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Creating a Professional Portfolio

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by Louellen S. Coker, owner of Content Solutions — a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE)

Louellen S. Coker is past president of the Lone Star Community and a member of the CIC, Lone Writers, and Marketing SIGs. When not at her computer, you can find her training for the next marathon or sailing with her husband. Check out her web site at www.yourcontentsolutions.com and blog at www.yourcontentnotes.com.


A portfolio is a technical communicator's most important marketing tool. It highlights talents and abilities while giving prospective employers or clients an opportunity to learn about the candidate's skills and career direction.
Professional portfolios are as indispensable as résumés. Your portfolio — whether hard copy, digital, or both — is your showcase. You have the opportunity to show samples of your work that best portray your skills and career direction.

Portfolios evolve according to your purpose and your audience. For those of you who think that you will receive job offers or new clients by throwing together a few samples of your work, rethink your assumption. With careful planning, organization, and ongoing assessment, your portfolio in its various forms will be an indispensable asset.

Planning the Portfolio

Planning is vital to create a portfolio that is a creative and robust expression of you. During this stage, think about the samples that you want to include. Make sure that they accurately portray your talent and skills. Consider, too, your intended delivery method.

Gathering Samples

Samples include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Your résumé

  • Samples of your writing, graphic design, document design, editing, Web design, or anything you can use to promote yourself

  • Certificates or list of awards and honors

  • Fact sheet of your skills, interests, community involvement, and other information that does not fit on your résumé

  • Letters of recommendation or thanks

  • Newspaper articles that address some sort of achievement

  • Reflection or process summary of each item

Be sure to archive your samples logically. Without organization, the sudden interview can turn into a nightmare.

You also need to consider intellectual property rights and obtain permission to include them. If an owner does not grant permission, consider another way to document that effort, such as a simple description or a mockup.

Determining the Delivery Method

As you gather your samples, consider the options for paper or digital delivery:

  • Archive — Your "master portfolio," a collection of every possible sample that you could include in your portfolio.

  • Presentation — A collection of the samples that you can use in face-to-face meetings. Usually you bind it professionally.

  • Sample/Leave-Behind — A smaller collection of samples, often only specific portions of your work, used to submit with an application or to leave with a face-to-face interviewer. This collection, while still very professional, is less costly to produce. Independent contractors and consultants will typically create a pamphlet or a brochure.

  • Digital — Any and all of the aforementioned samples that can accompany a hard copy portfolio or be a stand-alone product. It is an excellent way to showcase additional talents such as HTML, CSS, and Web graphics.

Organizing Your Portfolio

Whether paper or digital, your portfolio should reflect your ability to work on different types of projects, while meeting the needs of the audience or client. It should be consistent, organized, descriptive, and easy to use as a marketing tool.

Most commonly, you will have control of your portfolio and will be able to guide people through it. Sometimes, however, your portfolio will be passed around the room during the discussion, or someone else will click through the digital pages. Your audience will evaluate both how well you can navigate your own portfolio and their own ability to navigate it.

Use a connecting thread to enhance your portfolio's organization:

  • Hard copy — Divider pages and tabs help your audience navigate artifacts quickly. A color scheme and logo or other graphical element lends consistency. Chunking similar samples contributes to usability. All of these things make your portfolio memorable and give your portfolio a professional look and feel.

  • Digital — Digital portfolios can be presented on the World Wide Web or on a CD or DVD. Unlike your hard copy portfolios, the user can access your information with limited direction from you. They will make their way through the information as their motives guide them without any verbal explanation or descriptions from you.

This type of portfolio allows the prospective client to view you, the source of your work, and how you work with style sheets, word processing software, HTML, Web development software, and page layout software. You should present your information in a consistent, organized, descriptive, and navigable manner. Louise Keeton explains in her presentations on professional portfolios: "Templates and consistent navigation schemes for HTML pages in a digital portfolio act like divider pages and tabs and provide the same benefits." (See References below for Keeton's presentation.)

Assessing the Portfolio

Whether your portfolio is hard copy or digital, you must be diligent in updating it so that you remain competitive. With that in mind, portfolios are never "complete." There are always new samples to add, new skills to highlight, and less effective samples to remove or replace. To make this task easier, consider using a reminder system.

Any combination of the following methods will work-as long as you use it consistently:

  • Keep a special folder on your desktop and place electronic copies in it as you finish projects.

  • Keep a folder close at hand and place copies of everything you do in that folder.

  • Keep a simple list of items with dates and file locations.

References

1. Ball State University Career Center, http://www.bsu.edu/students/careers/documents/portfoli/.

2. Campbell, Dorothy M, et al. (1997). How to Develop a Professional Portfolio. Allyn and Bacon: Boston, MD .

3. Coker, L. & Keeton, L. (2004) Hard Copy and Digital Portfolios: A Both/And Solution. Proceedings of the 2004 Region 5 Conference, Society for Technical Communication. Salt Lake City, UT. Oct. 21-24.

4. Electronicportfolios.org (Helen Barrett), http://www.electronicportfolios.org/distance/index.html.

5. Keeton, L. & Reece, G. (2004). Résumés, Portfolios, and All the Rest. Proceedings of the 51st Annual Conference, Society for Technical Communication. Baltimore, MD. May 8-10.

6. Penn State Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, http://www2.ds.psu.edu/AcademicAffairs/ID/Portfolios/tandl_portfolios_tips.htm

7. Portfolios, Advice and Resources, http://www.coroflot.com/public/help_portfolio_tips.asp

8. University of Washington. Educational Partnerships & Learning Technologies/Catalyst Project,
http://catalyst.washington.edu/home.html.


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