The Editor's Portfolio

What's in Your Portfolio? How Do Editors Show What They Do?

March 23, 2005
Organized by Christine Freeman and Bob Johnson
Notes by Dawn Adams

Editing is a slippery business. Where writing produces clips—tangible evidence of work well done and published—editors 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 accomplishments."

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 own—everything 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, fiction) available.

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:

  • 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 to ads.

  • 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 said.

  • 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 chunks—even 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.
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.

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 broker—you're entering into a formal relationship that will occupy both of you. A freelancer's résumé is more like a personal ad—you're just looking for one happy experience."

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 services.

"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

  • 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 italics.

  • Save your résumé as a plain-text file (.txt), then open it in Notepad.

  • 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 satisfied.
"Never stick anything in a text field on a web form to send to a potential employer without sending it to yourself first," Freeman said.



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