By Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Where Do I Even Start?
If you work in an industry where potential employers want to see examples of your previous work, putting together a portfolio is a good idea. As someone who works in the field of learning and development, I know that it's valuable for me to have additional evidence to prove that I actually have all of those skills I brag so much about on my resume. Whether you're job searching or building your overall career resilience and opportunity readiness, having an online portfolio is a good step to take.
Like any new endeavor, figuring out where to start can be challenging. There are countless options, and even more opinions, on what the ideal portfolio looks like. Here is my five-step process for helping you to create a portfolio that works for you.
Step 1: Identify Your Goals
This is the step you might be tempted to skip. However, if you don't take a little time to figure out what you're trying to accomplish with your portfolio, you most certainly won't reach your goals.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you clarify what you want:
Depending on your answers to these questions, your goals may include one or more of the following:
The answers to these questions will influence your portfolio creation choices.
Step 2: Decide What To Include
The specific content you include in your portfolio will depend on your overall goals. In my chosen field of learning and development, here are a few of the kinds of work samples I might want to include:
Remember, your portfolio is not just about the documents you include. It's also about the story you tell about how you solved a problem and how the artifact you include supports that narrative.
Step 3: Gather Work Samples
Once you have identified your goals and thought about the skillset you want to showcase, it's time to choose the specific documents you will include. Here are a few possibilities for locating or creating your actual work samples:
Whether you have existing documents you used in previous roles, re-create samples similar to past work projects, or re-purpose project documents created as part of another interview process, determine what you will include.
Step 4: Choose and Implement Technology
Since you are creating an online portfolio, choosing the underlying technology is an important step. While there are countless options available, here are three viable choices to consider:
Step 5: Share Your Portfolio.
Depending on your goals, you may have your portfolio as a website that someone could discover on their own or a link that can only be accessed after you share it with someone. Regardless of your portfolio format, there are a few cases where you will proactively share your portfolio link:
Make Your Portfolio 1.0
At this point, you may be excited about all the possibilities and overwhelmed with uncertainty. Here's my recommendation for creating at least a starter portfolio for yourself.
Congratulations. You now have a portfolio. Take a week off from looking at it, and then make an appointment with yourself to revisit your portfolio goals and next steps.
What Do You Think?
What goals and design choices did you make with your online portfolio? Include your thoughts in the comments.
By Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Thinking Through Your Why
When creating an online portfolio, as with many tasks in life, it's helpful to think about your goals. Thinking it through now will help you to create a portfolio that meets your short and longer-term goals.
Depending on your wants, needs, industry, and timeline for completion, your portfolio could take any number of forms and be the right choice for you. Until you identify your goals, you are at risk of making an ill-advised decision that could cost you time, money, and opportunities.
Identifying Your Portfolio Goals
Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you determine your portfolio goals:
My Portfolio Lessons Learned
A few years ago, when applying for jobs, I realized I needed an online portfolio to show hiring managers supporting evidence that I could use the learning and development skills included in my resume. I looked at job descriptions for training leadership roles that interested me and noted the specific keywords and skills that were most often included.
From there, I chose work samples to showcase those identified skills. For each sample, I included a brief introduction to position the value of each artifact. I shared a project plan, a pitch deck promoting a company-wide change, a facilitator guide, and microlearning videos on technical, soft skills, and business-related topics.
From a technology standpoint, my portfolio was a hidden page on my existing website. That portfolio page was non-searchable and not listed in website navigation, but it was available directly through the page's web address. As needed, I could include that URL on my resume, email it to hiring managers, or include it in an online job application.
What Do You Think?
What are your goals for your portfolio? What kind of content do you think it makes sense for you to include? As you are comfortable, share your ideas in the comments.
By Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Depending on the field in which you work, you may be asked to submit work samples at some point during the hiring process. The collection of examples of your work product is often called a portfolio. The content of your portfolio will vary depending on your goals, your industry, and the type of roles for which you are applying.
