"How To" Guides

Build Your Instructional Designer Portfolio

Having a strong portfolio is critical for any job hunt to be successful. Potential employers want to see what you can do, not just read about it on your resume! Read on to learn more about building a winning portfolio.

If you are job hunting, or are planning to job hunt, I highly recommend that you build a portfolio. Having a portfolio establishes a Googleable web presence and demonstrates your bona fides as an instructional designer – even if you have not held an instructional design job previously! You do not have to already be an instructional designer to have an instructional design portfolio.

Q: But wait! What will I put in my portfolio if I haven’t done instructional design work?

A: Create work to put into your portfolio!

The work showcased in your portfolio does not have to be paid work, or work you completed in an instructional design role. In fact, a lot of the work you would produce as an instructional designer might be disallowed in your portfolio due to contractual agreements or copyright laws.

The solution is simple (thought it certainly is work): create products just for your portfolio. Or, if you have existing work that you cannot place into your portfolio due to contracts/copyright, consider reworking those items to remove or obscure whatever elements that you’re not allowed to feature.

Overall, the process for a portfolio is very simple:

  1. Choose portfolio pieces
  2. Choose hosting and/or a web platform
  3. Put pieces on said hosting/platform
  4. Share your portfolio with EVERYONE!

Boom! Done.

Choosing Portfolio Pieces

First rule of portfolios: keep it simple. Put in enough pieces to show your breadth and depth, but few enough it won’t feel overwhelming or onerous for a potential employer to check out your work. Aim for 6-10 pieces, total.

Furthermore, tailor your portfolio to the job you want in the industry you want to work in. Search job postings on LinkedIn to view requirements to get some inspiration. Use the keywords that you find as well. Talk the talk!

If you are a student – I’d suggest leaving off things that are obviously student work. Like essays. If you want to include them, I’d refashion them into blog posts rather than upload them as Word docs. What you learned and accomplished as a student is important but employers want to feel they’re hiring someone that will do practical work. Student work can feel a little too academic sometimes, so just reflect on what you want to include and what it says about you.

Finally, when choosing your pieces, think about how to show them off best. Don’t just post the work itself – give context for it and explain why it is significant. This can be a short write-up (two paragraphs, say) or record a short video narrating the project and what makes it special.

Employers want to see your thinking behind your work.

Creating Portfolio Pieces

If you are starting from scratch, definitely kick off your portfolio building process by browsing jobs to get an idea of the competencies you need to showcase. Make a list of job keywords and products that would show off your mastery. Then, get building!

Need inspiration? Here are a couple of places to get prompts:

You can download a free trial of Articulate 360 to build out portfolio pieces, if you’d like. Your published work will not expire at the end of the trial, unlike Captivate objects.

You might also seeking to volunteer with an instructional design organization. Both of these are great opportunities to work with teams to produce awesome work:

Volunteering is great, and shows off real world experience! But do your homework before you volunteer – be sure that it’s work that you want to practice, and be sure that you can commit.


If you are producing published Storyline or Captivate products, you’ll have to have someplace to host them in order to be able to show them off in all their glory. Good thing I have instructions on how to host with Google Cloud Storage.

If you have documents that you want to show off, like planning documents or analysis reports, you can host them on Google Drive or Dropbox and just share a link (if your web platform doesn’t allow attaching files!).

Web Platform

I pay for hosting with GoDaddy and I use WordPress as the framework for my site. It works great! I’ve had a website for many years so I’m pretty good at maintaining it. But it’s not cheap. I pay about $200 a year for my domain names and hosting services. If you plan to build a business or freelance career, I’d advise getting your own hosting! Having control is wonderful, and it’s very convenient to have hosting and your web platform in the same place.

If you just need a site to show off your stuff while you job hunt, keep it simple and use a free website like Wix, Weebly, or Google Sites. They’re all fairly equivalent, though I will say Wix and Weebly have lovely templates that you can repurpose. Plan out your site’s organization before you start building (just like in ID, plan it out before you build it out!). Get ideas for organization from the example ID portfolios, listed below.

Putting It Together!

Once your hosting’s in order and you’ve chosen a web platform, it’s time to assemble your portfolio.

Brand, brand, brand! Create a style guide that shows off your personality and that adds a cohesive feel to your portfolio website. Put your name front and center. Add a photo of yourself somewhere if you’d like. I recommend including these pages:

  • Home page – Short summary of who you are, and links to subpages. Can also serve as About Me page.
  • Portfolio page – Make subpages if needed for organizing your work
  • About me/Contact page (Consider making these two separate pages) – Dive deeper into your skillset/work experience, and provide a way to contact you *without* posting your email or phone number! Keep those off the web. Instead, provide a link to LinkedIn or embed a secure contact form. If you upload a resume, take off the personal info!!

Assemble your portfolio. If you have interactive objects (Storyline, Captivate): take screenshots of the published products. Post those as images to your website and link the image to the product itself. For other items, you can link downloads to the item name, or create a simple graphic with something like Canva to make it more eye-catching in your portfolio.

To reiterate, it’s very important to provide context for your portfolio pieces and to share what’s special about them. Don’t just include an interactive object (the viewer may or may not have patience to click through the whole thing!). Explain why you have included it, what your thought process and design process looked like, and what makes the piece significant. What competency does it show? What does the piece say about you? Talk about the learning science behind it, who the audience is, for instance.

Example Instructional Design Portfolios

Here’s a list of wonderful portfolios from a variety of talented instructional designers:

Use these as inspiration. Reuse what works for you! Make notes on organization and how items are presented.

Take It Away

Link to your portfolio from your LinkedIn and other social media pages. Put a link to it on your resume. Share it on your Facebook. Tell everyone you know that you are job hunting, and share your portfolio with them to pass on.

As you progress professionally, keep your portfolio fresh. Add new pieces as needed and remove any that become dated or that don’t reflect your career goals. Always keep moving forward towards what you want!

Discover more from Lindsay O'Neill Consulting

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading