First thing first – Reader beware, there are risks involved in this undertaking, so proceed at your own peril. But there is also the possibility of great reward! Let's be clear, I am not advocating that you trash your archaic, paper-based resume in favor of an all-digital presentation because, unless you're applying for a multimedia design or production position, your digital portfolio/resume* should just be a supplement to your traditional one. However, because there are many advantages to supplementing your paper-based application materials with electronic ones, you should consider the possibility, even if few prospective employers ever seem to notice. The main advantages to creating a virtual presentation of your qualifications are:
- Non-Linear reading – Your digital resume can also function as a digital portfolio through the inclusion of hyperlinks. People reading through your resume can see examples of your work, rather than simply reading a paragraph about them.
- Visibility Part 1 – If properly crafted and linked from popular sites like LinkedIn or Monster, your resume could be viewable to potential employers around the world.
- Visibility Part 2 – Not only can people find you (Visibility Part 1), they can actually see samples of the work you have done. In an online portfolio, you can include every noteworthy sample of work you have completed and prospective employers can choose to look or not, as well as how deeply they want to explore.
- Visibility Part 3 – You have control over the look and feel of your virtual materials, so you can craft a visually appealing presence that reflects your style and substance far better than is possible with a traditional resume.
- Organization – Not only is a well-organized digital portfolio or resume easy for others to navigate, it is easier for you to maintain, update, and add to.
- Creativity – Again, too much creativity carries potential risks, but using digital technologies to create a virtual identity allows you to express your own creativity in ways that are completely unique – if you are willing to invest the time and effort in learning the necessary media production software.
The image below is from my website, hosted on Google Sites and was created using Adobe Photoshop. I had a photographer friend take a picture of me juggling, extracted myself from the background, deleted the objects I was juggling, and replaced them with images which represent one of my research interests (using video games to promote learning). This was not a very technically challenging endeavor, but I think it captures my interests nicely. You know what they say – "a picture is worth a thousand words."
Where to begin? The Paper Prototype
Most people who are not media designers or movie producers do not understand the value of creating a quick prototype of your planned production using – drumroll please – paper. In a nutshell, the benefits of creating a draft of your digital resume/portfolio using sheets of paper are that it is extremely inexpensive, versatile, portable, and most importantly, temporary. The cost issue is obvious, as paper is common and can easily be purchased in bulk. The versatility of paper is largely unparalleled, and you can include text, images, and representations of hyperlinks, audio, and video. A paper prototype will also allow you to quickly and easily rearrange the order, location, or navigation of pages and design elements. In addition, you can take the paper anywhere to work on your project or to show it to friends, family, or colleagues. As an added bonus, the impermanence of paper prototypes means that you won't hesitate to throw out a design if it seems flawed. In fact, compared to the dozens of hours you may have invested in an electronic prototype, the short time it takes to create a paper one means that you are saving yourself both labor and heartache if an initial attempt fails.
Crafting your paper prototype can happen in a variety of ways by using simple sheets of paper, 3 x 5 cards, Post-It notes, a whiteboard, or even PowerPoint (mainly text and clip art), depending on your preference. The most basic method for creating a prototype is to use one sheet of paper to represent each page of a website. Sketch the elements and content on the paper in the approximate locations of where you would want them to be on the Web page (Post-Its can be a help here to allow you to rearrange individual elements), and represent the links that will be included on the page (eg. page one will link to pages two and four). In this way, you will outline the basic plan for the site as well as what information, images, and other elements need to go on each page. This method of rapid, rough design will apply to any type of production, from a simple website to a full-blown movie (it's called a storyboard in that case). Here is an example of a prototype page for my website displayed next to the final page for comparison:
You can see that the prototype is little more than a visual representation; however, you could modify this by printing and adding the actual image and text block. Once you have completed your prototype, and possibly usability tested it, you are ready to create your virtual portfolio.
Virtual Portfolio Tools for the Beginner
If your media production skills are not outstanding, you can still make an impressive digital resume that includes hyperlinks to your work, a clean navigation panel, screen captures of sample work, and other images. A simple web site design using something like Google Sites, Weebly, or Wix is the easiest and most functional way to begin. This video from Weebly shows how easy it is to get started:
. . . for the Intermediate Tekkie
Consider creating a more robust portfolio for your work which incorporates advanced interactivity and multimedia elements, even if your skills are only at the intermediate level. In addition to creating a more sophisticated website that includes videos from your YouTube channel or basic audio podcasts from class projects, you might consider using a presentation tool such as Powerpoint or Prezi to include animation and engagement to your effort. Prezi maintains an entire gallery of "Prezumes" and portfolios to inspire your creativity in using this medium as a possible resume tool. The benefit of Prezi is that it is already online, making it easier to circulate the final product. Consider PowerPoint if you need to mail your resume on a CD to an organization that may not have Internet access, or that you know relies heavily on PowerPoint, such as a school district. PowerPoint slideshows can also be exported as Web pages or shared via a Windows Live SkyDrive account.
. . . for the Experienced Media Producer
If you are an advanced media designer already (and didn't stop reading this post when I went into detail about paper prototypes), you may want to consider acquiring your own domain name and Web hosting service as a first step in creating your online portfolio. This list from Consumer Rankings is a good place to start shopping for a hosting service if you do not already have one. Beyond the basic website, email, and other features that these services provide, you can also use your own domain to host custom Flash-based interfaces and interactive documents that showcase not only the materials in your resume/portfolio, but also your abilities as a Web programmer and designer, which are highly valuable skills in the job market.
You can also use the same or related skills to create an interactive DVD presentation of your materials that will be accessible anywhere there is a DVD player including computers, TVs, and connected digital projectors. Unfortunately, the DVD authoring tools that will allow you to craft truly interactive presentations are mainly paid programs. My favorite is Apple's DVD Studio Pro, which only comes as a part of Final Cut Studio and only works on a Mac. Roxio's DVDit HD Pro ($499), is an expensive, but good option. Other, less expensive (though less powerful) PC-based solutions can be found on this list from TopTenReviews. The interactivity that this type of portfolio allows you to create can engage your prospective employers far more deeply than any paper resume ever could – if well-designed. If poorly designed, then you might as well not have sent it. Please refer back to the paper prototyping section for assistance in project planning. This page from Design MA.G has links to 25 inspiring Flash Portfolios as well as links to nearly 200 more sites featuring digital portfolios
Getting People There
The final piece of this puzzle is in steering prospective employers to your portfolio. If you are mailing a CD or DVD, then this is not a problem. If you are considering the digital option as a supplement to a paper resume and cover letter, then a tactfully placed URL as part of your contact information and/or in the body of the letter will suffice. If the digital resume is the primary contact, you will still need a vehicle for delivering it – whether that is a formal paper or electronic cover letter, or less formal email is up to you. Posting a link to the resume on sites like Monster and LinkedIn is also a good way to circulate your work.
Most importantly, remember that this is a professional presentation developed with the intent of landing a position in a company that is probably concerned about its image. Do not include links to your Facebook, MySpace, or other sites that do not convey the sort of professional image that you would want to present in a job interview. This principle holds true for the media that you include in your portfolio as well. Make sure that it is appropriate for the type of job you're interested in. Lastly, as with any information that you share on the Internet, please remember that keeping your personal information as secure as possible should be a priority. You do not need to include your home address or phone number, and definitely do not include information such as a social security number or any professional license numbers. An email address will suffice in most cases, or a phone number filtered through a service like Google Voice if you feel phone contact is critical. Now get going.