Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spotlight on a Good Example of a Project for a Career Portfolio

Stephanie Jones's site, Best of Everything

For people who are starting out in the IT industry, one of the things that I tout is creating a career portfolio. If you are a web designer or a web application developer, a comprehensive, professional web site is a great way to gain experience.

A fine example of a professional web site is The Best of Everything, run by Stephanie Jones. The Best of Everyting is a comprehensive, unbiased, well-researched site about classic film star Joan Crawford. What impresses me about this site is Ms. Jones is not a web developer by trade, but her site does not look "amateur".

Below are some points on what makes this a good site:

  • The site is thorough, well-researched, easy to navigate, and has a good layout.

    While creating a social networking profile is a nice way to "get your name out there", you need more that that to illustrate that you can do the work. Unfortunately, a simple, few-page web site about your pet, your favorite possession, your favorite sport, or your favorite celebrity will not win over the hiring managers. You need a strong, active site to prove that you can do the work. This site fits the bill. It is not just a site with a list of Joan Crawford films and a few pictures; it is an all-inclusive site about Joan Crawford.

    A University of Michigan study showed that people receiving instructions in a plain font like Arial were able to follow the instructions and complete the task more quickly and accurately than people receiving instructions in a "fancy" font. (Source: Hyunjin Song, Norbert Schwarz (2008). If It's Hard to Read, It's Hard to Do: Processing Fluency Affects Effort Prediction and Motivation Psychological Science, 19 (10), 986-988)

    If you are going to create a web site, the trick is to make it look like a skilled, talented professional created it. The site shouldn't look like it was created by someone who uses FrontPage and animated GIFs and considers that "web development". You want to take the color pallete, the layout and the fonts into consideration. If you look at Ms. Jones' site, you will see that she uses about 4 colors total on the site. The site is also easy to read - the content is "center" to the page, and the font is a "rounded" font (ex: Arial), which is easier to read. She is also utilizing well-established third-party tools (like Google Search and Yahoo!Groups) to properly enhance her site.

  • The site illustrates Ms. Jones's skills with writing and research.

    Ms. Jones is a copy editor by trade. The thorough research that has been done on this site illustrates her writing and research skills to potential employers and clients. She has had a job offer based on the work that she has done with her site, and she was able to expand her professional network because the site was a good conversation starter.

    What does that have to do with technology, you may ask? As I mentioned in numerous articles about getting a job in the economy, you need to be more than a "digithead" in order to get the job. You need secondary skills that will support your role in the company. Written communication and research are two secondary skills to have. For example: let's say that you want to develop a encyclopedic web site dedicated to vintage machines. If you develop a site featuring pictures and scant information about the machine, it may be nice - not thrilling, but nice. However, if you also contain thorough information about the machine ( who invented it, when was it used, what kind of "under the hood" technology was used, what was it's claim to fame, what replaced it), you'll demonstrate your ability to research and understand your topic as well as your web development abilities.

  • The site is professional.

    You'd be quite surprised about how many websites are out there that "borrow" content from someone's site without properly crediting the source. That's plagiarism. If you're working in the academic world, that's grounds for dismissal. In other arenas, that's grounds for a copyright-infringement lawsuit.

    Creating a site about a celebrity can easily drift into the "unprofessional" category. Ms. Jones does a wonderful job with keeping the content professional (although the message board can get a little "colorful", as a student developing a site for a career portfolio, may need to monitor your forums). If she makes a personal opinion, she chooses her words carefully. Most importantly, if she receives information from outside sources, she properly credits those sources.

If you want to build a celebrity tribute web site for your career portfolio, look at The Best of Everything as an example of a site that would look wonderful in a portfolio. In my opinion, this site is so well done that it could easily pass for an "official" site.

See Also:
Getting a Job in a Tough Economy

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