Five Tips to Make Your Professional Portfolio Sell Your Skills

What is the best way to showcase your work? That’s a question a lot of job seekers and freelancers grapple with. Is a personal, branded website necessary? Can a free LinkedIn account do the job? What about highlighting proprietary work?

We’re assuming you already know that you need a portfolio, that it needs to be available digitally and that it needs regular updating. Here’s a few other tips for getting your portfolio ready to attract more work:

Make LinkedIn Work for You – Since you can attach publicly-available writing samples (links, documents, videos, presentations and photos) to your bio, there is no reason not to do that, especially if time, budget or your professional situation make launching a fully branded website problematic. Make sure to update your LinkedIn portfolio and profile regularly.

Have a Plan for Proprietary Work – Your contracts with past employers and clients may well prevent you from openly sharing the work you did for them. You might not be able to link to some of your work on a public site – whether owned by you or thru a LinkedIn account. In this case, make sure you describe what you did on public sites and then maintain a private portfolio. This could be urls that are only available via a password, or items you keep on a thumb drive. You can, however, show the private portfolio to an interviewer, explaining that you can’t leave copies with them, or even let them study the work, in detail. Another option, though not optimal, is to redact a document and save it as a pdf.

Context is Important – This is where having your own website or blog helps, though LinkedIn does offer text boxes below attachments. You want to tell the story of how you added value to the work sample. Maybe you boiled a bloated, rambling 200 page technical manual into 20 pages. Maybe the sample has someone else’s byline and you need to explain what you did to help the person author the article. If you don’t have a website, or even if you do, this context can be delivered verbally at an interview, as part of an email ahead of the interview, or you can include it in a written document.

Curate Your Samples to Match the Employer – If a potential client/employer wants to see a user’s guide, don’t just point them to the 200-page manual. Instead, guide them through a short section or two.  If they want to see more, they’ll ask. In another example, if they want to know that you can create instructional design materials for their engineering/technology company, don’t send them samples of your pharma-related work. For in-person interview situations where you are carrying a tablet, know ahead of time what you are going to show the prospect.

Use Professional Portfolio Building as a Kind of Growth Check – One of our favorite technical writers, Bill Albing, keeps a website and blog to showcase his work and share his musings. His thoughts on portfolios are worth hearing, “Often in preparing a portfolio of your work, you may discover things about your work and about yourself that will help you in your career,’’ Albing says. “Be willing to differentiate yourself from others – let the portfolio represent the type of work which you enjoy and at which you excel.  Let the effort be an opportunity of discovery. Professional portfolios will be as unique and different as the people they represent.”

Hey, we couldn’t say it better.

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