Portfolios and gathering evidence (long)

Subject: Portfolios and gathering evidence (long)
From: Eric Haddock <eric -at- ENGAGENET -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 22 Aug 1996 08:39:12 -0500

I participated in a _wonderful_ degree program to become a technical
writer. The program was virtually built around creating a portfolio. For
almost every class we took, we had to pick something to include in our
portfolio in addition to writing/creating things on our own.

We were told repeatedly that portfolios make the difference. It was
hammered into us actually. I can say from experience that it's _so_ true. A
good portfolio is so valuable that you'd be foolish not to create one. _I_
wouldn't hire anyone who didn't have a portfolio. A degree is just a
goofy-looking sheet of paper without some kind of evidence that an applicant
knows how to apply skills and see product through the production process.

If you haven't had the opportunity to create a portfolio over time, then
I would start by scrambling around trying to find a copy of every single
thing I've ever done as a technical writer. Then start picking which ones
represent my talents and which ones say "professional." Try to get a full
range of things and think about showing it at an interview. What would you
say about it? What's special about this piece? Did you do the text and
graphics? Why are you showing this piece instead of something else you
might've done?
Pick things that showcase _you_.

Do I need to mention that your samples have to be 100% perfect? No? Good. :)

For manuals and things too thick to slide in to a sheet protector, buy
those thin plastic slats used to hold thick material in three ring binders.
They're wonderful. Expensive sometimes for what you get, but worth it.

I would suggest buying a smaller 81/2x11 or 11x14 portfolio and not a big
ol' artist-sized one unless you have a significant amount of extra-large
material. I wouldn't worry about the expense of the portfolio itself. The
interviewer is focused on the contents--as you should be. Don't get a
super-cheap one, but don't spend $100 on it either. It should be, I think,
discreet, neat, clean, but important of all function well at displaying your
work and allow for the interviewer and/or yourself to flip through it
easily. You don't have to spend a lot of money to get that. Not at all. Make
sure it has a place to hold your business card.

You made a mock business card on heavy card stock if you don't already
have one, didn't you? Good. :)

Don't take too many things. This is real important. You don't want to
bore the interviewer with a bunch of samples all saying the same thing. If
you bring in a bulging portfolio, it's better to have it thick with
diversity. Personally, I would take two examples. Two manuals, two
brochures, two forms, two one-sheet descriptive bulletins--whatever. *Just
make sure each one illustrates a different talent* like one thing
graphics-heavy if you did them and the other text-heavy. The only exception
I could think of is if all you did all day for the past decade was, say,
manuals and manuals alone. Surely over that time you did a variety of kinds
of manuals that represent different skills.

Tailor the portfolio for the person you're interviewing with if at all
possible. If you're going to be expected to do graphic design, typesetting,
illustration, or any of the zillion tasks TWs do aside from writing, include
things which show you can do it. If you have the misfortune to apply to a
place where all you would do is write--nothing but write--then include lots
of gorgeous text.

Here's something often overlooked: Include things which you have designed
just for yourself to make your work day more productive. Say you designed
your own work calendar or production checklist or whatnot--including
designing the layout and typesetting it yourself. That shows you're on the
ball (or at least thinking about) meeting deadlines and managing your time
as well as having the skills to execute original designs. It shows you've
thought the thole design process out and if you're applying to a company
where you'll be working more on your own than not, this can be a really big
boost.

Collect samples even at your current job. Use whatever means available to
secure *two* private, take-home copies of whatever you produce at the
company. I would even buy them if I had to. Save them. No matter what save
them because you never know when you may need to show something like that to
someone--even if you're not applying for a job. Some other technical writer
may need some help on something similar and showing that person an example
might be a big help.

Include things you've written and/or designed that aren't strictly
technical writing. If it's something you created and produced that uses
skills that are used in technical writing, then use them to shore yourself
up if you have meager TW samples. After all, you have been doing things even
when you don't have to, haven't you? Things for the family? Things for
friends, for charities, and organizations? Good. :)

Make stuff up from scratch. Applying to a financial company? Make a fake
guide to managing monetary transactions over a computer network. Applying to
a governmental institution? Make a fake zoning report/survey/study thing.
Be sure to say they're fake. First, don't lie. Second, it shows you're
creative and have enough interest in the subject to go to the trouble of
making something up when you didn't have to. Third, it showcases everything
about you from design to execution to printing. :)



A good portfolio is better than a great resume, I think. A superior
portfolio means you'll be hired. Put a lot of effort into it. A _lot_. It
can make _such_ a big difference in so many ways.



/`-_ Eric Haddock ------ http://www2.corenet.net/moonlion
{ }/ Technical writer
\ | Engage Networks, Inc. --- http://www.engagenet.com
\__*| Milwaukee, WI

"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words."
-- Mark Twain

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