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7 Tips For Creating A Great Writer’s Portfolio

7 Tips For Creating ...

Everyone knows that a job hunter needs a resume. But whether you’re a copywriter, content curator, scriptwriter, editor, public relations strategist or blogger, you also need a collection of samples to demonstrate your wordsmithing expertise. In short, you must have a writer’s portfolio, often referred to as your “book.”

In the days when print and broadcast were the main mass communications media, writers would put printouts of ads, brochures and other pieces in a vinyl or metal artist case along with a VCR tape of their reel of TV spots. Today, digital marketing and social media have created a demand for different samples that are best presented as electronic files. During a face-to-face interview, you can present these on your laptop or iPad. The format is up to you: you can post them on a website so recruiters and hiring managers can view them at their convenience or send them along with your resume as PDFs when you apply for jobs posted online. (And if you still have those print and broadcast samples, be sure to include those digitally as well!)

Because there are so many media channels to work in, deciding what to feature in your book can present some serious challenges. Especially since too many samples may work against you if the interviewer begins to feel overwhelmed! How to decide what to show and to whom?

Here are seven tips to help you create a portfolio that is geared towards current client needs and how interviews are conducted. Whether you’re a senior level writer or someone just starting out, your resume may get you an interview but it’s your book that will get you the job.

Start with the premise that the point of the book is NOT to show everything you’ve ever done. It’s to demonstrate that you’re the best candidate for a particular job. If you view your book as a visual aid to your resume, decisions about what and what not to show will become much clearer.

1. Structure your book as a visual aid to your job interview

The whole point of a book is to present the potential employer with proof that you’ve done the projects described in your resume. Therefore, whatever work is mentioned on your resume should also be in your book. Think of these projects as illustrations of the stories you want to tell. If there is something innovative about the way a brochure folds or a series of ads that should be seen together, then arrange them so the interviewer can SEE all the bells and whistles as you’re describing them. Remember, “seeing is believing” and displaying all the parts of a sample—envelopes, response devices, the different views of a folded piece and so on— helps the viewer fully understand how your concept was executed.

2. Build your book for each interview so it’s industry specific

Generally, you’re interviewing for an assignment in an industry in which you’ve already had some experience. Make sure that your book shows off a range of appropriate samples that the interviewer can relate to. For example, your samples might include copy content, blogs, and a social media campaign for a local contractor and ads, signage, and press releases for a national builder. All of these would be demonstrate the width of your range and your industry expertise if you’re interviewing with anyone in the building trade including architects, contractors, carpenters, building supply manufacturers, and warehouses, etc.

3. Cover the full range of projects clients may want to see

If you’re interviewing with a recruiter or for a job in an industry you don’t know well, you should think of your presentation in terms of skillsets rather than industry-specific projects. The truth is, if you can write B2B copy content for a lawyer, you can also do it for a manufacturer of farm equipment. The basic principles are the same. Pick your samples so you make that point.

Here’s a list of skill sets and the kind of projects you might want to include:




Branding and Strategic Development

Marketing plans for brand development

Print and collateral  

Ads/brochures/flyers/sales sheets/direct mail

Digital Marketing Communications

Copy content/blogs/video scripts/landing pages


Banner ads/social ads/emails - especially CTA headlines!

Relationship Building

Social media/internal communications

Public Relations   

Press releases/invitations/articles

4. Include projects that may be of interest to your audience

The more connections you can make between what you’ve done and what the hiring manager wants you to do for them, the better. These connections don’t necessarily have to be paid projects you’ve done in their industry. They could also be projects you did pro bono or as a personal favor for a friend. Maybe they are projects you completed for a magazine, newspaper, or blog just because you were interested in the topic. For example, suppose you wrote a personal blog on the challenges of buying a bridal gift. This clearly would be of interest to anyone in the bridal industry. But it would also be appropriate to show if you’re interviewing with a retailer and emarketer. If you wrote such an article for a published magazine or newspaper if would be even more impressive. If you have relevant content, include it! It’s a way to show you've got the goods, even for those just starting out in their writing careers

5. Be able to describe the creation of each project and the results they produced (if known)

Remember, the purpose of your book is to illustrate the stories you have to tell about your experience. These, like all good narratives and case histories, should have an action arc that starts with some kind of challenge, an objective to be achieved, an obstacle to that objective, an explanation of how that obstacle was overcome and a happy ending that results from your efforts. Using a format that uses short, bulleted phrases allows you to tell these stories clearly and succinctly.

One way to decide which case histories to tell might be based on how successful the results were or how difficult the challenge was. Even better, if your stories involve obstacles such as tight budgets, short deadlines and intimidating competitors PLUS great results, you’re on your way to creating a “book” that’s a sure-fire best seller!

6. Build an electronic version of your book to be sent ahead of an interview

The case histories mentioned above can be used to present your samples in an online portfolio presentation on a site like Coroflot, Contently, or Squarespace. Don’t forget to choose pieces that represent most if not all of your skill sets (see Tip #3).

You can also build a PDF portfolio of 10 to 12 projects or campaigns. Create a two-page presentation for each with the case history as page 1 and the ad, brochure, copy content, etc. as page 2. Make sure your case history covers all of the elements mentioned in Tip #5 including the project's objective, any special challenges you faced and the results you achieved. Save all of these two-page documents in a file folder and create a zip folder to send them together. Title each file so it’s clear what it is (ad, blog, direct mail, etc.) and the name of the brand or product it was done for.

If you have an interview for a job demanding complex copy, you might consider offering to send your electronic book BEFORE your face-to-face appointment. The advantage of this arrangement is that it gives the interviewer a chance to actually READ what you wrote! During the interview, you can get into the details of how what you did before applies to what the interviewer needs doing now. And since these files have been created to include the product or brand name, you'll be able to sort through your samples and send those that directly pertain to the client's project. This will serve to underscore your strong expertise in their industry.

7. Update your book every 6 months

Nothing indicates that you’re in demand like showing recent work. If things have been slow, go over your older pieces and consider giving them a contemporary look by revamping them using an updated typeface and visuals. Or consider doing some spec work to showcase your creativity.

While the tips above describe electronic portfolios, they can also be applied when building a hard copy version. Just mount each sample on a separate page, following the suggestions above.

Don’t forget the purpose of the book is to use visuals to show what you’ve already done, or could do.  If you want to write fashions ads but have never done so before, create spec ads for a top designer or a retail store. If you want to write on pharmaceuticals, create a campaign for a medication you or a family member uses and put that spec in your book. Show people what you can do by doing it. You’d be amazed at how receptive people are to a book that shows a proactive approach to writing.

Good luck!

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