The Editor's Portfolio
March 23, 2005
Organized by Christine Freeman and Bob Johnson
Notes by Dawn Adams
Editing is a slippery business. Where writing produces clipstangible
evidence of work well done and publishededitors can be
hard-pressed to demonstrate what it is, exactly, that they do and
what value they can add, especially outside of the realm of
publishing. At the March 2005 BAEF forum, a group of editors came
together to share their portfolios and their ideas for showcasing
their accomplishments to potential employers and clients.
"A portfolio is what you've done and where you're heading," said
Christine Freeman. "It is about your goal, not just your
Freeman noted that an editor's portfolio has to be not only
visually appealing, but also free of errors in punctuation and
grammar (commas, which vs. that, and so forth). She normally
has five to six items in her owneverything from a quick-start
guide to an animation description to a sample developmental edit
using text boxes for comments.
"Interviewers are people who can read between the lines in the
stuff that you do," Freeman said. "The conversation is sparked
that's where you want to be. The portfolio is a little tool;
think about what conversation you want to have."
According to Bob Johnson, a portfolio is an opportunity for show-and-tell. Items should be representative, including before and
afters if possible. Michael Ellsberg, a freelance copywriter and
developmental editor, puts multi-page documents into a single
sleeve. If the client is interested, they can review the entire
document, or just flip through his samples. Writer Joe Gold has an
online portfolio, which has the advantage of
being able to be called up by anyone with web access and allows
Gold to have multiple kinds of samples (tech writing, journalism,
Your résumé is your friend.
A résumé is an important part of the editor's portfolio, both for
freelancers and those seeking full-time work. It's a familiar
document that interviewers and potential clients expect to see,
and thus a very useful tool for presenting information, not just
in lists of employment and responsibilities, but in ways that
match your skills to the client or job. Bob Johnson, an editor
who is currently using an outplacement agency, had several
helpful hints on crafting résumés:
Hilary Powers noted that if you're responding to an ad, make sure
that your response reflects that you read the entire ad, which
will put you ahead of 90% of the other applicants. This applies
to both job-seekers and freelancers.
- Have different résumés for different positions. Johnson has
about six different ones that emphasize different skill sets
(copyediting, writing, fact-checking) and that emphasize subject
matter expertise (bioscience) or general editing expertise.
(Stephen Englander noted that he also uses different résumés for
writing vs. editing. Many employers are leery of hiring writers
for editing positions.)
- Make your résumé available both as a PDF file (many companies
do not accept Word attachments) and as ASCII text (see below for
hints on plain text résumés). Your résumé needs to be scannable
by OCR (optical character recognition), which is how many
recruiters deal with the deluge of résumés received in response
- Include a positioning statement (the answer to "Tell me about
yourself."). It needs to be something you can recite from memory, with
feeling, in about 45 seconds.
- Don't be shy about leaving some things off of your résumé. Your
objective is to get in the door and not have your résumé rejected
out of hand.
Freeman said, "Tell them enough to bring you in, then they can
ask you. I was a producer 20 years ago, but I can put it on my
résumé. It's true, and it's perfectly fine."
- Leave out months for employment history. Although, according to
Johnson, in today's volatile work environment where almost
everyone has been laid off, gaps of a few months generally aren't
a problem. More than a year, however, can become a red flag.
(Rick Coykendall, freelance copyeditor and proofreader, noted
that he has one with dates, one without.)
"'Since 1998' looks great, because we're past 2000 now," Freeman
- Use bullet points wisely. Most people who review résumés read
down two paragraphs, maybe ten bullet points.
Freeman said, "The world is becoming more and more oriented to
what web pages look like. People read less and less; they want
things in teeny chunkseven if it is vague." (Freeman noted
that she's begun using bullet points in cover letters, as well.)
- Familiarize yourself with tricky interview questions. Johnson
received a list of the 101 toughest ones from his outplacement
counselor and says that it's best to be prepared with some
response rather than being caught short.
Yet freelancers' résumés are slightly different in focus, as
freelancers aren't looking for full-time work, but rather editing
projects. As Powers puts it: "If you're looking for a job, it's a
lot like going to a marriage brokeryou're entering into a
formal relationship that will occupy both of you. A freelancer's
résumé is more like a personal adyou're just looking for one
Powers uses a one-page résumé that starts with a slogan, "The
edit you want, when you want it done." In addition, she's
deemphasized her job history. Her résumé focuses on what she does
and the fields that she works in. She also has a one-page sample
back-and-forth of the querying process, so that clients can see
how she works.
Freeman's freelance résumé is more a statement of services that
quickly highlights her relevant experience. It also includes a
list of clients, as well as her education. There are no dates on
it, except for "over 20 years' experience."
Eva Guralnick, a writer, production editor and graphic designer
who offers turnkey editorial and design services, said that she
often uses cover letters in place of résumés. Her primary
clientele is in the nonprofit world, so she offers a low-end
design portfolio that shows clients that they can afford her
"I don't want to scare away my potential clients by appearing too
expensive," Guralnick said. "Two of my employees are arts
graduates, and they are expected to spend between $1,000 and $2,000
on their final portfolios."
Text, Text, Text
"Never stick anything in a text field on a web form to send to a
potential employer without sending it to yourself first," Freeman
- In Word or whatever word-processing program you use, simplify
your résumé. Use initial caps for headings, and line spacing to
separate items. Use asterisks as bullet points, take out bold and
- Save your résumé as a plain-text file (.txt), then open it in
- Clean up the formatting in Notepad even more, making the
document as visually appealing and readable as possible, then
save the file again.
- Select all of the text, and then copy that text into an e-mail.
Send the e-mail to yourself.
- Make sure that the text looks like you want it to in terms of
line breaks and formatting. If it doesn't go back into Notepad
and fix the text again, and resend it to yourself until you're