Portfolios in Days of Yore
Earlier in my career, I had my "me book" that I woudl bring with me when I had in-person job interviews. It was a three ring binder the included neatly organized printed samples of my previous work. I did not give this to a hiring manager, but I would do a brief show and tell and explain each document. In addition, I also included a copy of my resume, certificates from classes I had taken and certifications I had achieved, and transcripts from college and graduate school.
When I attended and interview with a hiring manager or potential coworkers, often someone would ask if I happend to bring any work samples with me. I would often walk them through one or more of my work samples, described the design decisions involved in its creation, and told them the story of how I solved a work problem and how that work sample fit in.
Now, typically a portfolio is expected to be available online. You should have a link that you can share with a potential employer. In some cases, employer may review your work samples later on in the hiring process. In many cases, employers may ask for a portfolio link during the application process. Depending on the role and organization, companies may even not consider applications for some jobs which do not include a portfolio link.
What To Include
When it comes to determining what to include in your portfolio, it comes down to your overall goals. At it's most basic, you need to make sure you include samples of your work that align with the tasks and projects included in the jobs you would like to do. Here are a few examples:
Overall, you need to figure out what skills are required, and show examples of how you have done that type of work in the past.
What You Can Showcase
Your overall goals for your portfolio will help you determine what to include. Depending on what skillset you are trying to demonstrate, here are just a few of many possible focus areas for someone who is an instructional designer:
None of these examples is right or wrong. Instead these are alternate approaches you might want to take to support your overall professional goals.
What Do You Think?
What skills do you want to showcase in a portfolio? What skills and work examples might you include? What approach might you take to organizing your portfolio? Share your thoughts in the comments.
By Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Demonstrating Your Skills
Employers are trying to find someone to solve the unique problems their business has. Recruiters and hiring managers will want to make sure that candidates have the skills and competencies included on their resume. Let's look at a few ways employers might verify candidate abilities during the hiring process.
About Assessments and Work Samples
Depending on the company, the newness of the position, and the level of the role, there may be more to the interview process than talking with all the stakeholders.
Potential employers may also ask you to complete projects to demonstrate key skills.
Some employers may rely on your existing portfolio and review your previous work. In other cases, employers may ask you to complete specific work samples as a part of the interview process. This means completing unpaid work during the hiring process to demonstrate your skills as they more directly align with that role. In addition, they might ask you to complete assessments as well.
My Experience With Assessments
As a part of a few hiring processes, I’ve been asked to take various tests to assess my tendencies, abilities, and aptitudes. Key focus areas often include problem-solving, strengths, work style, spatial ability, logical thinking, and temperament.
For one role after layoff #7, the first two “interviews” with one organization were online assessments that compared my test results to a role-specific and company-specific ideal profile. For that job opening, I had 2 “interviews” like this and received a rejection email without interacting with actual people. For another hiring process, I took online exams on logical reasoning, general intelligence, and basic math before I was eligible for a phone screen.
In some cases, assessments may be a prerequisite to meeting with a human interviewer or may be included later in the process to gather supplemental information right before making an offer.
Concerns With Assessments
While assessments have value, they may not help employers find a better candidate. Assessments can be useful when they are used to verify skills relevant to performing a specific position well. However, some assessments may be checking for skills not required for a given role. In addition, some assessments are not intended to be used during the hiring process and may introduce irrelevant or biased information into the hiring decision.
My Low Time Committment Projects
As someone who works in the field of learning and development, I expect a potential employer to ask to see my portfolio. In many cases, during the application process, they will ask for a link to an online collection of work samples. On occaision, potential employers will ask for reccommendations on which of my work samples they should review more closely that align with the specific skills for any given role. I'm also ready to talk an employer through my work samples and highlighting my process in developing those materials.
I also expect to be asked to demonstrate my ability to present content to a group. On many occaisions, I've been asked to deliver an interactive 10-15 minute presentation on the topic of my choosing to a panel of interviewers.
For a manager role, I've often been asked to put together a 30-60-90 day plan outlining my initial onboarding and how I would identify and prioritize projects.
