I see this question pop up fairly often on the various social networks I frequent, so I thought it might be useful to delve into the subject a little deeper than I did in my How to Become a Web Developer post. Back then I suggested you probably want at least five nice sites up and running. This still seems like a good minimum number to me, but of course it can vary depending on just how much work you have to show off.

I'll add my usual disclaimer here, I don't profess to be a recruitment expert, or an employer! I can give advice based on research I've done personally on the subject, but frankly if I had the ability to determine what every single employer is looking for - I'd probably be a very rich man! Having said that, there is also a certain amount of common sense that can be applied, which should get you a long way to satisfying the needs of most people trying to find out about you.

The keen eyed (and painfully honest) ones amongst you will also notice my own portfolio isn't quite up to scratch. I'll have to follow my own advice when this post is finished, so hopefully it'll help me just as much as any of you.

Just What Do I Add To My Portfolio?

Your portfolio is your way of selling yourself to employers. Most people don't want to simply barge into an office and instruct the boss to "Hire me or else". It tends not to end well, even if the attending Police officers do sympathise with your fruitless job hunting.

Your first point of contact with potential employers is your portfolio, so you need to make sure it perfectly represents you, and what you can do.

A Little About You

Nice and easy, just write a little introduction to help people get to know you. People are looking for that personal connection, if you can include a photo of yourself, even better. Ask yourself, if you had the choice between two people - one of whom just posted up projects with a boring "This is what I did", and one of whom also provided a friendly photo of themselves with a short, enthusiastic description of who they are and what they're all about, who would you choose?

Your Skills

Don't just expect people to know immediately from looking at your projects what you can do. Tell them.

A Copy Of Your CV

For some people a link to your portfolio website will be enough, others may need a hard copy of your CV to print out and use. Give them the option to do that.

Previous Client Work

Don't have any? Don't worry, we'll get to that in a sec.

If you've already done previous work for actual clients, fantastic! This is the cream of the crop really, as it demonstrates that you've already worked professionally with other parties. You have a proven track record. Extra brownie points if you can get hold of a testimonial or two from those satisfied customers (you did satisfy them, right?). This can help reassure people that you're a safe bet and they may be more likely to take things further and initiate contact.

An important point to mention here - please don't include projects you've worked on during your everyday employment, unless you've had express permission to do so from the boss. Personally I've now created a heap of sites that have been delivered and are in use in the wild, but officially those websites have been created by the company I work for, regardless of whether or not I personally developed them. What I have done on my portfolio page is simply add one entry explaining that I've been working on projects for my employer, with a link to the projects section of the company website. You're demonstrating that you're actively doing development work daily in your job, without taking personal credit for it. People can continue to your company's website and view the projects there if they wish.

Personal projects

Not everyone has already done work personally for clients. I actually fall into this category myself right now. That doesn't mean I have to just live with a completely blank portfolio. You can get creative and fill it with some of your personal projects. Personal development projects that is... don't just assume Mr. Future Boss will appreciate the life-size replica of the Millennium Falcon you built in your garden.

Why not create a fictional company in the business sector you're targeting, and develop a website for them? Sure, you won't have a happy client to deliver it to at the end of the project, but you'll certainly have a happy portfolio because you can use it as an example of the amazing work you can do! Get a few of these up and you begin to show off your skills. If you can, get some variety in there so you're not just repeating yourself - you don't want to have two virtually identical websites except for the colour scheme for example.

You can also canvas friends and family to see if any of them require a website for some reason! This gives you an actual project with a clear end goal for you to work towards. And as a double bonus, you're helping out someone you love. Don't get too sentimental though. Make them pay you in beer or sexual favours. Not your family, unless you're into that. Hey, I'm not judging...

You don't just have to include completed websites, you could also add smaller apps or bits of code you've been playing around with to get some funky new functionality working. Anything you're proud of, or you think will impress people when they see it, why not put it on there?

It's also well worthwhile linking your projects to the source code on GitHub. If you don't already use Git and GitHub, you most definitely should. I've previously written an easy to understand introduction to Git and GitHub which should get you up to speed.

To begin with, while you're still building up your portfolio, you will probably want to include all of your work. As time goes on, and your skills start to improve, or things start to look a little cluttered - you can begin to prune away and remove some of the less impressive stuff. Eventually you want your portfolio to demonstrate the very best of what you can do.

Ideally, you also want it to include work that is relevant to where you want to be headed in your career. For example, up until now you may have been concentrating on the front-end, in order to get a solid foundation in web development before expanding your skillset (commendable, and commonly done). You now think you want to progress to the back-end side of things. A portfolio demonstrating your front-end skills may not be so useful to you anymore. Begin to populate it with more back-end focussed projects and you start to immediately demonstrate your intentions.

Contact Information

Probably a given, but I'll add it anyway. What point is there doing all this hard work if the people you're trying to impress can't get in touch with you? Give as many options as possible: contact form, social media links, email address etc. Make it easy for people to reach you. And most importantly, check your accounts regularly! Don't let it be two weeks before you realise someone contacted you about a potential job.

I hope this gives some inspiration for ways to start populating your portfolio. Remember everyone has to start somewhere, so go ahead and get your work out there.

Do you have any great ideas for projects you could work on to give your portfolio a boost? Let me know in the comments below!