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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Putting Together the Perfect Portfolio

Putting together the perfect portfolio is an important but daunting task. What will employers/clients want to see? How should I display it? Where am I going to find the time to create something? All are valid concerns with limitless possibilities.  I’ve slowly been piecing mine together while reading any articles that provide tips and tricks. This is more of a do what I say then say what I do. Everyone’s portfolio is a work in progress and I’m not an exception. I still planning on doing everything listed in this article, hopefully by the end of the year, and then revisiting it often. Just make sure that along the way you're presenting clean content that represents you! I added a Phase 2 section to each tip which explains how you can go above and beyond to really provide the most value for maintaining a portfolio.

Define your target audience.

The field of L&D is vast, from Instructional Designers to Graphic Designers and Course Developers to Curriculum Developers, but we have all one thing in common. The desire to land the perfect job or client! To do this you need a resume that speaks highly of your experience and performance, a cover letter that explains why you'd be the best person for the job, and a portfolio. The first step in creating a portfolio is to narrow down your target audience and understand their demographics and expectations. 

I found that asking myself who’s my ideal employer or what company would be awesome to work for really drilled down how I wanted to employers to see me and be impressed by my portfolio. Keep in mind this ideal employer when creating content or researching topics to use.

Another way of narrowing things down is to figure out the type of employer or client you’re looking to attract. In the training industry, you have companies that fall into many different sectors including (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics):
  • Architecture and Engineering
  • Arts and Design
  • Business and Financial
  • Community and Social Services
  • Computers and Information Technology
  • Construction
  • Education, Training and Libraries
  • Entertainment and Sports
  • Farming, Fishing and Forestry
  • Food Preparation and Services
  • Healthcare
  • Installation, Maintenance and Repair
  • Legal
  • Life, Physical and Social Sciences
  • Management
  • Math
  • Media and Communications
  • Military
  • Office and Administrative Support
  • Personal Care and Services
  • Production
  • Protective Services
  • Sales
  • Transportation and Materials

From there you can understand the demographics and expectations of what may be possible content or presentation styles. Most companies will want to see a range of topics to show that you’re able to work across departments and with different SMEs. However, researching each sector will help you understand the nuances. For example, a college will probably want to see a well-researched topic while k-12 is all about keeping a child’s attention while teaching the basics. Technology companies will want to see technical driven content while restaurants will want product training and customer service. Production companies will want to see standard operating procedures brought to life or training on safety concerns. Of course, not all companies end up in these generalized paths but it’s a good place to start. At the very least I like to recommend that people start by adding three key pieces that address customer service, product training and process training.

Phase 2: Create a stellar example of a super focused course or other training material and feature it as the first things potential employers or clients see. A deep understanding of a relevant topic and a beautifully crafted course shows that you have what it takes to rock whatever they throw at you. Still not sure what to create something about? Try teaching someone about something your passionate about.

Variety IS the spice of life!

Hiring professional aren't looking for the same PowerPoint template with different content over and over, so get creating. Include examples in a variety of medias to show versatility and ability.  Try adding at least three examples of these content types:
  • Web based course
  • ILT presentation and train the trainer notes
  • vILT
  • Webinar
  • Storyboard
  • Writing sample
  • Graphic
  • Infographic
  • Voice Sample
  • Curriculum
  • Course Description
  • And for maximum punch a learning campaign
But Jennie, my company won't let me us any content. That's fine! NEVER break copyright infringement or use content without permission. Even web assets and graphics!

Instead offer a vILT or Webinar for free and record your performance or get involved with a podcast or web show. Even something from your personal life like cooking or exercising will give you the experience and example you need. Just make sure you're producing quality content that's edited tastefully and doesn't involve any hot topics like religion or politics (unless that's your target audience). Always play to your strengths and interests and don’t put out content just to fill up the page.  Two or three great examples is always better then a whole bunch with sucky content sprinkled in.

Remember, your examples don’t have to be long. A solid three to five pages per course or other content material will do.  But be sure each page is unique and showcases something interesting. Also, be sure to mix up what tools you use to create content.  Have a course ready to create then download a 30 day free trial if necessary.

Need help finding something to create, try one of these techniques:

Phase 2: Curate your examples and provide back story, talk about hurdles and highlight your accomplishments. If possible, get permission to include testimonials from clients or co-workers. You can even discuss what model or theory you used to guide the project.

Invest in a place to showcase.

At the very least create or maintain an About.Me, DribbbleBehance, or LinkedIn account. It's the 21st century and no web presence's weird. Use sharing options to upload and create your portfolio. You can also put together a “paper” portfolio which is a PDF consisting of still images of projects with an explanation of the project, hurdles and accomplishments. When sending in your resume you could attach this document for review. Just remember to keep it under 2 MB so it can easily be uploaded or emailed.

To really maximize content distribution and control, invest in a personalized website.  For people on a budget check out Wordpress, Blogger, Wix, and Weebly.  If you can invest in your own domain name then do it!  Unless you have a super rare name the chance of losing your site to another Jane Doe increase by the minute. Use pre-created templates that you can find for free, purchase from Graphic Designer or snag off Etsy. Just add personal touches so you're not the 20th person in a row a large corporation sees with the same exact layout and colors. You can also hire a local graphic designer or web developer.  You can also find someone on eLance or Odesk.  For people trying to do it yourself; create a style guide, research everything, get a place to store files, and give yourself plenty of time to work through the kinks before publishing.