My High Time Committment Projects
As I’ve progressed into higher-level roles, the projects have become more time intensive and elaborate. Here are a few examples:
For a consultant role, I was tasked with creating an innovative plan for employee onboarding for new contractors and full-time employees. For this project, I designed a pitch deck to garner buy-in from stakeholders on the solution. I delivered that presentation to a group including the hiring manager, additional managers, and team members. I also designed a blended learning solution that leveraged subject matter presenters and accommodated people having distributed locations and start dates.
For a manager role, in addition to a 30-60 day onboarding plan for myself, and created a list of equipment, software, subscriptions, and additional resources needed to begin creating videos for the company.
For a program manager role, I was tasked with creating an innovative onboarding program to teach new full-time staff about company products. I designed a new hire career fair with multiple tables showcasing different products, complete with a passport for trainees to collect stamps. Those trainees who visited each table and filled out their passports were enrolled in a prize drawing for a bigger company-branded prize.
For a director role, during the initial application, I answered several essay questions along with my resume and a cover letter. Later in the interview process, after taking two professional assessments, I was also tasked with completing these three projects:
Concerns With Projects
Ultimately, I did not receive job offers for any of these roles where I completed more elaborate work samples. I also found it frustrating to be tasked with what ended up being hours and hours of skilled work without being compensated, or ending up with a job offer.
In the abstract, I’ve seen many people bluster on social media about what they won’t do as part of an interview process. I also don’t necessarily disagree with the boundaries those people suggest. I do know that making that decision feels much different in the throes of job searching. When being asked to do a few projects to help you get a job you think you’ll love, it’s often hard to say no. Here are a few suggestions I have for deciding what you personally are willing to do as a part of the interview process.
Strategies to Adapt
by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Interviewing for a New Role
As a many-time layoff survivor, I have done quite a few job searches and had lots of interviews. Recently, I read an article about a job searcher who opted out of one hiring process. He did this after making it through three rounds of interviews and having the organization ask about arranging the next six (yes, six) rounds of interviews.
I felt compelled to share my story about one seemingly never-ending interview process. Unfortunately, like with many things in life, it took a bad experience to teach me how to make better decisions.
Job Interviewing Boundary Setting is Hard
Let me start by taking a moment to acknowledge that this is not always easy to do. It is hard to set boundaries when you’re hip-deep in a job search, especially when you’re unemployed. The longer the search goes on, the easier it is to tell yourself that you’ll summit Everest if a potential employer asks you to as part of possibly FINALLY getting a paying job.
Consider this your reminder to realize that jumping through more and more hoops doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up with a job at the end of the process. Do your future job-searching self a favor and think through what your boundaries are when it comes to participating in a given company's hiring process. (We'll revisit this a little later.)
The Perfect Job! (or was it...)
During this particular job search, I was laid off at the end of the summer. From previous job searches, I hoped to find a new position before Thanksgiving because otherwise, it might be until February or March before I secured a new role.
I was very excited when I ran across THE PERFECT JOB! It was an opening for a training director position within an easy commuting distance where I even knew someone who had connections within the organization.
Lesson Learned: Don’t fall in love with a job. Even if it seems like “the perfect job,” it is not yet “your job.” Apply, and hope for the best, but keep on applying. Until you have an actual accepted job offer, it is not “your job.
The Inside Scoop
I met with my professional connection, and they filled me in. I learned about the organization, their clientele, their mission, the key players in the hiring process, and helpful background information. My connection even put in a good word with the organization (they had left on good terms.) I also learned that the company had some turnover in this position, so they were trying to make sure they did their due diligence and hired the right person this time around.
Lesson Learned: Gather and synthesize information even when you’re excited because you found THE PERFECT JOB. This company having gone through two people in the role in a relatively short time period and being concerned about making another hiring misstep is something I heard and noted. Still, I didn't really take it to heart. In this case, the company was trying (maybe a little too) hard to hire the right person for the role. It may have also indicated something about the company or the position that caused people not to stay. My future self knows to synthesize information more carefully--and not overemphasize only the good things.
