ISD Professionals: Building a Portfolio

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On average, I interview three consultants per week. I meet each consultant face-to-face and get to know him or her. I read their resume, I talk with them to gauge their personality and I examine their work portfolio……if they have one. I was surprised to learn that many consultants don’t create a portfolio that showcases their best work! Clients use contractors / consultants for one of two reasons:

  1. They need an extra “hand” on a project. OR
  2. They need an “Ace”. Someone that has specific experience that they need on a project.

If you want to obtain the contracts that fall under the second category you must have a portfolio of your work. If your portfolio is great enough it will “sell” you more than any interview ever could.

Here’s the reality: As consultants, our income is based 100% on our ability to convince new clients that we know how to do what they want done. How can you convince them without a portfolio?  This article will hopefully help you build or improve your portfolio and increase your ability to secure consulting work.

Why Should I Bother?  

#1 – Your portfolio is proof that you can do what you claim you can do. Considering that as a consultant you have to be up and running on day one – this proof is critical.

#2 – If there are two of you interviewing for the same contract position, and the other consultant has a portfolio, who do you think is going to get the work?

#3 – It is an historical record of your accomplishments. It will be nice to look back through in 10 years – believe me!

Online Portfolio

Online portfolios are cool. However, you have to be very careful not to put any client information on the site. You cannot put that cool eLearning course you created for ABC company unless the lawyers at ABC company say it is okay. Here’s some advice: They almost always say no. Generally, to create an online portfolio you have to create your own content to showcase your skills. Several years ago I created an eLearning course that explained why you should outsource eLearning projects. I was the client, the designer, and the developer. I was able to put that online with no worries.

  • If you have content you want to put online, there are plenty of online portfolio sites that are free. Just Google “online portfolio” to choose one. You will most likely have to use screen shots rather than upload the executable of your course.
  • Just one more warning: Do not showcase client work online without express written permission from their legal department.

Note: I am putting together a separate blog on all the different ePortfolio tools I can find to save everyone some time. If you know of a great too, please email me or comment here.

Paper-Based Portfolio

Paper-based portfolios are very powerful in a face-to-face interview. I have a physical portfolio that I take to my interviews and I win the assignment every time. At first, my portfolio was just a binder with some samples. Later I added nice divider tabs and a Table of Contents. Now, it’s in a nice cover and it’s divided up by the type of deliverable the client might be looking for. After 19 years in the field my portfolio has become quite full.

You don’t need a nice leather case for your portfolio, but I would suggest something that closes completely to protect your documents. I literally still have printed documents from the 1990′s in mine and they haven’t yellowed yet. It’s a good thing since the electronic versions of the files are on 3 1/2″ discs. (For you young folks – that is a very old storage device – like a flash drive with almost no space.) At an office supply store you can get a nice canvas zip-up portfolio for around $10 that will work nicely.

Organizing Your Portfolio

How should you organize your portfolio? Well, what you shouldn’t do is just stick a bunch of samples together. There are several ways to organize your portfolio:

Chronologically: Put everything in order of when you did it, with the most recent at the beginning. Your categories (tabs or portfolio pages) should be something like: 2010, 2009, 2008……

ADDIE Model: Create five categories according to the ADDIE model. Put all your analysis work such as a formal needs analysis or a task analysis in the “A” section and so forth.

Competency Model: ASTD has a competency model that you could use to organize your portfolio if you are more of a generalist. However, if your career focus mainly in one area of the model, your portfolio will not be balanced.

I welcome other suggestions of how to organize portfolios.

What to Watch Out For

This is common sense: Make sure your samples are great work. Really. I have examined many portfolios with bullets that aren’t lined up, unexpected font changes, less than professional looking graphics, and just generally full of samples I wouldn’t want to show a potential client.

I recommend having a colleague look over your portfolio and give you honest feedback. It might hurt your pride a little to hear criticism, but wouldn’t you rather hear it before you go on an interview?

