Sometimes, the things you think impress the most fall flat. The opposite can also sometimes be true when you’re working from a single point of view. As someone who has worked on three sides of the portfolio equation, I’d been lucky enough to gain insight into what interpreters, agencies and clients want to see in a portfolio. I want to emphasize that in my opinion there is no perfect portfolio. So much of what you might include is personal and tailored specifically to your skills and character. Given that we all bring something different to the table, it would be unjust to provide a boilerplate rubric across all disciplines. The best version of your portfolio should accurately reflect you as a practitioner. While that reflection certainly can be flattering, it should never be deprecating. Our clients aren’t looking for an interpreter who is bad at a specific skill (usually) but instead who is investing in an area they’d like to develop.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled some things to consider in creating a killer portfolio from all three points of view.
First, evaluate what your client would like to see reflected.
Showcase your talent as much as you feel is appropriate but consider neglected areas you might overlook in that effort, like repair. Interpreters are often very interested in working their best signing work into a portfolio when the vast majority of culturally aware agencies are more interested in their English abilities! While we spend so much time on this aspect of our work given it’s the part we’ve most recently invested more time into, there are other avenues by which to highlight your skill in ways you might not realize.
Repair is an opportunity to display acuity, mental sharpness and your ability to upcycle. If you’ve made a real mess, you can show how you work with the broken pieces to make something that melds to a more faithful interpretation. Similarly, if you find yourself with a particularly challenging speaker, you can present the most collected version of yourself. Agencies in particular love knowing that you can function well under pressure but clients find themselves much more confident seeing your investment in the message. In contrast, consider evaluating places you find yourself giving up on the content because of a roadblock you’re experiencing with the speaker. Those samples might show your inability to keep up in your own mind but to the right agency representative or client, they can communicate your triage skills in the field. If you’re meeting with another interpreter, they may be interested in your ability to prioritize specific pieces of a message in order to communicate ideas more clearly for one of their clients.
Second, understand that variety can be limited.
You don’t need 100 things to show your ability to do three things well. If anything, you should always be working to curate the menu of your abilities to it’s most concise version. Consider the range you can deliver with less time required from the audience. In my opinion, the best way to do this is feedback from other interpreters, Deaf users of the service and hearing people.
Third, know that the portfolio is an invitation to conversation. It is never the end all be all.
When your portfolio is very ASL>ENG heavy, you have an opportunity to discuss equity. When you’re primarily showing your ASL abilities to an agency that knows nothing about sign language, you might choose to use samples in which you’re in more formal clothing. This can open the door to discuss how comfortable you are with high profile and platform work if that is the type of work you’re actively pursuing.
When I’m considering adding a video to my portfolio I ask myself four questions.
What does this communicate?
Does it show that I can restructure the same things I did in the last couple videos in a more interesting way? Does it portray me as confident in a new arena? Does it instill confidence in my persistence? Do I seem creative in my approach to the work?
In the portfolio assembly process, ask yourself what does any of the content communicate at every opportunity. Consider how the skills you might choose to emphasize can round out your practice to someone who has yet to have the pleasure of working alongside you.
Does this add something different?
If not, consider that you might be sitting in your comfort zone and could use another set of eyes. Ask a colleague what they see in the piece you’ve got to consider. If they see it in the same tone as the other work you’re putting forward, it might be a good time to look for something new. Think outside the box with your approach and don’t be afraid to ask a colleague what they see in your work that is worth highlighting. Our teams are often the best people to ask when on the hunt for the next great clip that could change the game.
If so, do I have another piece that can show that in a more concise or clearer way? Less is often more when working with agencies that are looking for something specific. If the person reviewing your materials has to hunt or search for that special sauce it could mean two things; perhaps you didn’t curate based on a specific ask. It could also mean that you’ve got more material than you need. Sending a video to someone that requires four full minutes of commitment before seeing the skill you’re trying to show off is a gamble. Remember that as humans our attention spans are quite short. If you can really hit the big things in less time, do it.
Does this elevate what I currently have?
Is it possible that this specific piece of content will appeal to a group that has the ability to open a new door? More than just polishing your current library of content, look for opportunity within the pieces you’ve got. If you’re interested in going into legal work could you use a piece from a panel on civil rights or a town-hall that was live-streamed?
