Create Your Best Cosmetology Portfolio

Cosmetology portfolios allow you to show your work to potential employers and clients. You should start your portfolio while you are still training for your cosmetology, hairstyling, or makeup licenses or certifications.

Why a Cosmetology Portfolio is Important

Portfolios of cosmetologists' work are as important as licensure and resumes. If you apply for cosmetology jobs without a portfolio, you are not likely to get an interview with an employer or any calls from potential clients. While portfolios were once similar to scrapbooks, you are now expected to have them online so employers and clients can see your work before contacting you. However, you could also create a small, physical portfolio to bring to interviews in addition to your more extensive online version. In short, if you want a job, you need a portfolio.

Even once you are gainfully employed, it is essential to keep your portfolio updated. You can use it to help you pick up new clients, change jobs, and apply for advanced cosmetology programs.

What to Include in a Cosmetology Portfolio

There are specific things employers and clients expect to see in your portfolio:

Proof of training, licenses, and certificates
Detail your training as you would with a resume, including any specialized work you have done, and showcase copies of your licenses and any certifications you have earned.

If you are new to the field, you can include positive comments from your instructors. As you gain experience, ask satisfied customers to provide positive comments you could add to your page—with or without photos of the relevant work.

Once you master a skill or create a look you are particularly proud of, snap a photo (with client permission, if relevant), and add it to your portfolio. Before and after images are great. Make sure to use a high-quality camera—even a good phone camera—to take close-up, headshot-style images with clean backgrounds.

For the online version of your portfolio, consider uploading videos of you actively showing off your skills.

Anything written in your portfolio must be checked for spelling and grammar. Being accurate makes it clear you are detail-oriented and care about how you present yourself. Even the littlest things can make or break your chances. If you are not an English whiz—or if you're just tired of staring at your work—ask a skilled friend to review your writing.

Organizing Your Cosmetology Portfolio

While online portfolios are becoming the norm, as stated above, having a physical portfolio to discuss at interviews is also a good idea. While the two portfolios should generally contain the same things, there are different ways to organize them.

Online Portfolio Structure

Your online portfolio should be a clean, user-friendly website that allows your visitors to see your best work quickly. You can use a free website service, like Wix or Weebly, to create a site that fits your needs. Services such as these often have portfolio templates you can use. If you have a few extra dollars, consider taking advantage of premium options. These might include access to more sophisticated templates and a personal domain name that doesn't include the name of the website service. You could also pay a web designer to create and update a site for you, though using a professional can be expensive, and updating your portfolio may take longer.

Your website should include an "About Me" page, social media links, and contact information in addition to the items in the "What to Include" section above. When you are just starting out, you may want to have one portfolio page that shows off all your work—you don't want to have a link to a nail art page if you only have one image to show! As you gain skills and take more photos and videos, you can move from having one portfolio page to dividing your work into sub-pages by type of work.

While it may be tempting to include photos of every creation you're proud of, leave that to Instagram and be more selective in your portfolio. A 2018 Nielsen Norman Group study showed that users rarely scroll down past two screenfuls of information. For example, if users can see six images when they first open your portfolio, they will probably scroll no further down than the next twelve (two scrolls). After that, they may lose interest. Put your best images first—57% of users' time is spent looking solely at that screen—and on the left, as people look at the left side of their screen more than the right.

Physical Portfolio Structure

A physical portfolio needs to be similarly user-friendly, but you may need to spend a bit more time organizing it.

First, you need to figure out how you want to display the work. You can choose a professional-looking binder or create a bound book. The benefit of the binder is that you can easily switch out images, add additional certifications, and have tabs that allow the reader to flip through sections quickly. However, it's essential to be mindful of the type of binder you choose. Plastic binders, like those used in school, can look a bit sloppier, as rings can break or separate, and pages can rip if not appropriately placed. Leather or cloth binders can look significantly more professional and are usually better made than their plastic counterparts, but they can be pricey.  

A bound book can be created at any print shop and will make you look highly prepared and confident in your work. These books can be expensive to print, however—especially since you will need color images—and you will need to create new versions each time you update your portfolio. As with a binder, consider adding tabs to sections so your readers can easily flip to where they want to look.

Once you have chosen the style, you need to select your content. Make sure to incorporate all the items from the "What to Include" section above. However, since you can't easily add or remove images, you need to be very picky. Choose images that best display your skills and consider getting input from others—it's easy to judge yourself more harshly than others do, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell what will impress fresh eyes.

Finally, arrange your content in a way that allows you to find materials quickly. If you have enough images to divide your portfolio into sections, use tabs to separate them. If you do not have enough pictures yet, still arrange them in a natural way—for instance, keep anything hair related, nail related, or makeup related together rather than jumping around.

Updating Your Portfolios

There is no hard and fast rule about how often you should update your portfolios. Online portfolios—especially if you are running your own and not paying someone to do so—can be updated as frequently as you want. Anytime you do something fantastic, consider updating it. You should also update your portfolio each time you gain new certifications, change places of employment, or change contact information.

With hard copies, you likely can't update as often, so make sure you showed off your best work the first time. Consider updating at least once a year—it's incredible how much your abilities can grow even in that short amount of time. However, like online portfolios, you need to update it each time you get a new license or certification or change jobs.