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March 31, 2003 Program Summary
by Adele Sommers

Creating the Perfect Portfolio: How To Use Electronic and Paper Portfolios to Ace Your Next Interview, Attract New Clients, and Network Effectively was a follow-on to the series called “2003 Career Kickoff.”

A portfolio review sessionSummary: Personnel recruiting expert, senior technical communicator and instructor, founder of ProSpring staffing, and marketing authority Jack Molisani braved the traffic all the way from Los Angeles to address a packed audience with an unforgettable presentation at our March 31st meeting. His essential advice: “A portfolio is a tool I use to walk a potential client down a path of understanding that:

1) I am an expert.
2) I really have done what I claim.
3) I can do the same for the clients and solve the problems they are having.”

Those who brought their portfolios for Jack to review (shown at left) received customized advice on how to fine-tune their material for their intended audiences. For the rest of the gathering, he emphasized with words, pictures, gestures, movements, and yes, even chocolates how “people believe what they see, not what they’re told. Telling a story is good, but showing an example is better. However, a portfolio is not just a series of examples—it is a tool you use to walk a potential client/employer down a path of understanding.

Showing Off Your Process Expertise

One potent element that many people omit from a portfolio is a sample of a project plan. What role does this item play in a portfolio, you ask? A project plan represents your mastery of the process of performing the work for an employer or client. This set of skills differs from your ability to create a particular set of products.

Jack recommends placing the project plan at the beginning of the portfolio and using it as a guide to how you would approach the interviewer's needs. With this topic as a springboard, you can talk your way through samples that further underscore your credibility in each area. Maintaining hands-on control of your portfolio at all times gives you the ability to steer the interview in the direction in which you want it to head.

A project plan has sections that comprehensively describe many aspects of a real or hypothetical project. The information listed below would typically be translated into a proposal or contract:

• Scope

• Purpose/objective

• Audiences

• Estimated project length

• Distribution format and media

• Style guides or templates to be used or created

• Risks to be managed

• Tools to be used

• Sources of information

• Review and approval processes

• Issues to be decided 

• Anticipated schedule

• How changes will be handled

• Triage” (see below)


To access or download the presentation and handouts: (Need Acrobat Reader?)

Jack Molisani's presentation (on the ProSpring Web site: Create a Killer Portfolio!)

Checklist for Building a Professional Portfolio (compiled by Adele Sommers; PDF, 20K)

Developing a Web-Based Portfolio by Stephen M. Kendus (Intercom, Nov. 2002; PDF, 256K)

The Ten Commandments of Effective Portfoliosby Kirk R. St. Amant (Intercom, June 2002, PDF, 284K)

Portfolios for Technical Communicators: Worth the Work by Julie S. Scott (Intercom, Feb. 2000; PDF, 56K)

Triage refers to which of the three most desired things you can accomplish with the available funding and time: schedule (as in fast), quality (as in high), and cost (as in low). Typically, with limited resources you can achieve two but not three, so if constraints do exist, the client must choose which are the most important.

Showing Off Your Product Expertise

The samples you select for your portfolio demonstrate your ability to generate the products your interviewer desires. In this area, Jack suggests tailoring each set of samples to appeal to a particular audience. Strive to include samples that reflect the results of using your project plan; whether they were made for hire is not important. You can even develop samples and project plans retrospectively. If possible, add the following items in your portfolio to further boost your prestige and influence:

  • Testimonials, awards, and letters of recommendation
  • Glossy ads designed for products that you have contributed to in some way
  • Statistics showing how your work has benefited an organization's results in some area.

Driving It Home with Before-and-After Samples

Finally, Jack shows the potential client/employer a really, really messy before sample, and states that 90 percent of the time, the interviewer laughs and says, That is exactly how our stuff looks! After the interviewer stops his or her cathartic chuckling, Jack then shows the after sample—how he brought order to chaos.


The upshot is that a portfolio isn't just a collection of samples. A portfolio is a sales or interview tool you use to walk the client/employer down a precisely mapped path of understanding that you are the person to hire, because:

  • You made a great first impression with a professional looking portfolio.
  • By the end of the tour through your project plan, the interviewer realizes you really do know what you're talking about.
  • You demonstrated you can do what you claim with examples you've created.
  • You showed you can satisfy the interviewer's needs because you have solved similar problems for others.

The outcome is sure to be a highly impressed, prospective client or employer, ready to use your services!

NOTE: Due to the high level of interest in follow-on activities such as a workshop on Digital Portfolio Design, the SLO STC chapter will be planning one or more of these events to occur in the Fall of 2003.

To read a PDF article by the San Luis Obispo Tribune on the above event (published 5/22/03), click here.

Photography by Mary Meyer.

Creating the Perfect Portfolio: How To Use Electronic and Paper Portfolios to Ace Your Next Interview, Attract New Clients, and Network Effectively
Date: Monday evening, March 31, 2003

Panel speakers included:

  • Jack Molisani, a senior member of the STC and the founder of ProSpring Inc., a technical communication and staffing company, and LavaCon: The International Conference on Technical Communication Management to be held in Maui, HI in October 2003. Jack teaches technical writing for the Cal State University system and is a frequent speaker and workshop facilitator.
  • Jim Howland, Technical Communication instructor at Cal Poly, one of our January speakers, and a member of the SLO STC board of directors. Jim's advanced technical communication classes frequently produce digital portfolios for business clients, and Jim has used several of his own to promote his work.

“Creating the Perfect Portfolio: How To Use Electronic and Paper Portfolios to Ace Your Next Interview, Attract New Clients, and Network Effectively” focused on techniques for using paper and electronic portfolios to your greatest advantage. Whether you were interviewing for a job, looking to start or expand client services, or seeking to increase your visibility in your professional network, this presentation offered a host of new ideas. Here were just some of the many topics covered:

  • Portfolios:
    • What are they?
    • Why have one?
  • Formats:
    • Hard copy vs. electronic
    • Professional “artist” portfolio vs. samples in a notebook
  • CD vs. Web-based portfolios -- when to use each for different purposes
  • Content: Items to include, such as a résumé, plan, tailored samples, measurable results, product ads, industry reviews, testimonials, awards, and much more.
  • Hard copy portfolios: Maintaining control of your portfolio during interviews to 1) prove your expertise and 2) show how you can solve the employer's or client's problems
  • Electronic portfolios: Using portfolios in informal networking and remote interviews to enable your colleagues, prospective employers, or potential clients to peruse your work
  • Business opportunities now emerging in portfolio design
  • Portfolio planning and design principles
  • Q&A session
Door Prize: "The Web Portfolio Guide: Creating Electronic Portfolios for the Web," by Miles Kimball (2003).


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