what's in a portfolio?

Subject: what's in a portfolio?
From: Miki Magyar <MDM0857 -at- MCDATA -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 1999 13:15:23 -0700

Stark Vision asked "what to include and what not to include" in a portfolio, and has gotten some good responses. John Posada's sounds like a truly professional presentation from someone who's been in the business for a long time. But if you're just starting out and have to ask about what's in one, you probably don't have all the nifty stuff John has. A few weeks ago I did a presentation on this very subject. Here's what you can do.

Make sure the portfolio itself is good-looking. You don't need a leather one, or lots of bucks. Even a plain vanilla 3-ring binder with your own cover can look good. Use some nice color-border paper and make a well-designed cover. Make several, depending on the kinds of jobs you might apply for. A cover for a marketing job, for example, could have the glitz that would be inappropriate for a software documentation job.

Cover letter or equivalent - design a one-page flyer for your business, or make a mission statement, or something that gives the TV Guide outline of who you are and what you do. Make that the inside first page.

Inside use plastic slipsheets for each 2-page spread. On the left side put the 'before' example, and on the right, the 'after' version. You can change the pages depending on the job you're applying for. Make sure you collect good examples from every project. Even if the material is confidential, most employers will negotiate on letting you get individual pages that demonstrate your skills. I have forms I've redesigned, spec sheets that are now comprehensible, engineers' procedures, programmers' cryptic notes, and so on. If you've done any online help, print out a couple topics and include them. And it doesn't all have to be from work, either. You can take stuff that comes in the mail and re-do it. Hey, re-write the instructions for your VCR!

In the back, I have pocket pages to hold such things as papers I've presented, sections from a tutorial, articles in newsletters, and so on. I have copies of letters of recommendation in the last pocket, along with a couple sample pages they can keep and my resume. Considering how transient even the most 'permanent' jobs are, I recommend you get a letter from everyone you can, including SMEs.

Most interviewers seem impressed with this kind of portfolio. It gives you a chance to show that you understand the process, that you actually did the work yourself, and you can use it to talk about what made the job interesting, or difficult, or satisfying. I've used this as a model when teaching tech writing, and the feedback from the students is that it works.

Good luck!
mikim -at- ieee -dot- org

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