How to Create a Portfolio to Land Your Dream Instructional Design Job
Whether you’re ready to jump into your instructional design job search or you’re just learning about the field, you’ve got to know about digital portfolios!
The truth is, even experienced instructional designers need these tips for sprucing up their portfolios. But don’t worry! I’ve got you covered from start to finish and everywhere in between.
What is a Portfolio and Why Do I Need One for an Instructional Design Job?
An instructional design portfolio is a collection of projects that showcase your skills and strengths as an instructional designer. For example, you might have seen portfolios used in photography or graphic design.
Well, it’s the same idea! Just as you would want to see examples of a photographer’s work before hiring them, instructional design recruiters need your portfolio to back up your resume.
Portfolios VS. Resumes
Now, you might be asking yourself why you even need a portfolio. Especially if you’ve spent time polishing your resume and cover letter to make them perfect for the instructional design job you’re applying for.
A resume only lists your skills. Now, a great resume should include enough detail to get an employer or recruiter’s attention (you can read more about that in my free resume writing ebook). On the other hand, your portfolio demonstrates those skills with clear examples that allow an employer to see what you can do.
Benefits of Creating a Digital Portfolio
Crafting a resume is time-consuming enough. Do you need to create a portfolio on top of that? The short answer is YES!
Here are some other amazing benefits to building a portfolio you can submit to complement your resume for an instructional design job:
- Provides evidence you can do what your resume says you can do
- Builds your credibility with recruiters and potential employers
- Gives you a leg up on your competition
- Tracks your accomplishments in personal and professional projects
- Attracts attention, especially if you don’t have formal instructional design experience
Projects to Include in Your Instructional Design Portfolio
So now that you understand the importance of building a portfolio let’s talk about what you should and should not include as an instructional designer.
Project Dos and Don’ts
Do: Show off your best projects. Include the work that you are most proud of.
Do: Consider what kind of role you want to have as an instructional designer. If you want to be more on the development side, you’ll want to include courses you’ve developed using authoring tools like Articulate Storyline. If you prefer to focus on curating the learning content, include storyboards or scripts.
Do: Include a variety of projects that show your range.
Do: Try and match projects with skills you’ve highlighted in your resume.
Don’t: Include projects you don’t have permission to use or that contain sensitive client information. Ask for permission from previous employers or scrub projects of company information and logos before you share.
Don’t: Go overboard. Like with a resume, you have to curate what you share or risk losing the viewer’s attention. Pick a few great projects and put your best work at the top!
What if I Haven’t Worked in Instructional Design Yet?
At this point, instructional design newbies might be panicking. If you haven’t had an instructional design job yet, where are you supposed to get these projects to build a portfolio?
Building a portfolio is a beneficial practice for aspiring instructional designers. It gives you a taste of project management and forces you to dive into course creation.
First, reflect on projects from your current role (whether in a career other than instructional design or as a student). There’s no need to reinvent the wheel! For example, if you’ve had to organize learning content, record a video tutorial, or deliver training as a teacher- you’ve got some material that could be useful in a portfolio.
Next, figure out what’s missing. Spend some time looking at job requirements for instructional design jobs you’d want. What kind of skills are they looking for? You can also view some real instructional design portfolios, like these, for inspiration.
From there, create your project on whatever topic you want that fulfills those requirements. The assets in your portfolio don’t have to be real courses or materials that you’ve used in training! They just have to prove you know your stuff!
Here’s an example: this instructional design job requirements include creating reference materials for university staff.
As a newbie instructional designer, I will put together a job aid and an infographic that I can include in my portfolio.
Common Instructional Design Skills to Highlight in Your Portfolio
Check out this infographic for a quick explanation of different projects you can include in your portfolio and what skills they highlight:
Getting Started on an Instructional Design Portfolio
I know this might seem like a lot of work, especially if you’re starting your portfolio from scratch. I’m not going to pretend like portfolio-building is easy- it’s not! It’s definitely not something you can do overnight.
So, I’m going to break it down into seven manageable steps to get you started.
Step 1: Do Your Research
If you haven’t already, spend some time looking up instructional design job postings. Take note of the popular requirements to get ideas for sample projects to create for your portfolio.
Step 2: Pick a Topic
Since you have to create a project from scratch, it might as well be on a topic you enjoy or know a lot about! It can be really simple. The simpler, the better. You want your audience to focus on the delivery, not necessarily the exact content.
If you’re having trouble thinking of a topic, check out this website that generates project ideas.
Step 3: Plan the Deliverable
Here’s where you decide how you’re going to present your topic. Those job requirements you researched earlier will come into play here. For example, if you want to showcase your development skills, you might plan an eLearning course using authoring software. If you want to showcase video and audio editing skills, you’ll create a video tutorial.
Step 4: Organize your Content
Regardless of what format your final product will be, you’ve got to get organized before you jump into the product. Especially if you’re going to be relying on a free trial to finish your project!
Identify learning objectives and organize your content. You can even storyboard the project and track it using a project management tool (news flash: those can also be portfolio assets!)
Step 5: Develop the Project
Once you’re organized, you’re ready to develop. Now you can start your free trial if you need to. Even though this is just a sample project, don’t forget to run it through quality assurance. Send it to someone you trust to get their feedback before you add it to your portfolio.
Step 6: Host your Portfolio
Once you have something to include in your portfolio, you need a place to put it. There are plenty of great options (many of them are free) for hosting your instructional design portfolio.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Step 7: Post your Portfolio
You might choose to wait on this step until you have more than one project, but the last step is to share your portfolio with the world! Or with your professional network, at least.
Share your portfolio on your socials, especially LinkedIn. This has a few benefits. First, you can get more feedback and use it to improve. But most importantly, you might attract the attention of someone that can connect you with an instructional design job.
Still Need More Help?
Suppose you’re looking for more one-on-one instruction to help you move through an instructional design process and create assets for your portfolio. In that case, you should check out The Instructional Design Tech Accelerator program.
You’ll move through all of the steps I summarized above in greater detail with the support of other students as well as experts in instructional design, video production, PowerPoint design, and Storyline development.
Accelerators who complete the program have a variety of reviewed projects to include in their portfolio.
You can also find community support for free in The Hangout, a community for aspiring instructional designers. Bring your portfolio-related questions to the group!