5 tips for building your instructional design portfolio

A portfolio provides a way to share real samples of your work with potential employers. Building a strong instructional design portfolio is one of the best ways to show off your skills and land better opportunities. The tips in this article will help you stand out in the field.

Let’s dive in!

1. Solve real world problems

One of the primary qualities a hiring manager looks for when evaluating portfolios is a candidate’s ability to solve real-world problems through instructional design.

When deciding which projects to include in your portfolio, you should think about them from a problem-solving perspective rather than a news presentation perspective.

For example, don’t ask yourself what topic you would like to create a course on. Instead, think about real world issues that are caused by gaps in knowledge or skills.

Leverage your experience in previous professional roles. What problems did people usually struggle with?

If the problems were caused by gaps in knowledge or skills, you may be able to design a learning solution to address them.

Evaluating a performance problem like this before designing an appropriate solution is a great way to demonstrate your instructional design expertise.

2. Include process entries

Showing a great learning solution is often not enough. Hiring managers want to know what role you played in creating this solution.

This is where the description of the process comes in. Use the process description to tell us what problem the project is helping to solve, why you approached the problem the way you did, and how you went about designing and developing the solution.

This gives employers and potential clients insight into your process. It is also an opportunity for you to show your expertise.

For example, demonstrate why your solution is a good fit for the problem it helps solve. Explain your design decisions. Highlight the complex development challenges you have overcome.

Writing the process is often just as important as the project itself. If people don’t know what role you played in the project, they need to make assumptions about who else might have been involved.

3. Refine your visual design

Humans are visual creatures. We make instant judgments about things based on how they look.

If your website and portfolio projects look professional and polished, people reviewing your portfolio will see your site (and, by extension, you) in high regard. As long as the rest of your content doesn’t disappoint, you’ll be in great shape.

However, if your site doesn’t look professional due to poor visual design skills, then you can fight an uphill battle. The first impression will work against you, and the hiring manager or prospect will have to look for things to redeem you (if they even keep looking).

That being said, you don’t have to be a visual design expert. As long as you master the basics and embrace the spirit of iteration, you’ll be able to design professional layouts.

Use a tool like Adobe XD to create multiple versions of your layout before diving into the design tool or website builder of your choice. This allows you to focus on perfecting the visual design before you move on to programming.

4. Include various projects

You don’t need a dozen projects on your portfolio, but if you can showcase various deliverables, it will demonstrate your skills.

Many hiring managers are looking for instructional designers who can fill multiple roles. They want someone who can edit videos, write storyboards, develop online training, and create job aids.

When you can show a handful of unique deliverables that solve different problems, it builds the hiring manager’s confidence that you are not only proficient in various tools, but can find the right solution to the problem at hand.

5. Highlight your experiences

Many recruiters and potential clients come to your site because they want to know more about you. Don’t feel like you have to make your portfolio “corporate”.

Instead, put yourself and your experiences first. Show off a nice photo of yourself at the top of your site. Share more about your journey and why instructional design is the right field for you.

Also, when identifying project ideas, it’s good if you can draw inspiration from your past experiences or passions.

For example, if you’ve been scuba diving for decades, try designing a learning solution for someone just starting out. If you love gardening, try designing a solution that teaches people how to keep their plants alive.

See each project as an entry point into a deeper conversation with you. When you are passionate about the topic, the problem and the solution, it will show.

Projects like this show people what you can do, but they also tell more about who you are as a person. When people remember you, they’re more likely to call you for an interview or contact you about a potential project.

Creating an instructional design portfolio is your opportunity to show employers and potential clients who you are, what you can do, and what it would be like to work with you.

You’ll notice the difference when you step into your next interview or chat with the customer. When the person across the table starts with “I like your portfolio,” it makes the rest of the conversation a lot smoother (and often in your favor).


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