Anatomy of a good portfolio: what we’re looking for in our writers
We’ve written about how to create a killer writing portfolio, but in this blog post we’re tackling the issue from a different lens. The lens of what every organization, editor, hiring manager, and editorial manager looks for in a portfolio when they are hiring writers. Whether you’re a first-time writer or looking to work for Quietly, here’s what we want (and don’t want) to see in your portfolio.
Anatomy of a Quietly portfolio
The basics of any portfolio are simple: writing samples, bio, and resume. But when we’re looking for writers via their Quietly portfolios, we want to see that our writers are utilizing all of the features we’ve included in our tools (and don’t worry—this advice carries over to other hiring managers). This includes:
- Recent writing samples
- Customized images and descriptions for writing samples
- A complete biography/about me section
- Links to active social media accounts
- A clean, concise and consistent resume
- Working links (no broken links)
- Writing topic interests
News flash: writing samples should represent what you are capable of as a writer. They need to be recent—preferably prioritized by most recent and best to oldest—and prove that you are the right fit for the job. Pieces can include:
- A blog post on a topic you are passionate about
- A piece of writing for a community group, club, or campus publication
- A press release, newswire, and/or other promotional material
- An essay dissecting a controversial topic
- A profile on an interesting person or place
- A short-form piece of breaking news
- A long-form reporting piece
- A research piece
- An editorial and/or op-ed
- A personal essay
- Multimedia storytelling (including Quietly embeds)
- Collaborative writing of some kind
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t matter that much to us (or other publishers, we’d guess) where you’ve been published if you have talent or expertise. Of course, we’ll be impressed if you’ve been published in The New York Times, but if you can write clearly and have X amount of years in the fishing industry, that can be even more desirable. What’s most important to us is that we can recognize raw material and talent from the work of a talented editor. Include a few that have been self-edited (like on your personal blog) to show us your true writer’s voice.
In absence of any writing samples (or any you’re proud of or that are the right fit for the job), we suggest self-publishing pieces via Medium, Tumblr, or WordPress. We want to see good content presented clearly and beautifully and these platforms can do just that. In fact, these self-published pieces may even be considered more because they are a better sample of your raw talent.
Finally, note that most people and businesses hiring writers will not look at the 50 writing samples in your portfolio. They will click on the first row or two at most, so organize your samples accordingly, be it by category or by chronology.
Customized images and descriptions
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is an aphorism we say more than we practice. How a portfolio looks is very important because we can tell how long you spent on it and is an indication of your attention to detail. Think of your portfolio as marketing material for your freelance writing career.
With that in mind, we’re looking for writers who take advantage of all our portfolios features. If your article doesn’t have an image or it’s too pixelated, use the Flickr image search tool to find one or upload a new photo. Rewrite headlines if the copy is cut off. Write customized summaries or explanations of your writing sample. It’s little things like these that grab our attention and inform us that you care about your project as a whole.
Writers belong in either one of two camps: the egotistical or the self-deprecating. If you’re just starting out, you’re probably in the latter and less comfortable boasting about yourself. That’s okay. Biographies are meant to represent your personality, experience, and your “deal.” Quietly writer bios have a limit of 200 characters, so being succinct in this section of your profile is key. The worst thing we can see is a bio that’s cut off.
It’s also important to note what you write about. Using keywords in your bio can really help. For example, if you specialize in fitness, health, and nutrition, use those words in the bio. If you’re an expert in mental health specifically, highlight that. Make it clear what you’re interested in writing about from the get-go in your bio.
Disclaimer: a resume is never going to fully represent who you are as a writer. It’s an impossible task. Still, resumes are useful for editorial managers to get an idea of your experience, so keep it simple. There are several ways to approach writing a freelance resume. Some things to consider or include:
- Chronological timeline: a short recent list of clients and work
- Explain your successes in the role or project (i.e. increased Twitter followers by 40 percent in three months)
- Include a link to your portfolio and/or website
- Links to your online presence
- Your specialties and services
- Education, training, or certifications
- Other relevant skills
Social media, links and interests
Social media is a gateway to let us see what you’re really like as a person and a writer. It gives you the opportunity to show off your personality and interests, accordingly. Having links to your active social media accounts can’t hurt as long as the content is mostly professional. On the note of links, make sure all of the links in your portfolio work. There’s nothing less professional than sending us a portfolio of broken links. Double check and triple check.
Finally, part of Quietly’s portfolio allows you to select three or more categories that align with your interests in writing. Your portfolio needs to represent your interests. If you select that you write about beauty, your portfolio needs links that support that. Even if it’s a link to your YouTube channel or a review of a beauty product, that goes a long way into showing that you can write about that subject. Don’t select interests without having a writing sample. Don’t have a writing sample that reflects that interest? Write one up on Medium, LinkedIn, or a WordPress blog. While versatility is a good quality to have, picking all of the topics won’t necessarily help you land a writing opportunity; your expertise on the subject and your writer’s voice will.
So that’s an overview of what you need to have to turn heads. Now we’ll look at the good, the bad and the ugly Quietly portfolios.
So this is my portfolio; it’s not perfect (because I am not a perfect writer), but it’s still good. It checks all the boxes, but it also incorporates my personality a bit. Check out the high-res images, custom descriptions and headlines as well as working social media links. The interests I have selected—entertainment, marketing, and technology—are represented in my samples.
If you check my bio, it’s slightly cheeky and explains what I do and what I like. It’s written from the third person—so it matches my other descriptions on my site and social links—and it looks clean. There are no grammar or spelling errors (I hope) and I’ve taken the time to utilize all the features. From image scraping to Flickr image search to even including the publisher name, this is a good portfolio to get yourself noticed.
Let’s look at another one that isn’t by the writer of this article.
A completely different approach, this writer’s portfolio is simple, but cohesive. The images are aesthetically similar, the descriptions are clean (though the writer could have altered the titles to really make it standout) and the headlines do their job. Most importantly, the writer’s personality really shines through, especially since she writes about the outdoors.
There’s nothing egregious about this Quietly portfolio (from our Quietly account); however, there’s nothing special about it either. Sure, it has a bit of everything, but there’s no cohesion. For one thing, it’s inconsistent; one piece of content has a link to where it was published; one has a customized headline; one has a high-resolution photo. Consistency is key, consistency is key, consistency is key.
The cover image is pixelated and unclear. The bio description is outdated and unclear. And worst of all, there’s no personality or thread. Pieces that weave a tapestry of not only who you are as a writer but as a person really helps you stand out. Take just as much care on the macro level as you do on the micro.
For all that is holy and mighty, please do not send us or anyone portfolios that took a few seconds to make. We can tell. In fact, here’s our test case Jane Doe to show exactly what not to do in a portfolio:
The portfolio represents everything you could do wrong. There’s no profile image or cover photo; the writer description is filled with grammatical errors and is cut off; the links are messy; there are no customized headlines, descriptions of images; the sole image is pixelated; there are no social media links; and finally, there is no personality or attention to detail.
Of course, we doubt any self-respecting writer would send or submit a portfolio like this, but even just one of these errors is a big turn off. Crafting a portfolio that checks each of these boxes isn’t hard, so don’t stress over it too much. If you have good content and a good-looking portfolio, you’ll get noticed.
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