Stuff to Include

First, make sure you have permission. (Have I said that before?) A well-rounded ISD Portfolio should include many of these items:

1. At least one sample of High Level Design. Try to include some type of summary that’s one page or less. You can’t expect an interviewer to read a 15 page document. I like to turn mine into a Conceptual Map which explains everything in a diagram.

2. At least one Storyboard if you design for eLearning. This should include graphic layouts, instructions for developers, narration script, etc..  

3.  At least one Facilitator Guide sample. Just a few pages will do. If you have several different styles then include them all.

4. At least one example of a Participant Guide. More examples of different styles will be more useful.

5. Samples that showcase the different types of content you work with: Leadership, Soft Skills, Procedure, Customer Service, Technical, Medical, etc…  Saying you know how to work with medical content is different than showing you know how.

6. If you have a detailed design for a larger program, include a few pages of this.

7. Level 1 Evaluations: Include any you constructed.

8. Level 2 Evaluations: Include sample tests you’ve created. If they were online, include the feedback.

9. Level 3 Evaluations: If you have sample collection forms, include them. Even better – do you have data showing results? Do you have your evaluation plan from your design mapping these to the overall goal?

10. Level 4 or 5 Evaluation Data: If you have this, include the overall plan and the results.

11. Recommendations: If you’ve had a client or a colleague write a recommendation, include it here.

12. Atta-girls or Atta-boys: Way back when I had a regular job, it was standard policy for a VP level person to send an “atta-girl” to my boss and copy me when my programs were a big success. I always printed these and saved them. As you collect these, include them in your portfolio.

***Once again, make sure you have permission to include any materials from the legal department of the company!

-Leigh Anne Lankford, Instructional Design Consultant

Comments
7 Responses to “ISD Professionals: Building a Portfolio”
  1. This is very detailed and great info, Leigh Anne. When I first started out, it was so overwhelming because I didn’t have a portfolio. Then the task of creating one seemed so daunting because I couldn’t put my job search on hold while I sat and created these articles from scratch. But, it definitely is worth your time. Even if you are not able to create a FULL portfolio immediately, a couple of brief examples may be enough to get smaller freelance gigs until you can build things up. The other thing that I would add is that if you are creating a portfolio from scratch, it’s a lot of work to try to create an ENTIRE presentation or document. Small samples/demos that are well done work effectively as well. Maybe 10 slides instead of 50 :-). That might save a little time :-).

    • Ricardo Hoegg says:

      Great observations. Yes, it’s very tempting to show everything you’ve got, especially when digital on a CD or DVD. But as you’ve said, it’s better to select 10 slides instead of 50. Only you know your potential client, so having a “stock” of portfolios-of-10-each that you can quickly mix ‘n’ match is a wise organizational tool to keep around. That way, you customize your presentation quickly. It’s actually a very daunting task to select 10 items; the best ones, of course, and snippets of those on top of that. SO, you do need 50 best-ones to choose from (but probably not more, and they do add up with experience etc.), which might seem redundant or overload, but it’s the only way to showcase yourself strategically. Not every client needs to see your whole shootin’ match, and a lot of time (energy) goes into creating a portfolio. Great response!

  2. Thanks for a great article. I work with a lot of people who are just starting out in the field and creating a portfolio seems overwhelming to them. This will be a big help to them.

  3. chipple689 says:

    Great advice for someone who has portfolio fragments all over the place – and I am not just starting out. I’m going to be exploring ISD portfolio options for my coursework at the UMBC ISD program this fall – I’ll look forward to reviewing your ePortfolio tools.

    One trick I’ve learned in doing software demos is to have many options to show, but to start only with the things the prospect has expressed an interest in. It’s often good to hold back on the unrelated artifacts unless they express an additional interest. If they see the other items in your paper portfolio or ePortfolio index, they may ask to see more. But it’s important to avoid the temptation of throwing the entire kitchen sink at them.

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  1. [...] is a valid excuse. If you read my post from 2011 about building your portfolio you’ll see that I constantly remind you that the client has to provide permission.  But I [...]

  2. […] Anne Lankford, an Instructional Design Consultant, summed up her recommendations in her article, ISD Professionals – Building a Portfolio. She suggested these effective methods to organize a […]



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