Building a portfolio as a recent tech graduate

Building a portfolio as a recent tech graduate


When I first decided to create this website, I scoured many tech blogs and portfolios to get inspiration. Unfortunately, it became abundantly clear that even though I probably could design my website with the same quality as theirs, I just didn’t have the experience or testimonials that they had.

And the thing is nobody wants to hire you without said experience or testimonials. Its similar to the problem faced by many graduates looking to get hired. How can you get experience when nobody will hire you without any? Well lucky for you, I have some tips on building a portfolio as a recent tech graduate.

1. Create a personal website

When it comes to developing an online presence, creating and developing an online portfolio is a must. Its the best way for anyone looking to get hired to create a personal brand. It lets people know exactly who you are, what your skills are, what you do and who you would like to work with.

I started thinking about creating a personal website as soon as I graduated from university but unfortunately, as I scoured the websites of other techies, I got discouraged by my inadequate skill-set in comparison to theirs. This made me put off creating my website for many months.

Don't let the more experienced demotivate you. Let them inspire you. Click To Tweet

One thing that is important to remember is that most of these developers have been in the business for a couple years and they have had lots of time to build their portfolios but rest assured that when they started out, they started out small as well.

According to an article by Forbes that references Workfolio, 56 percent of all hiring managers are more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool – however, only 7 percent of job seekers actually have a personal website.

2. Volunteer

OK the truth is, no matter how strong and well rounded your skills are, nobody is interested in someone who has no completed projects on their portfolio. The most guaranteed way of getting projects is to volunteer because nobody can resist a free service.

Challenge yourself by approaching a person or company who might need a service and offer to do it for free. Of course you don’t need to volunteer for large projects that will end up costing you more time and energy than a free project should. Target startups and small businesses who could use your tech skills. For instance if you visit an outdated and non user-friendly website, you could offer to update it or improve it.

Most small businesses and startups don’t have websites so visit some in your area and offer to create one for them. One of the main reasons startups don’t get round to creating websites for themselves is because they can’t afford the prices that large scale developers demand. But as a recent graduate, your prices would be a lot more affordable for them so if you don’t want to offer your services for free, most startups will be willing to pay a small fee.

3. Open source projects


Participation in open source projects is one of the most impressive things to me on any portfolio. I think the only people who would ever bother to contribute to open source are those with a true passion for code.

The number of times I’ve been asked if I contribute to open source projects in a technical interview is surprisingly large. Of course most non technical hiring managers aren’t bothered about open source contribution but if you’re looking to impress the technical firms with your portfolio, definitely get involved in open source projects.

Getting into open source can be daunting because there isn’t really such a thing as a ‘beginner’ open source project. A lot of them are quite complex. But even the complex projects still have ‘simple’ tasks that need to be done. Have a look at some of the answers to a question about this on Quora.

4. Dream projects

Something that even experienced developers do is include dream projects in their portfolios.

A dream project is simply one that isn’t an actual job but is created specifically for your portfolio. They are a great way to practice and showcase new skills.

If for instance, you have learnt how to code in Python but you are not getting hired to do any projects in Python, should you just sit and wait for a Python themed project to come along? Of course not! So create a dream project and make it look real.

According to Skillcrush designer Katie Kovalcin, it’s about putting the work you want to be doing in your portfolio, not the work you think others want to see. Deepina Kapila wrote a detailed article on this and she includes some sample dream projects you could get involved in.

5. Google yourself


You know what they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. More and more often hiring managers turn to Google and online tools to help them form first impressions of candidates. When you apply for a position, someone will probably Google you before considering to invite you to an interview.

This can be really good or really bad. The good news is that you can influence what people find when they search for you online. One way is to create a stream of professional content via social media tools, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

Try to get rid of any accounts that might look unattractive to employers. Don’t forget to check what images show up when you google yourself. You’re probably not going to be a top candidate if that picture you took in college upside down on a keg stand is the first thing that pops up.

6. Highlight non-tech skills

If you’re in technology it’s easy to undervalue the importance of soft skills. You have to remember that it still takes more than just technical skills to advance through the ranks and earn the right to lead teams, projects, and, ultimately, companies.

While soft skills cannot replace technical skills, there are still a few that will differentiate a good developer from a great one. Some of the skills that matter are:

  • Communication
  • Analytical thinking
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership

Chances are, during your college or university experience, you got involved in societies or activities that allowed you to develop these skills. If that is the case, don’t be shy to highlight these in your portfolio.

7. Get Certified

Getting certified is an inexpensive way of showing that your skills are up to date and it will make you stand out among your peers. Its become a trend for people to wait till they have worked a couple years before they start thinking about getting certified. However, I think you will stand out a lot more when you get a certified as a recent graduate.

Getting certified when certification isn’t required shows initiative and verifies to hiring managers that the certification provider validates your skills for them.

For ideas on what certifications to go for, read my post on the top IT certifications for newbies.

What do you think about these tips? Do you have any tips you would like to share? Leave your comments in the comment section below…

Seda Kunda is a web designer and developer with a degree in Computer Science and a great passion for code. Besides code, she enjoys pepperoni pizza, watching the bachelor and sleeping in on Saturdays.
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