Job hunting is never easy for an experienced instructional designer. Our work is often proprietary, confidential, restricted, and hidden from public view. What we deliver frequently belongs to our employers.
On the flip side, potential employers expect us to be constantly adding tools, networking, and building a strong portfolio of work samples. Instructional designers help people learn. So we should be constantly learning and showing our value.
Today, a public portfolio of instructional design work is expected by most employers. Many job applications will ask for your public-facing website. College programs help their students build portfolios before they graduate with their instructional design certificate. Contract work is on the rise. As a contractor, one must maintain one’s own business, and a portfolio is how you sell yourself.
Build your portfolio while you are employed. Don’t wait. Invest in yourself.
I’m speaking from my own experience. Over a four-year period, I spent one year hunting for jobs and building portfolio while unemployed. It wasn’t easy. Experts like Tom Kuhlmann back me up. In 2012, I heard him make this point to over 100 instructional designers in a workshop. Tom is passionate on this topic. Do it while you have a job.
Not enough time? Think of portfolio work as a series of small projects, a 10-hour project in two weeks or a 30-hour project within a month. Then look at your weekly workload. In a 50-hour week, can you set aside 10% of your time (5 hours) to work on your portfolio and learn something new? If you have a boss and an organization that expects you to learn, you may be able to work with them to align your portfolio work with your development goals.
Still not convinced? There are positive benefits.
By building a portfolio, you will be able to test out your ideas, alter them and refine your portfolio to highlight what you do best. You can learn new skills or new tools, and you may discover a new path to follow. You can try fresh ideas on the public with little risk, because you are offering something to the world for free. You can see where you stand with your peers, and work on your gaps or weaknesses. You can set up your personal computing devices with your favorite tools and do projects you would not normally do at work.
Plus, your current employer benefits from your learning whether you make them aware of it or not. Learning new skills and tools makes you a better employee, and more desirable within your organization.
A portfolio can make you feel more confident about your future. Opportunity knocks at unexpected times. Jobs and organizations change rapidly. With a portfolio, you will be ready to open the door to your next job tomorrow, next year, or when HR calls the meeting for another layoff.
A portfolio can help you see yourself in a new light. We often see ourselves and our work in the context of the organization and team. If the team and organization reward us, we feel satisfied and competent. If they do not, we feel discouraged and unmotivated. Through your portfolio, you may find another way to belong, bump up your self-esteem, and achieve self-actualization (quoting Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).
Along the journey, you will find surprises. I was surprised when my first SlideShare post attracted 300 people on Halloween night. When I tried my YouTube pie-making video, I learned about the challenges of being on camera. It was fun, the pie was good, and my family and friends enjoyed it. When I shared my instructional design work with peer groups, I realized I knew more than I thought I did. I am absolutely amazed that over 15,000 people have viewed one small 2014 project Leadership Sources of Power on SlideShare.net with very little self-promotion.
The best part about building a portfolio is that it belongs to you. You invest in yourself. Investing in yourself is the path to build earning potential and a strong financial future no matter what happens with the economy. You are a good investment in uncertain times.
Where to start? I know. It is like a blank piece of paper staring at you. Do you create a webinar, video, an e-learning course, podcast, blog, or build a game or lab? What content do you use? Which tool do you use? Where do you share it?
In this series, I’m going to share tips in three phases:
- Research: Look for portfolio examples and ideas that appeal to you.
- Produce: Plan and create your own project.
- Share: Publish and share your work; solicit and respond to feedback.
Each one of us is unique and different. We are all traveling different directions. So I won’t tell you exactly what to do. Instead, I will share my experiences to help you brainstorm, and get started with your own ideas. That way you can form your own path and direction.