Anatomy of a Good Portfolio: What We’re Looking For in Our Writers

by Emily E. Steck

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 to see (and don’t want to see) in your portfolio.

Anatomy of a Quietly Portfolio

Port·fo·li·o (noun): 1. a large, thin, flat case for loose sheets of paper such as drawing or maps 2. a range of investments held by a person or organization.

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

Writing Samples

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, 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 shortform piece of breaking news
  • A longform 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 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 be even 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 fifty 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 simple summaries or explanations of your writing sample. It’s little things like these grab our attention and inform us that you care about your project as a whole. Besides, doing this is not going to hurt chances when you submit your portfolio for other jobs and gigs.

Biography

Writers belong in either one of two camps: the egotistical or the self-deprecating. If you’re just starting out, you are 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. 

Résumé

Disclaimer: a résumé is never going to represent fully who you are as a writer. It’s an impossible task. Still, résumés 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 résumé. 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% in three months
  • Include a link to your portfolio and/or website
  • Links to your online presence
  • Your specialties and services
  • References/testimonials
  • Education, training or certifications
  • Other relevant skills

Social Media, Links & 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 in Medium or 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; instead, 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.

The Good

Screenshot

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.

Screenshot

A completely different way to approach the portfolio, 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.

The Mediocre (Which Is The Same Thing As Bad)

Screenshot

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.

The Ugly

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:

Screenshot

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 pixelized; 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.

If you have any questions about writing for Quietly, please send an email to our portfolio first responder Elizabeth at elizabeth@quiet.ly. Thanks and good luck.


How To Explain Freelancing Is A Real Job

By Emily E. Steck

Freelancing is the future for the work economy, but the work force today is stuck in the past. Here are some tips to explain your job as a full time freelancer.

  • Compare It to Owning a Small Business

    By Emily E. Steck

    Freelancing full time makes you a Renaissance Worker, effectively running your own business. You have just as many responsibilities (if not more) as a company-employed worker, but you are in charge.

  • Emphasize Professionalism

    By Emily E. Steck

    The image of the pajama-clad freelancer secretly spurs jealousy. Reinforce how professional you are by emphasizing your 40-hour work week, even if you do wear your pajamas to work. 

  • You Are an Authority on Your Field

    By Emily E. Steck

    You are an authority on the field you work in. Talk about the challenges and successes you have had in your industry and comment on topical events. Explain exactly what you do all day.

  • Offer Statistics

    By Emily E. Steck

    One in three working Americans are currently freelancers. That's 42 million people. By 2020, half of the workforce will be freelancers. 

  • If This Doesn't Work, Respond with Some Sass

    By Emily E. Steck

    For some people, logic and statistics might not be enough. You know these people. Respond with some sass and make them jealous ofof you working in your pajamas with your dog.

Image: Vitalliy

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