Some day I’ll leave my job at Lifehacker (fired for being too good), and as I apply for a new gig, I will need to assemble a portfolio and update my résumé. It won’t take long, because I’ve collected my best work as it came out. And whether or not your work is public, you should do the same. You’ll have a stronger portfolio with less grunt work.
Save as you go
When I’m especially proud of one of my practical how-tos, or my brave opinion pieces, or my fascinating interviews, I bookmark it in a folder called “My Best” and copy it to Evernote. Every month or two, I also save pieces that performed well, so I can show off those metrics, not just my personal favourites.
Whatever you’re putting out, throw a copy into a folder, bookmark or note-keeping system. Do it the first time that a draft makes you proud, or immediately after a project is finished. And it’s better to save too much than not enough. It’s still better than sifting through every file you’ve ever made.
If your output is more of a process than a finished product, get in the habit of documenting it. Take photos and video, record audio, forward emails to a separate account. This is a good reason to put your work on social media, even if you have to open a separate account because you don’t want to brag on your main one.
Keep a local copy
If your work is online, get in the habit of copying it to Evernote, or use a service such as Authory that identifies and backs up your online work. While Lifehacker will probably outlive me, I’ve written for a good dozen sites that no longer exist, and I’ve lost some of that work forever because I didn’t back it up.
If your work is done on company-owned computers or accounts, get personal copies you can take with you. Back up your work Gmail. Anything you can’t get sued or fired for keeping.
You can keep a couple of different formats, but it’s best if you can pick one: Evernote, Google Drive, a folder of files and so on.
Keep a public brag file too
It sucks that you have to always be selling yourself and considering your next source of income, but you do. Most of us can’t keep one job from graduation to retirement. So have a publicly accessible brag file, both as portfolio and blurb page.
Be a little more selective than you are in your private file. Look for the weakest item in your portfolio, delete it, and repeat until satisfied. Make sure the very first item in your portfolio is better than the average item. (If your portfolio is chronological, add a “featured” slot up top.)
Ask a friend or colleague to pick the strongest and the weakest items. You’ll be surprised.
Even if you're not a freelancer or a 'creative', you'll probably benefit from a page that lays out your accomplishments and not just your work history. If you ever want to give a talk, get quoted in an article, work a side hustle, start your own business, or just get a job offer, then you need a public portfolio.
It’s not just your actual work that you need to save, but all the approval and praise you get for your work. Save congratulatory emails, feedback, awards, anything good anyone says about your work, in a blurb folder.
You can quote praise when promoting your work in public, or when applying for new work, but you can also use it in negotiations for raises or performance reviews.
You don’t need to explicitly point to the praise each time. Before a performance review, for example, you should refresh your memory by checking your brag file, and to see which projects other people thought you worked well on.
If you’re asking your boss for a raise, they don’t want to hear about your personal favourite accomplishments, but the accomplishments that they praised at the time. It’s the work, not the praise, that you’re reminding them of.
It’s especially important to save praise and validation from respected sources, which future employers, clients or audiences can trust. Those are the bits of praise that even a stranger can appreciate, rather than feedback from just anyone.
Books have blurbs all over them. Doctors post good reviews online. Teachers share heartfelt cards from their students. Whatever your line of work, there is some kind of praise that’s appropriate for you to publicly post. Save it as it comes in.
Browse your own brag file
Sometimes, the person you need to sell to is you. You need to remind yourself of what you’ve accomplished. Or you need to re-examine whether you’re doing the kind of work that makes you proud.
This summer I felt like I was in a rut, like I was only pitching boring stories, so I looked at my brag file for some direction. I saw an old post about tabletop RPGs, and remembered how fun it was to research. But this time I wanted to actually play a game for a new post. So I pitched an article on how to play an RPG with no planning.
In the two years I’ve written here, that might be my favourite piece. And now it’s in the brag file.