Many college graduates face the same challenge when they transition from schooling to career: they don’t have any experience. Employers require proof that you’ve been working in your chosen field for several years before they look at you.

As a soon-to-be-graduate, that probably seems pretty messed up, right? You have to have the experience to get the job, but you can’t get the job because you have no experience. It’s the Catch-22 of job hunting.  

One of the best ways you can prove your dedication and display your skills is to build a portfolio – but this doesn’t mean you (necessarily) have to work for free or navigate sketchy freelance sites and Craigslist for work. You already have a portfolio, just waiting to be put together. You’ve already spent countless hours writing, creating pieces and developing collaborative projects.

We’re talking about your homework.

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Students often discount the work that they’ve done, considering it too amateurish to show off – but it is likely that the work that you’ve done is exactly what your future employer expects you to produce. Even better, if you received good marks, you probably have better material than most of your competitors.

In addition, many of the people against whom you may be competing might have the disadvantage of not having a portfolio of their extended background because they cannot use it to represent their work. (In the legal sense, some employers actually own the work of their employees.)

Take a look at all the files on your computers and determine if there are some projects or pieces of homework that, away from the school context, would be impressive to you. This is the start of your portfolio. Before heading to an interview, it’s best to reach back to the freshman and sophomore projects and give them a brush up since you’ve learned a thing or two about your field since your early undergrad days.

If you’re not graduating this year, it might be a good idea to look into taking courses that would produce some portfolio-quality pieces. These courses might put you in contact with graduate students or actual professionals in your field as well as task you with projects that emulate real life. For example, one ScholarUp writer took a course in college that paired him with graduate students for whom he would edit and update dissertations, papers and projects for different audiences. Some of those pieces went on to be published. He also had a project in a different course where he formatted and updated documents that were used by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. These were perfect examples for him to add to his portfolio in preparation for a job search.

You never really know what might impress others. What you consider your crowning achievement might be passé to your employer. What you might consider one of your more pedestrian pieces might look stellar to your interviewer. Trust us – you will be glad you put the time and effort into assembling your portfolio.