Tech & Work

Developer seeks resume advice about her portfolio and work gaps

A developer asks Justin James how she should feature her portfolio in her resume in a way that will be seen and show her skill. She also wants to know how to present the disruption in her work experience due to an illness. Read his resume tips.

 

Since last month's reader Q&A post received such positive feedback, I'm going to try to keep up this feature with monthly installments. And while I hope that no one needs resume advice right now, in case you do, this month's question will be of particular interest to you.

Reader's resume questions

Today's question comes from a reader who was in the middle of leaving one job to take another and had been struck with an illness. As a result, she ended up doing part-time contracting work for her original employer. Needless to say, going from "moving to a new job" to "part-time contracting to the previous employer" has left her in a bad spot that she is anxious to escape. What she is finding is that many of the companies she speaks to would like to see a portfolio of her work, yet they rarely check the URLs in her resume. She wants to know how to feature her previous work in a way that will be seen, as well as show her skill. She would also like to know how to handle the disruption in her work experience on her resume in a way that is honest but will not hurt her job prospects. Here's the resume advice I sent this reader.

Getting prospective employers to look at your portfolio

Regarding your portfolio, I suggest having a section at the end of your resume for it. Some people will click the links (or copy/paste them into a browser) and some won't, but the folks who want to see the portfolio will.

When I was looking for work in Web design, I made a Flash version of my portfolio; it had screenshots of sites I worked on (as well as "before" pictures when I could), quotes from my references, and hard numbers (when available) showing that my work made serious improvements.

For example, it would have a "before" and "after" screenshot of the site, a quote from the CEO along the lines of, "Justin made the difference on this project," and numbers such as, "unique visitors from organic search placement went up 54%, sales went from 2% of unique visitors to 5%, and total revenues from site increased 75%, with no changes in the marketing budget."

What really sealed the deal is that I made a complete package; a very nice CD case and nice CD labels. Then I brought the CD with me to the interviews. To make it easy, I set up the autorun on the CD to automatically play the Flash piece, so it really felt professional. This project took about 20 hours of my time, but the time investment paid for itself; not only did the content show off my work, it proved that hiring me would be a good decision, and it also showed that I could do decent graphics design as well. The CDs completely blew interviewers away and allowed me to quickly close a deal on a new job, jumping from a company that was sinking in the middle of the dot-com bust to a "safe haven."

I definitely suggest a similar approach. The great part about putting your portfolio on a CD is that you don't need to worry about the person getting annoyed with clicking links or typing in URLs. Also, the fact that you clearly put effort into it will make them feel obligated to at least give it a shot and impress them with your dedication and professionalism.

Caution: If you make this a half-effort (like writing on the CD with a Sharpie marker instead of a good CD label), you will hurt your chances more than you will help.

Handling employment gaps in your resume

About the employment gap, I follow a simple rule: be truthful. But 100% disclosure is not necessary. Here's my suggestion for how you should list your employment gap on the resume:

September 2003 - Present: Hart and Hart, Inc. - Web Developer

  • Built applications with C#, SQL, JavaScript, and HTML
  • Blah blah blah
  • Blah blah blah
  • Blah blah blah
  • Originally employed in a permanent, full-time capacity, working as an independent contractor since September 2008.

I do the opposite on my resume. I have a few positions where I started as a contractor and then converted to a full-time company employee. It looks a lot better to show two years for the same employer than one year for the contracting firm and one year for the actual company. Remember, they don't care who signed your paycheck, they care what desk you sat in. So for me, I do something like:

September 2003 - October 2006: Hart and Hart, Inc. - Web Developer

  • Originally a contractor through Foreman Associates, converted to permanent employee in March 2004.
  • Built Web applications...
  • Blah blah blah

See how that works? For the example I give for you, it minimizes the gap and shows that you are still working. Once you are at the interview, you can explain the situation more fully in a way that will be understood. The goal here is to get past what could be a problem on the resume to the interview where these things can be properly explained. Likewise, for my own resume, it is actually a very good sign to employers that you had been a contractor who converted to a full-time employee. It shows loyalty on your part and that you were of high quality.

I hope this information is helpful for you, and best of luck!

J.Ja

Download these resume resources from TechRepublic

Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a working arrangement with Microsoft to write an article for MSDN Magazine. He also has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides.

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About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

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