Can I use this as the anchor in conversations about my interests?
Your portfolio is the first place people will see your work and often times before even meeting you. It’s an excellent place to pull topics of conversation from. Did you include a piece about the rates of dogs finding adoption from shelters? That could work as a great entry point for you to talk about your interests and how working with animals is something you’re passionate about. A portfolio of course is meant to display your abilities but it can also be a place to enrich what the hiring entity already knows about you. In curating content for it, take a holistic approach and always return to ‘what does this communicate?’.
If you have a specific topic you are interested in exploring, using a piece of content from that arena with a caption explaining you’d like a deeper experience in the discipline can be extremely helpful. It communicates that you’ve got the skills to build upon, hopefully that your commitment to the message doesn’t leave room for dangerous omissions and that you have a real hunger for growth.
When you’ve got what you need, finesse.
Check it for time. I’ve seen incredible portfolios that clock in under 4 minutes. I’ve also seen decent portfolios of 20 minutes that require some searching to figure out just where the person’s interests and passion really lie. I don’t know if there is a magic recipe for the right time length but I think you should strive to tell your story in as much time as it requires without any more.
Sometimes you have to make cuts for the sake of the audience and that’s where your fiends might not give you the best feedback. If you can, try it with some strangers. If they, in all of their free time with you, find it too long to watch – cut it. Agency representatives in major markets are slammed, they need just the good stuff in the quickest way.
If I had to create one right now as a freelancer and required all new samples, I think I could do it in 2 minutes and 15 seconds. While valuable work in good timing when presented to a client can be a winning move, there are a few other finishing touches you might want to invest in.
I’m a firm believer that a portfolio can be edited into a self tape and looks more impressive when it is. When a portfolio is laid out in a way that is easy and enjoyable to watch, I find myself much more interested in future conversations and sometimes want to see more of the person’s work.
If you plan on using a platform like YouTube to house your portfolio, consider truncating your samples into a highlight reel of a few minutes with clickable annotations to watch the full video you pulled your sample from. This way, you give the audience watching the option to see more of your work without being forced to look through it if they’ve seen enough while not feeling like you sacrificed.
When adding transitions, give some context and make them clean. I personally love a black title slide fade in and out that gives the person watching some time to collect and prepare for what they’re about to see next. Also consider that you don’t want the slide too short they can’t read it or too long that they have to skip forward, fumbling to match the timing right. When people are watching your work, chances are they’ll be taking notes. If they’re a human, they know how to pause a YouTube video and can use this title slide for a break to write out some of their thoughts.
Impressive stuff / notable work
Of course a portfolio is meant to show where you excel. It’s also meant to be a place to display some achievement. Perhaps you finally made it to interpreting at the UN floor. If so, include that and also congratulations! Just make sure that the notable work you’re including is safe to include and the notable clients are not a potential breach of confidentiality.
Showing areas/choices where you supported the client, it paid off and being able to talk through it is always a great choice. Using your portfolio as a product by which to show your support of the community is a fantastic entrance to discussing how you’d like to work to bring more equity and empowerment to your clients. Who doesn’t love that?
Finally, when presenting your portfolio to anyone ensure your resumé is also ready. With some clients you won’t want to send it, which is fine. Agencies will almost always want it, but sometimes providing it later sets you up for a higher rate. Leading with a portfolio shows that you’re invested and gives the illusion that you’ve been in practice for longer than you have when you’re new. It shows that you’ve got a wide variety of work available which has given you the opportunity to put one together – even when you’ve produced the entire thing.
If you’ve got a one sheet already, this is a perfect time to attach it. In place of a resumé it can provide some quick stats for the prospective client before your meeting takes place. If any agency has never seen one before, they’ll have questions about the work you’ve done and why you have one. I prefer to let them lead with questions about my practice while I ask questions about the logistics of our potential partnership.
Of course, don’t forget to at least link your resumé and rate sheet when sending out your portfolio via a drive link. Providing a client more context in the process of getting to know you is always easier than answering 3 additional emails asking for this information.