Originally titled “Filling the résumé”, but my point applies better to portfolios.
Recently I’ve started to gear my projects more towards actual products, rather than cute little play-things for myself. This will allow me to casually mention how I built the world’s least successful RSS reader or a mediocre game. If I just mess around and broaden my knowledge that’s cool, but if you don’t have much to show for it your credibility drops pretty hard.
I feel like this is totally justified on the corporate side of things, hiring people who can prove they have a passion for actually getting shit done. If, in your line of work, it is possible to do things in your free time, and you grab hold of that opportunity to make something neat, then that is evidence of both your passion and know-how.
Of course you can’t come showing your “Hello <name>!” program that eats through memory and crashed every other run. You need to also provide proof of your quality of work. If you’re even the least bit mindful of this during development then you should be fine though. They can’t reasonably expect 100% perfect products from you (though having those goes is a cool (and, literally speaking, impossible to achieve) bonus) but if you can show you can deliver something half-decent on your own (tip: speak about how you tackled it, project-management-wise) then they’ll usually see a lot of value in that.
Then again that only puts you ahead of, what, half your peers (don’t quote me on that), but it’s a great start!