Covering Coronavirus: Tips, best practices and programs

Job seekers, build your online portfolio now

Jeremiah Patterson, Professorial Lecturer, School of Communication, American University

There’s no time like the present for a little digital deep-cleaning. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shifted the media job landscape, flooding seasoned journalists and graduating students alike into an uncertain employment market.  

Job seekers at any level should have and maintain an online presence that best reflects them, says Jeremiah Patterson, who teaches a variety of multimedia and broadcast courses in the journalism division at American University’s School of Communication. “So as long as you have a personal portfolio site, a LinkedIn account and maybe a Twitter feed they can look at, [an employer can] get a good sense of your digital footprint,” he said. 

Patterson shared his tips for building a dynamic site that reflects your work. 

What should job-seekers consider when it comes to an online portfolio?

Patterson: More than anything, put your mind in the frame of a potential employer. Ask what you’d want them to know and understand about you when they visit your portfolio. Walk through that experience in your head and then write content and design the space accordingly. Make things easy to find — especially relevant work and your contact information. (Please have your contact information — an email and a phone number. If you don’t want to list your real phone number, then get a Google number and forward it.) Keep it clean. Keep it professional. Keep it organized. Remember: the whole point isn’t just to toot your own horn, it’s to frame yourself as a solution to the employer’s need.

What are the most important things to keep in mind when selecting an online portfolio service? Should I build my own site?

Patterson: The most important thing to keep in mind is whether the online portfolio service is meeting your needs as the one who’s using it. There are lots of solutions out there, and they each have strengths and weaknesses. But at the end of the day, you’re the one using it. So if you find a particular platform frustrating and that frustration is preventing you from producing or updating your portfolio, then get a different one! There aren’t right and wrong answers here.

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What should a job-seeker include — or not include — in an online portfolio?

Patterson: Definitely include your name, a bio and some relevant work. This seems obvious, but let me dive into each of these. 

You’d be surprised how many students and colleagues I help whose online portfolios don’t have their names anywhere! Remember, someone probably googled you, and now they’re on your site and so you want to confirm for them that they’re in the right place. Your name does that. Make it clear, make it bold, make sure it’s above the scroll.

For bios, I’m a fan of two versions: a short one for branding and a longer one for more traditional details. For example, I might have a short one that says “Digital journalism professor and UX designer.” Then, my longer bio has all the normal things. The short version is great to have immediately after your name somewhere. Again, this is designed for the person (i.e. potential employer) looking at your site. It tells them, quickly, a little bit about who you are and what you do. Then, if they want more detail, they can go to your About page and read your longer bio. While we’re on it, I’m a big proponent of first-person bios. Unless you’re a big enough name where, presumably, someone else might actually write and deliver your bio, it seems a bit impersonal to write third-person on your own portfolio site.

In terms of relevant work, make sure you feature some projects you’re really proud of that showcase your skill sets. Also, make sure those projects relate to how you brand yourself and the types of jobs you’re applying to. Keep this area up to date. And make sure the language is evergreen, because you’ll probably forget to come back and change things. For example, I tell students not to say, “This spring I worked on this data project.” But instead, write it as “In spring 2019, I worked on this data project.” That way the language works today and in the future.

As far as things not to include: outdated language, spelling or copy errors, unprofessional photos. Sometimes I see students try and stuff their site full of glamor shots. Just a clean, simple headshot will do.

What portfolio sites do you recommend?

Patterson: I’m a big fan of WordPress — and I have most of my students use it. The reason is two-fold: if you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t want to spend a lot of money, then the solutions at wordpress.com will work fine for you; alternatively, if you know some code and want to self-host the platform, then it’s extraordinarily flexible and customizable. Beyond that, again, I think you have to pick a platform that works for you as the user. I’ve seen people use Squarespace, Wix, Muck Rack, Pressfolios or even just LinkedIn. Sometimes my students have hand-coded their own sites.