In my last post I wrote about how to show, don’t tell, as you look for jobs and build your resume and profile. In just the few weeks since I wrote that post, I’ve been reading more and more about the problems that recent grads are having in finding jobs, and it’s gotten me thinking.
What’s the most efficient way that today’s job seekers, including recent grads, can get hired for jobs in today’s economy? I think every job seeker, particularly those in creative or tech fields, must have a digital portfolio.
Beyond the Fancy Education
A really eye-opening post on Medium, “Don’t go to art school,” argues that the nearly $250k you’d spend getting an undergrad degree in art, from a school like Rhode Island School of Design, is wasted money. Author Noah Bradley, a successful commercial artist, instead outlines a $10,000 education obtained online and in person, and partly accomplished using free resources. I think that’s incredibly smart.
Frankly, if I’m going to hire a designer to work on a web project, I don’t really care if they have a fancy art school education. Most importantly, I want to see their work. I also want to know that they’re going to be responsible, deliver work on time, and be communicative about their questions and progress. An art degree won’t tell me any of that.
If I’m going to hire a writer or community manager, I feel the same. I don’t necessarily need an English major or journalism major to do the work. Give me examples, back up your resume with actual work, and prove to me that you can write, or you can community manage.
Work Product in the Digital World
My bias in thinking about the jobs market is, naturally, for the digital world: not just designing and writing, but the coding and architecting of the websites, apps and operating systems which make the digital economy function. There will only be an increasing need for these skills, as a greater percentage of the world’s population gets online, and mostly via smartphones.
Even though these jobs are in digital media, they’re also all quite tangible, with specific work product; if you want someone to hire you to do any of those things, you again need to show, not tell. Save everything you work on, even if it’s student work, and create a portfolio of your work.
Bring your portfolio together on a website (which you can make password-protected, if you wish), or, at minimum, as links in an email. Your digital portfolio can be as simple as an about.me site, or as complex as your own website.
If you code, you’ve got code or finished products to show. If you design, you have websites, banners, print work or email templates. If you write, you’ve got marketing copy, blogs, white papers or other copy. You may have video, or podcasts, or links to your social media presences or that of companies you’ve worked with. Include as much as you can to tell the story of who you are and what kind of work you’ve done, and can do.
Build Your Digital Portfolio
Of course, someone just starting out in a digital or technical field (whether straight out of school or later in a career) may not yet have enough work to create a portfolio, so it’s important to do some work for friends, family, or local businesses at a reduced rate or even free. That’s really no different than a college student or recent grad working in an internship (paid or unpaid). While you’re building your portfolio, work another job to bring in the income you need, and, as your side job, create as much work product as you can in your desired field. This will help you to later attract the job you really want.
Hopefully, adding a digital portfolio to your job search will help you outrun the statistics: as of June 2013, 44% of young college grads are underemployed. I’d like to hope that a well-prepared young person with a portfolio in digital marketing or tech development would fare far better in their job search. If you know of a grad or job seeker for whom a digital portfolio has made the different, will you please drop me a line in the comments? I’d love to hear the stories.