A resume summarizes your credentials to your potential employer. It chronicles where you’ve been and what you did while you were there. Your portfolio showcases what you have achieved and how you did it. Your resume may get you an interview, but it’s your portfolio that will win you the job.
So, what do employers look for in a portfolio? A panel of technical communicators who regularly hire contractors tackled that topic at the October Contractors Group meeting.
Your portfolio should consist of three to five pieces that demonstrate that you have the skills to carry out the range of tasks outlined in the job advertisement. Tailoring your portfolio also shows that you can define your audience and understand their needs. Interviewers are obviously looking for technical ability, so select examples that focus on your writing ability and information design skills, rather than the content.
Your portfolio also enables the interviewer to explore your soft skills.
For example, show the table of contents, glossary, and index of a manual, together with one or two pages of content, not the complete 400-page tome. Rahel Bailie, principal of Intentional Design, Inc., also recommended tucking away some oddball pieces showcasing your range, to use as backup ammunition. From her own portfolio, she showed samples of packaging her company designed and an information booklet printed in comic book form.
If you have not completed any commercial projects that address the interview’s criteria, the panelists recommended that you create a piece solely for your portfolio. You might take a poorly written installation guide and rewrite it, write a white paper, or start a blog.
Annotate each piece, briefly outlining the business case, why you have included it, and what it shows about you. “The pieces in your portfolio trigger the discussion,” said Heather Sommerville, documentation manager at Sage Software. Our panelists also pointed out the importance of being honest about your role in the project and giving credit to other team members.
Your portfolio also enables the interviewer to explore your soft skills. “I expect you to be able to write,” said Liessi Haussler, principal of Cyberscribe Solutions, Inc. “What I’m looking for is someone who can complete project-based work effectively.” If you are interviewing for a contract position, use your portfolio pieces to demonstrate your time-management and organizational skills, as well as your ability to work under pressure and deal with difficult people.
Panelists were divided in their opinions about leaving portfolio pieces behind after the interview, but they did agree on protecting your work and the interests of your clients. If you decide to leave pieces behind, never leave originals, and for electronic versions supply only secure PDF files. One way to showcase work covered by a non-disclosure agreement is to ask the client’s permission to show a version of the piece that has been “sanitized” by changing the product name, omitting pages that include proprietary code, and showing content pages out of sequence.
If you decide to leave pieces behind, never leave originals, and for electronic versions supply only secure PDF files.
Thanks to our three panelists for a lively, informative, and very useful session.
Heather Sommerville has been a technical writer, editor, and manager since 1986. She currently manages a documentation department at Sage Software, formerly ACCPAC International.
Liessi Haussler incorporated Cyberscribe Solutions in 1999 in response to a growing demand for more, and better, information.
Rahel Bailie is the principal of Intentional Design, a boutique consultancy that provides content management consulting and related services such as information architecture, usability consulting, and content development services.