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ATD Blog

Ask a Trainer: What to Look for in an Online Portfolio

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Hi Tim,

I’m about to post several job postings for various instructional design and e-learning development positions that have opened on my team. As I’m thinking about the interview process, I know that I want candidates to submit portfolios of their work. However, I’m not sure what I should look for in their portfolios.

What do you look for in a portfolio when you’re evaluating a potential candidate?

This is a great question, not only for hiring managers like yourself but also for candidates. So often, I see portfolios that do a poor job of helping hiring managers see the specific skills the candidate is trying to highlight. As a result, hiring managers have a harder time evaluating the potential quality of the candidate.

Before I share what I think you should be looking for in a candidate’s portfolio, you need to understand what you’re looking to hire for in the first place, which will help you filter out those folks who don’t offer the specific skills you need. For example, are you looking for someone who is strong with upfront instructional design or strong technical skills or strong visual design skills? Or are you looking for someone who has a combination of skills? In any of these cases, before you can evaluate someone’s portfolio, you need to know what skill sets you’re looking to find.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to start looking at a candidate's portfolio with a certain level of objectivity in mind. Here are the three questions I recommend you ask yourself when you’re evaluating a potential candidate’s

What Is the Overall Quality of Their Portfolio?

The first item you should be evaluating is the overall quality of the candidate’s portfolio and the website experience. Assuming the candidate’s portfolio is a website, does it look like they took the time to design an intuitive and visually appealing web experience?


Of course, you’re not asking this to evaluate their web design skills; however, the experience they create, not just for their portfolio examples but also the overall portfolio, can indicate their attention to detail and design aesthetic. Remember, the tools needed to design a visually appealing and intuitive website are getting easier and easier to use. So, if it doesn’t seem like they’ve invested time into making the experience a positive one, that same lack of attention is likely to be reflected in their work.

Are They Highlighting the Specific Skills They Specialize In?

The next item you should evaluate is whether the candidate is highlighting the specific skills they specialize in. Does the candidate appear to specialize in a specific set of skills (for example, storyboarding, e-learning development, or visual design), or are they trying to showcase too much?

You want to hire someone who is skilled at a few specific things rather than someone who is mediocre at all things. Again, if you take the time to identify what you want to hire for, then it’ll be easier to pinpoint whether those things are being reflected in a candidate’s portfolio.

Do Their Portfolio Examples Illustrate Their Specialized Skills?

The final item you need to consider is whether the candidate’s portfolio examples illustrate their specialized skills. For example, if they claim to be focused on upfront instructional design, needs analysis, and storyboarding, do their portfolio examples showcase how they’ve applied those skills with their past projects? Or if the candidate claims to specialize in visually engaging e-learning with Articulate Storyline, do their portfolio examples demonstrate that?


What you want to avoid, in my opinion, is someone who hasn’t taken the time to curate their portfolio to highlight the specific skills they claim to have. And to my previous point, I’d rather see a portfolio with two amazing examples rather than a portfolio with a bunch of mediocre ones.

Again, the first step to evaluating a candidate’s portfolio is to understand what you’re looking for in the first place. Once you’ve defined that, the challenge is to find candidates whose portfolios do the best job showcasing those exact skills.

I hope that helps. Best of luck!


What other tips do you have for evaluating a candidate’s portfolio? Share them by commenting below.

Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected]. Also, make sure to visit the Ask a Trainer Hub to check out all your questions and my answers!

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

1 Comment
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Thanks Tim , I think candidates as you said should have the mindset of hiring manager and build their portfolios wearing the hat of a hiring manager ;
Asking themselves same questions ; like what specific skilled I need to be hired for , am I doing a good job representing these specific skills in my portfolio ?
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