10 ways your e-portfolio sucks

Hmm these ’10 things…’, ’20 top…’ type blogs are very popular these days. This one is directly inspired by a former student (anonymous for their own protection) whose e-portfolio site was sent my way by a games industry recruiter.

Universities love e-portfolios and all sorts of personal development planning (PDP) stuff. E-portfolio systems such as Mahara are often integrated into LMS/VLE software allowing students to populate their portfolios with all their university work and reflective thoughts. However, this might not result in a portfolio that an employer actually wants to read – or that will help someone get a job. Having had my eyes almost burnt out from reading one portfolio, here are some thoughts on a top ten things not to do in your e-portfolio…

… and feel free to comment below if you know of other portfolio sins and must-dos or must-don’ts.

10 Daniel Livingstone’s e-Portfolio

Aargh! Just call it a portfolio. Yes, your PDP tutor loves words like e-learning and e-portfolio and catchy phrases like Personal Development Planning or whatever. Just call it your portfolio and try to cut the jargon and buzzwords.

9 Do you like my fonts?

Do you prefer this font? People viewing portfolios on screen love it when you use an array of fonts across your portfolio. Especially when you have blocks of text in curly script or unusual serif fonts that are especially awkward to read.

Actually, that’s a lie. It’s awful – don’t do it. Try to stick to one or two fonts at most – including the font you use on banners – and if you must use curly fonts only ever use them for titles. Here I’m saved by my WordPress theme from adding random fonts as I see fit, but some popular website builders (e.g. weebly) will let you make your page as unreadable and unpleasant as you like. Which brings us to…

8 Spel chek you’re portfolio

Most modern site-builders include text editors that will mark up spelling mistakes. Check you don’t have spelling mistakes. Have a friend check. If you need to, copy the text into a word-processor and use its spell checker.

Know how to use an apostrophe – it’s generally safer to miss out one that should be there than to include extra apostrophes that shouldn’t. Know the difference between “your” and “you’re”.

Ok, so this might not seem the most important thing ever – but if you don’t take care over how you present yourself to employers, why would they think you are going to take care over your work for them?

7 You don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t, use whatever portfolio system your institution provides

You might need to use it for coursework, or for PDP. But you don’t need to use it for job hunting.

Anyone can create a free portfolio site online using wordpress.com or weebly or wix, or any of a huge number of blogging/site building/hosting services. Note that free services may add adverts to your content unless you pay to have them removed (wordpress.com, for example) or will generally have other limitations. Sure, having your own domain name does look a bit more professional, but unless you are applying for web-developer jobs it really isn’t necessary. If you are applying for a web-developer job, you really should be hosting your own portfolio – but again wordpress or other open source software can help you get started.

6 Don’t tell me all about the stuff you don’t know

If you don’t have a driving license, that is fine. But why waste space on your portfolio to tell an employer this? If you have a page detailing your work experience that is entirely dedicated to a one week placement you did back in high school, then what you are really saying is “I have gained no relevant work experience at all in the last four years.”

I cannot think of any reason why you’d want to say that on your portfolio, unless you are trying to avoid getting a job. Really.

5 Emphasise your best/most relevant work – lose the rest

Over three or four years of university you may have done a lot of coursework. Software, animations, essays, a matchstick model of the castle from ICO. Whatever. You might be very proud of all of this work, but that is not enough reason to inflict all of it on the poor soul trying to work out if you are worth employing.

Pick the best projects. The ones that show off best what you can do. If including group projects, make sure that your contribution is emphasised and obvious. Briefly state how and why this work shows off what you can do. Make sure that the work you include is relevant to the career you are trying to get. Generally speaking, don’t bother to include your essays and reports – but you can say that other work is available on request. Not that you’ll get requests, because no-one cares about your essay.

While your final degree classification will be something employers want to know, don’t list your grades for all your work. Unless you got an A for everything. Why tell people that your work wasn’t so good after all?

If you are unable to narrow down your work to the best few projects, you are giving employers another piece of information you don’t want them to have: That you are unable to discriminate between good and indifferent work.

4 Hobbies and interests

I like music, books and going to the cinema.

So does EVERY OTHER PERSON ON THE PLANET. Just about. Be interesting. What sort of books? Why? Give the interviewers something to ask you about. And if, for some reason, you decide to list whatever you’ll be doing for your career as a hobby or interest, then make it the first one for goodness sake.

“My interests are football, playing bongos, making scale models with matchsticks and programming. I’m applying for a programming job because I’m not good enough at football and there aren’t good career opportunities in the other two.” Hmmm.

3 Give me your CV/resume

It is your portfolio site. The whole reason for its existence is for potential employers to view it and maybe offer you a job. So put your CV/resume on it.

Don’t ask people to fill out a web-form or email you for it, just give them the damn thing.

Q. “But I’m worried about releasing my personal details. Like, I might get a telemarketing call or some spam email.”

A. “FFS. You don’t need to put your address on it. But you get telemarketing calls and spam email already. How much difference do you think its going to make?”

You are trying to get a job. Putting barriers between the recruiter and yourself is simply asking them to pass you over.

2 The Landing Page

The home page of the portfolio that users will arrive at is the most important page.

First impressions count.

It should all load into a typical desktop window without any need for scrolling. Don’t try to give out all your information, just highlight your key skills - what is it you actually do – and encourage people to read more by checking out your portfolio in more depth.

Don’t include images here of project work that is jarring or has potential to shock. That educational game on the lives of the Nazis might be worth including in your portfolio, but might not give the best first impression on your landing page.

If you are a programmer and your home page doesn’t say what type of programmer (languages, platforms, applications) you are, then it isn’t doing its job. If you are a C++ specialist with a side order of JavaScript/HTML5, then I should not need to dig into your portfolio to find this out. Tell me on your home page. Please.

Same for artist or any other career: What are you, what do you do. If this page doesn’t make that totally clear then it isn’t doing its job.

1 You are not a thought leader

If you are a graduate, you are almost certainly not a “thought leader”. You are not a “code ninja”. Nor are you an “animation wizard” or a “development guru”. You are especially not any novel made up word that attempts to convey any of these things.

If you are fresh out of university and you describe yourself as any of these things, then what you actually are is a twat. Or at least you are trying hard to sound like one.

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