Phase 2: Start offering your services or blogging on your site to increase traffic and promotion.  Involve yourself in social media and communities to meet new colleagues, join in on discussions, take courses and share information.  Don’t forget to provide the link to your website in each profile.

Always be authentic and real to you. Employers and clients who understand who you are and what you can accomplish are more likely to make lasting connections and your more likely to receive a job that turns into a career.

What portfolio tips do you have?  Leave a comment below or as always catch me on Twitter.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dealing with Anxiety by Creating a Better Course

Lately, life has been a little stressful.  The alarm clock goes off and it starts.  “Am I late? What time is it?”.  The kids won’t get ready quick enough.  The dog takes forever to poop.  You miss a meeting.  You’re late to pick up something on your lunch break.  Dinner gets over cooked. Your computer crashes.  The inbox won’t stop filling up. A deadline moves closer then anticipated.  You didn’t get to finish that one last chore before going to bed....

By the end of the day it just all piles up and accumulates in your brain.  From there you think, analyze and decipher every last detail.  For some this transforms into an anxiety disorder or destructive behavior.

But stress is avoidable.

So, why do all courses talking about stress contain the same crappy graphics and advice? It’s time to take back personal employee development and make better stress and anxiety courses!  Here are the things I do and don’t want in a “Dealing with Stress” course.

Don’t throw horrible stock photos of people pulling their hair out or over exaggerating a sigh at me!

Including unrealistic images that try to add comedy, lightheartedness, or perceived phoniness to an otherwise serious subject irks me to no end. The push to remove and replace stock graphic photos has slowly been coming for years (which I’m thankful for!) and this is a perfect example of where not to use them.  If you feel the need to add graphics then show the physical affects of stress with a fact filled infographic or "artsy" photo that shows what its like to deal with stress.  If you have to include a person then pick a realistic looking portrayal.

Don’t tell me to breath and I don’t want to count to 10.

Unless your audience is filled with yoga enthusiast or meditation experts, learning the art of meditation and breathing in 10 minutes isn’t going to happen. That's why there are people dedicated to these crafts. It takes practice and discipline. In most courses I’ve seen it’s the first piece of advice and honestly the root of the advice is to remove yourself from the situation and give yourself a minute to compose and departmentalize your thoughts.  Why can’t you just tell me that?

Do show me how to identify the problem

Knowing exactly what’s eating you will make the next step (analysis) a heck of a lot easier.  So take a couple extra minutes to stop, go to a quite room and collect your thoughts.  Many psychologists recommend writing out your problems, making a list or writing without thinking and just letting your emotions take over.  The typical steps include problem identification, taking part in a deep analysis, and taking corrective action.

Do tell me to get some sleep, eat right and exercise

All three have been proven to keep anxiety at bay and decrease stress levels. A healthy body means a healthy mind (sorry for being so cliché!). One of the great by-products of solitary exercise like running or working out (sans a partner) is that you’re left alone with your thoughts.  Sleeping gives you time to determine if the root of your anxiety is worth it or going to return. Providing your body with nutritious foods means that your body is ready and available for mental astuteness.

Do tell me to get distracted

Interacting with others will help keep your mind off stress and more on the conversation or activity. Resist the temptation to continue on your stress path by talking about the problem. It’ll just become a vicious cycle.

Another great distraction is humor. Whether it’s with a friend, watching a funny movie, or catching a few jokes from your favorite stand up comedian. Laughing stimulates your organs, increases your heart rate and blood pressure, and releases extra endorphins which are proven to combat stress and depression!

Laugher makes us feel good. Go outside! With the solitude of nature of you can appreciate the little things and be left alone with your thoughts.

Do use free resources

With the age of the internet has come articles, videos and presentations from leading experts on dealing with stress readily available to the public.  Include multimedia in a course by linking to a Youtube Video and having the learner read an excerpt from a notable source. Think local by checking with your community health department to see if they have resources and statistics specific to your area.  Maybe an individual will even be able to come in to provide suggestions or consult with employees free of charge for a short time.

Do explain the signs of serious anxiety disorders

Knowing when regular daily stress has turned into something more is really important. Being informed and knowing the danger signs can help start the path of successfully dealing with stress before it piles up into something require. At the very least recommend the individual speak with a professional to determine the severity and proper course of action.

P.S. Sorry if this article came off a little ranty. My journey with stress started in high school.  Every time I tried to deal with school, work, family, friends, sports and theater I felt like the world was sitting on top of me.  I developed Trichotillomania (which is a form of OCD where you pull out your hair) as a way to cope. As an adult it turned into worrying about money, driving and the probability of freak accidents.  I’d freak out if I didn’t have enough of certain things like diapers, food and toilet paper in the house at all times.  One day it took a serious turn and I started to have panic attacks.  I didn’t know what was going on.  All I knew was that it was stressing me out!  VICOUS circle. I now understand my triggers and what I need to do to deal with it but it’s still a daily battle.  When the stress levels hit an all time high last week (which is why I didn't post) I found myself in search of something on the internet.  I find comfort in knowledge and it's actually one way I deal with stress.  When I came across cheesy graphics after cheesy graphic and cliche advice I had enough.

Don't forget to comment below with your stress tips and tricks.  As always you can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Let's follow each other!  I love learning from others :)


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