Tips for Creating Portfolios
by Bobby Bothmann
The portfolio is your most important tool for success in the technical communications career market. Your portfolio brings your skills to life while it backs up your resume with proof of your skills and displays your abilities as a technical communicator. The portfolio should be a collection of your best work. It is just as important to keep the portfolio up to date as it is your resume (St. Amant 12). As a student with little or no professional experience, you may think you do not have much to offer for building a portfolio, but think again.
What about all of the projects you did in your courses? It is very tempting at the end of the semester to forget about the work you did in your courses, to throw all those printouts into the recycle bin, and then move on to the next semester. But think again before pitching all the mock business cards, brochures, newsletters, and Web pages you made. These can be the building blocks to your first portfolio. Just because you did not create these projects for a real business or internship does not mean they are worthless. In fact, these projects have benefits you may not have considered. You probably have feedback from your instructors and classmates. Use that feedback to your advantage and apply it to your projects. It will make your portfolio pieces that much better.
Also, be sure to include group projects in your portfolio. Demonstrating collaborative work is just as important to employers as your own individual, independent work. You want to be sure to detail those aspects of the collaborative work that you created independently and the parts you created in conjunction with your partners. Make your portfolio as varied as possible. You want to demonstrate that you have a wide breadth of skills. If you have an opportunity for an internship or volunteer work in technical communication, take that opportunity. It is good for your resume and you may be able to use the documents, with permission, in your portfolio (St. Amant 11).
Create a description for each piece in your portfolio. You should point out what the piece is, include a brief description of the audience and purpose of the piece, those aspects which are innovative or unique, the tools and software applications used to create the piece, and give a brief description of the audience and purpose of the piece. Do not be shy or modest in your description. Remember, you are selling your skills and abilities (St. Amant 11; Smith).
When the time comes to assemble your portfolio, be sure to give careful thought to its organization. When creating a paper portfolio, you may want to organize by project type. For example, create groups of brochures, Web sites, technical documents, and users' guides. You might also consider organization by software tools such as PageMaker, Robohelp, or Photoshop. Design your portfolio so that you may easily reorganize it. Employment opportunities will ask for different strengths, requirements, and areas of expertise. A well-planned organization will allow you to easily arrange your portfolio to match the strengths requested in the job vacancy notice and allow you to point out those skills at the front of your portfolio. For the employer seeking a general technical writer, organize your portfolio with the technical documents at the front. When you apply for another job seeking a newsletter editor, you can then easily re-organize your portfolio with your PageMaker examples at the front (Career Resources: Creating a Portfolio).
You may also consider creating an electronic version of your portfolio. With an e-portfolio, you have the advantage of creating multiple organization schemes through the use of hyperlinks on your Web site. You may then direct an employer to specific URLs in your cover letter based on the position description and requirements. When you go for an interview, you may then bring your paper portfolio along with a CD-ROM of your e-portfolio to leave with the interviewer (Barry and Wesolowski 2001).
Remember that the key to building a portfolio is to show variety in your skills and multiple examples of types of documents while keeping the portfolio contents manageable and current. Sell your skills and abilities with each piece you describe, point out your software expertise, and organize your portfolio in a manner that best complements the position you are seeking (Smith 2002).
Barry, Kevin M. and Jill C. Wesolowski. 2001. Developing your Online Portfolio. STC Proceedings. http://tc.eserver.org/13111.html
St. Amant, Kirk R. 2002. The Ten Commandments of Effective Portfolios. Intercom, June: 10-12.
Smith, Herb J. 2002. Paper and Electronic Portfolios: Saleskits for Technical Communicators in the Twenty-first Century. STC Proceedings. http://tc.eserver.org/18771.html
Career Resources: Creating a Portfolio. Thomson-Nelson Web site. http://www.burnett.nelson.com/portfolio.html
Portfolios. EServer TC Library. http://tc.eserver.org/dir/Portfolios/