A few weeks ago I announced a job opening. I got about 1000 inquiries and ended up looking at over 200 portfolios. I could have looked at more but I got a lot of emails from people who didn’t have portfolios. They tended to fall into one of two camps. They either didn’t have a portfolio or the projects they worked on were proprietary so they couldn’t share them.
I know that many of you are in the same boat. And based on the tons of emails I get about finding work in this industry, I’d like to share some thoughts about why you need a portfolio and how it can help you get better at elearning.
Be at the Crossroads When Opportunity and Preparation Meet.
Opportunities exist. However, when you’re not prepared, you don’t bother looking; and if you do look, you don’t always know what to look for. If you have a portfolio ready to go, when you do hear of a potential job (or other opportunity) you can quickly jump on it. However, not having a portfolio might dissuade you from even attempting to apply for the job. In addition, because you maintain a portfolio of your skills, you’re more apt to think about the skills you need for the portfolio. It then becomes a motivator to learn more.
About 50 people told me that they didn’t have portfolios and it would take them a week or so to pull them together. Most opportunities have a limited shelf-life and a week (or sometimes a few days) might be too long. As an opportunity presents itself you need to be able to take advantage of it.
Control Your Own Destiny
Many elearning developers face two common problems. All the work you do is proprietary so you can’t share it with outsiders. Or the organization’s expectations are lower than your skills.
Too many people told me that they couldn’t share what they were working on. This makes sense for the organization, but not for you. Don’t allow their content to make your skills proprietary, as well. In the same sense, don’t let their lower expectations define your skills.
Years ago I worked for a small community hospital. It was a great place to work. However they had no money and I was forced to be creative with my projects. This was a double-edged sword. On one hand, a lot of the tips and tricks I share today come from having to work with no money or resources. On the other hand, while I got points for creativity, the projects I was producing weren’t the types of projects I could use to get a job elsewhere. So I had to build and maintain a separate portfolio of skills.
Here’s another consideration in this economy. If you lose your job, you could be flushing a lot of your work down the drain. One day you’re happy at work and the next you’re out on the street with no access to your projects or the tools used to build them. For these reasons, it’s important to maintain a portfolio.
What Should Be in Your Portfolio?
Elearning is a very diverse industry. Some people work in one-person shops where they need to know a little of everything and others can focus on one thing like writing.
Personally, I think your skills should be like a liberal arts educations where you touch on a little of everything. So here is a list of skills I think you should be able to highlight in your portfolio and be able to speak to them in an interview.
- Instructional design: Do you have examples of different approaches to learning and course design. I look at a lot of courses and most of them are usually linear. Have some examples of how to engage your learners and how they can interact with the content.
- Graphic design: While everyone talks about instructional design, I think an equal consideration is the visual design. In fact, what separated many of the candidates that I considered were their visual design skills. If all things are equal, I’ll take someone with a strong sense of visual design because it crosses into other areas like engagement, communication, and usability.
- Present diverse projects: Don’t show me 400 courses that all look the same. If that’s all you get to work on, then spend some time on your own and build out other examples. They don’t need to be complete courses. Build out an interaction or a scenario. Take one topic and try it three different ways.
- Project management: You don’t need to be a project manager, but you should understand how to manage a project from start to finish. What is the production process for an elearning course? How many hours does it take you to build a course? What resources do you need? What does it cost to produce a course?
- Writing: I like to keep things simple. So for me there’s two types of writing: technical and conversational. How well can you write to document procedures and provide the right level of guidance? On the other hand, some projects are not technical and require a more conversational tone. As Cathy Moore would ask, “Can you dump the drone?”
- Technology: You don’t need to be a software engineer, but you should know the essence of the technologies and how they work. In addition, the more tools you’re familiar with the better. The reality is that the more proficient you are with software, the more likely you’ll be a top candidate versus someone in the middle.
Here a few tips to help you get started:
- Build a case study for each project. It doesn’t need to be overly fancy. Describe the project objectives, what you did, and the results. If you have examples add them. If not, at least try to add some screenshots.
- Create a blog to document your learning. Use it to capture what you’re doing and thoughts you have during the production process. If you need ideas to get started, look at some of the demos in this blog. Take one of the ideas and play around with it.
- Network with others. A portfolio’s no good if you have no place to show it(your blog) or share it (your network). The good thing with blogging and other social tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter is that you connect with others in the industry. You’ll learn a lot and others will get to know you and your skills. It’s a great way to prepare for opportunities. Just ask Cammy.
If you want to stay in this industry and keep up with your skills, then having a portfolio is critical. You can’t always control your circumstances, but you can control how you prepare for them.
What do you think is missing from the list? What would you add? Click on the comments link to share your thoughts.
Free E-learning Resources
Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.
Here’s a great job board for elearning, instructional design, and training jobs
Participate in the weekly elearning challenges to sharpen your skills
Lots of cool elearning examples to check out and find inspiration.