Tips and Tricks Tuesday: Demo Skills Without Upsetting Clients

Linnea Dodson addressed this problem among tech writers. Trevor Dolby touched on this problem in the editing world. I’m sure it wouldn’t take much digging to find a dozen more people wondering the same thing: As writing and editing professionals we all need a portfolio, right? So how on earth do you fill a portfolio without imposing on the confidentiality of your clients?

You can stuff books full of tributes, accolades, and honors, but how much does that really say about your ability to do a job? As mechanics of English, we need to show our prospective employers the tools in our drawers and not just the papers hanging on the walls.

Luckily Dodson and I have some decent ideas.

For tech writers she suggests the best place to go for help is home:

  • Rewrite the warning labels on your medicines or the legal fine print at the bottom of your sweepstakes ads. Put a before and after in your portfolio to show that you can decrease word-count and increase readability.
  • Write how-to’s for your appliances.
  • Include a training guide for something you do everyday. Note: while you should have a little fun with this activity, Dodson warns, “‘Juggling in 10 Easy Steps’ may not fit every company to which you apply.”

Dodson makes a point easily aimed at editors too. Why can’t they do the same thing? Perhaps their clients don’t really want their befores and afters shown off. No problem:

  • We all edit constantly. If you see something that’s already been published but could use some touching up, go for it. Just be sure to give appropriate credit where due.
  • Help out your friends and family, and with their permission, change any personal information and include befores and afters of their projects.
  • Pull out a dusty piece of your own work and give it a good re-hashing.

Get creative. Identify what you want to display, and then figure out how to do it. Unfortunately this is work you probably won’t be paid for, and it needs to be your best, but with some imagination it doesn’t have to be painful.

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