It’s a rough world out there for unemployed journalists looking to stay in the industry and for journalism students just looking to enter it. In fact, The State of the News Media annual report says that since 2001, the news workforce has shrunk by 25 percent. There’s plenty of competition for very few jobs.
So how do you stand out? A good start is a custom web presence, one that brands you and serves as a portfolio for your work. But, please don’t call it a “digital resume.” A portfolio website is much more than that.
In my experience, having a portfolio site has acted as a major determining factor in myself and others I’ve helped being hired for internships or full-time work. I can think of an internship and a job I might be without had I not made my own online portfolio. If you do it well, it definitely can’t hurt your prospects.
Why a portfolio site is a must
It’s easy to shy away from a portfolio site because you don’t want to or just plain feel slimy and egotistical. Here’s a beefy list of benefits to help you get over your hesitation:
- Many journalism jobs, and especially internships, ask for three clips attached to your application. How are you supposed to give a potential employer an idea of how awesome you are with just three clips!? If you make it obvious you have a portfolio site in your application (more on that below), you get an opportunity to expose the employer to significantly more of your best work. The biggest benefit is that the site will get you noticed over other applicants.
- There are a lot of other Joshua Lynches out there. Like me, you may have plenty of name rivals who you need to dominate. You wouldn’t want an employer searching for you (and you know they do) only to find some idiot with the same name and his/her embarrassing Facebook profile. You wouldn’t want an article about someone with your name getting a DUI overshadow your own articles and journalistic work. So you need to dominate searches for you name on Google and other engines.
- You may already dominate the engines with your plethora of bylines. But is the first page of your results your best work? A portfolio site allows you to republish your best stories all in one place. You can group together your coverage on a long-term issue or include work that showcases your range of talents.
- Some of your best bylines may be crushed below your work for a bigger publication that got more traffic. A portfolio site brings your experience from all the places you want to include into the mix.
- It shows you’re web savvy. You obviously know how to set something up, probably know some HTML and maybe even some other languages. (If you don’t, building your portfolio site is the perfect opportunity to pick up on some of it.)
- A portfolio site can also bring all of your web presences in to one place, showing off your skill with and knowledge of social media like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Publish2 and more.
- A tiny perk is a professional-looking e-mail at your own domain. Instead of being [email protected] you can very easily be [email protected]. Imagine the temptation to visit your site when someone notices your e-mail.
- Finally, a portfolio site is a chance to express your personality. Your bylines and photos probably don’t do that all that well. The site will give employers a chance to get to know you, even before an interview, while getting acquainted with your professionalism and personality.
Simplified steps for creating a professional portfolio site
- Buy a domain name with your name in it, preferably just yourname.com. Avoid tempation: Do not get fancy and cutesy.
- Get a site host. These are a dime a dozen, but one I’ve had an excellent experience with and still use for a reasonable price is JustHost.
- Install WordPress using an FTP client like FileZilla or Fantastico, which comes inside of cPanel. Don’t just get a blog at WordPress.com. Set up Google Apps on your domain for custom-named e-mail accounts and more.
- Search for a professional-looking portfolio theme. Keep in mind you’re searching for a magazine or portfolio-type design, not a straight-down the page blog. There are countless free portfolio themes out there. Graph Paper Press has great ones for designers and photographers.
- Install the theme, and start propagating it with your best content, being sure to link back to the web version while giving credit to the publication it was published in and to everyone who worked with you on the story. Attaching a PDF of the page the piece appeared on is a nice extra. Use pages for your resume, contact page and bio. Create landing pages for different skills, like photography, multimedia and/or designing.
- Search engine optimize your site. WordPress has pretty decent existing optimization, but some plugins (like All in One SEO Pack) will help. Think of keywords that describe you and use them in your title tags but don’t just keyword stuff.
- Create links back to your site from everywhere possible: your bio page on your existing news orgs’ site, your blog, your Twitter, other social media accounts, professional associations. Every link is a search engine vote.
- Get feedback from your friends, family and colleagues. Hopefully someone will let you know if something is embarrassing.
- Once it’s time to apply somewhere, tease your website in the contact info on your cover letter and resume. End your cover letter with, “I look forward to meeting you. You can get to know me better and see more of my work at myname.com.” If they want a digital application, send your cover letter, resume and samples from your e-mail with your custom domain. Include your portfolio website in your signature and mention in your e-mail that the employer can see samples of your work at yourdomain.com.
- Never stop finessing and updating your portfolio with the best of your material, your latest professional development or your thoughts on journalism.
Look for a detailed series, of which this post is the first, on building a WordPress portfolio.