by PDX Code Guild - Jan. 17, 2017
Making a Portfolio Site for your Job Search
There is no perfect guide to making a great portfolio site because the best portfolios are ones that reflect the personality of the maker. With that in mind, here are some tips for creating a portfolio. These will help you stand out to potential employers and colleagues. Keep It Simple One of the most common mistakes in a portfolio is too much! Too much content, too much functionality, and too much styling! A portfolio is a collection of every piece of work that you have done. A portfolio website should be a highlight reel of your best work. Once you put more than 20 or so items, no single item stands out as important. The key is not to put anything and everything you have done on your site. Make sure what you are putting on your portfolio is relevant to the position you are seeking. For example if you are looking for a job as a web developer, don’t put an example of an excel spreadsheet that you made. It will just drown out your relevant work! Websites are visual, make it as easy as possible for people to see your content. While it is difficult to choose between fonts and colors. You should not over do it here. At most, 4 colors to your ‘theme’ of your site, and no more than 3 font styles. Don’t add too much functionality. If you are applying for a front-end style job, it will be tempting to show off everything that you can do. Yet, it is important that you show you can build a good user experience as well. Focus on that first. If you want to show a particular skill with a animation or programming concept. Make that a portfolio item itself. It should not take away from the usability of your website. Be Original (Or Not) When picking a theme to your website. It can be difficult to start from scratch. Especially if you are a back-end server engineer. So if you are not that great at design, it’s okay to emulate other styles that influence you. Whether they are companies, art styles, etc. Remember though, it’s okay to emulate, but definitely do not copy. Separation of Concerns This may seem basic, but it is easy to forget. When you are building a website you always have three tools that each handle a specific part: HTML – Content CSS – Style Javascript – Function It is important that you keep everything separate. Over time you will want to redesign your site, add more content, and change the way it feels. This will be much easier to do if you have a clear separation of concerns. Updating your content should not affect the style of your site. Update Your Site Often One of the best things you can do is to continue to add content to your site while on your job search. Often you will be in an interview and asked about a certain concept or skill. If you know how to do this, but don’t have it on your portfolio, that is a good cue to add it. Adapting your portfolio throughout the job search is a good way to stay practiced in your skills. You will have useful feedback from interviews, even if you don’t get the job. Using that feedback to fine tune your site, is a great way to update your site in a meaningful way. Use Existing Tools Many programmers, myself included, are guilty of this. We often try to reinvent the wheel. But, potential employers will be much more impressed if you build something novel and unique. Don’t rewrite tools such as blog software unless you have a good reason to. Yes some of the tools out there might not be ideal. But adapting them for your use shows a higher level of skill and understanding. In any programming job you will be using someone else’s code base, this is great practice to learn how to extend software for your specific needs. That is of course, only if something won’t work right out of the box. Make Your Site Data-Driven As mentioned earlier, HTML handles content. But, it can be beneficial to make the distinction between markup (html) and content (data). With a data driven site, you have html that generated for you from some sort of database. Using a database will allow you to update your site without even touching the HTML. For portfolio sites, using a tool like CloudStitch will save you a ton of time while editing content and updating your site. Rather than editing an html file and re-uploading it to your site, you can simply edit columns in a Google Sheets spreadsheet. While it might not seem like a big hassle to make an html edit, if you do it enough it will quickly become tedious. Keep Positive It is stressful looking for work. The worst thing you can do is allow this stress to reflect in your portfolio. It is easy to become frustrated when applying to jobs, but do take the time to step away from it all and maintain a positive attitude. If you look at your unemployment as an opportunity to learn new skills, it reflects well in your portfolio. Employers are impressed with initiative and a can-do attitude. What do you have to lose? The worst thing that could happen is you learn some new skills!