The Phone Interviews
I applied, and my connection put in a good word for me. The company quickly reached out to me for an initial phone screen. Then a phone interview. Then another phone interview. Then yet another phone interview. After four phone calls—each where the new interviewer seemed excited about me as a candidate and talked about who else I needed to talk to—I started to wonder what the game plan was for this whole process (aside from their overwhelming and often stated goal of not to make a hiring mistake).
Lessons Learned: In the initial phone screen or the first interview, ask about the hiring process. This includes their estimate of when this process will be over (a week? a month? 6 months?) and the critical steps in the process. Decide your boundaries and be ready to decide the number of hours you are willing to dedicate to interviewing for this role.
Remember, you are interviewing them, too. Make no assumptions. Don't get so excited that they keep wanting to talk with you that you keep going, not knowing how many hoops there are to jump through.
The Work Samples
In addition to talking to different interviewers on multiple occasions, the company wanted to see instructional design work samples from me. I emailed work samples and reviewed them with a subject matter expert who was well-versed in adult education and instructional design. They complimented me on the trainer guide, videos, and job aids I had created. They told me they were impressed with my work and learned from what I told them. At this point, they told me the next step was for me to meet with the company founder.
Lessons Learned: Have a portfolio online that people can access, or let people know that you are happy to review work samples (and your process) with them in an in-person or Zoom meeting. I keep my work samples online with a note that these are intended to showcase my work and that they are not to be downloaded and distributed.
The Zoom Meetings
I was excited to meet the company founder, who was also a published author. In preparation, I bought and read their most recent book, researched their accomplishments, read their blog articles, and reviewed their body of work. During the interview, we had a great conversation, which included a lot of “when we work together” and “next steps” language.
This meeting was followed by multiple Zoom meetings with different stakeholders (again, one at a time) explaining the next steps in this process—which they called an “in-box experience.” During this phase, I would come into their office and work for a half day. I would have a chance to interact with multiple people I would work with, including consultants and a client. This would require me to sign a non-disclosure agreement, work on a project for an actual client, and present information to a client.
Lessons Learned: No matter how many interviews you have, or how much they seem to like you, remember you do not have the job until they have made you an offer and you have come to an agreement about your compensation. Remember that the goal of this process is that the employer decides if they want to work with you, and you decide if you want to work with them. Looking back, I'm frustrated with myself that I invested SO MUCH TIME with this potential employer without talking about salary expectations.
The In-Box Experience
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, at 8:00 am, I arrived at the company's downtown office location for my in-box experience. I brought my computer and the work I had done so far. (BTW--there was a project and pre-work that I did, which took way too long. Holy time suck.) I was told that I needed to use their computer for my work that day.
During the four hours that I was there working (for free) for them, I had an in-person panel interview with people I had talked with via phone, interviewed via Zoom with a consultant, ran a project meeting, completed work on instructional materials for a client, and got feedback on my performance along the way. I had a final conversation with one of the decision-makers before ending my day. I was told I'd hear back early the following week.
Lessons Learned: Determine ahead of time how much you are willing to do for a role, and when to call it. Remember, you're interviewing them, too. And, for the love of God, don't do a ton of unpaid labor for a business that is not paying you for your work product.
Thanks, But No
In the middle of the following week, I got a call. It was very brief. Thanks for my time, but they had decided not to proceed with me as a candidate. If I like, though, they would be willing to add me to their possible consultant database for future contract work.
Lesson Learned: Never again. In short, I spent about 45 hours total, including about 15 hours of unpaid work that I did for the company, to end up with no job offer. Time to transition all of these lessons learned into new personal guidelines.
My Fancy New Job Search Boundaries
Remember the boundary setting I mentioned before? Here's where we revisit it. After going through this process (and getting mad all over again while writing this article), I am reminded of the outcome of those lessons learned for me.
7-time layoff survivor Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady, waxes poetic on layoffs, job transitions, & career resilience.
Buy The Book!
Were you recently laid off from your job and need a roadmap for what's next? Pick up a copy of my book, Seven Lessons From Seven Layoffs: A Guide!