to put up any information for spammers–they have to contact you first. Here are a few plugins you can explore. Choose one you like. And remember, you can connect your site email (firstname.lastname@example.org) which can be configured in your hosting cPanel.
It’s a good idea to include a page of resources. You can include a link to this page in the footer of your site, using widgets. As shown to the left, you can add a text widget that includes a link in the footer area (most themes have this ability or an alternative widget area). Include important stuff like your resume and project downloads or links to publications, websites, or organizations you’re a part of.
There’s no doubt that creating a portfolio and personal website is hard and time-consuming. I know that at the end of the work day, I’m hard-pressed to put in more hours representing the work that I’ve already done. But I can assure you, it pays off. And reading, rereading, rereading, and rereading the content you make is important. You want to avoid any kind of typos or errors if possible.
Also, using WordPress is easy compared to building a site from scratch. But it’s hard. It takes grit and patience. So, I’ve provided a list of resources below to help you through the process. Enjoy, and please share your work with us in the comments below or on our social media channels. And ask questions. We’re not perfect, but we want to help. Thanks for reading!