Portfolios the Magic Way to Get Work!

Posted on 12th November 2018

Writing Portfolios are the magic way into the industry!! We’ve all heard it. Get a portfolio said the writing panel/advice/speaker in what is the latest throwaway, simple advice that instantly builds a career…. So, let’s talk about portfolios, pulling the magic rabbit out of the hat and what that means for getting into the industry.

1)Portfolios are NOT magic (okay, that was a short article then). Simply having a portfolio doesn't get you a job. They are a tool to be used in chasing work and an increasing number of employers ask for them. So, having one can be very useful, but just putting some bits of writing in the same place does not = instant career.

2) Employers tend to read your email first, then your c.v. and then your portfolio. Mess up stages 1, or 2 and stage 3, your portfolio, may well not even matter. So, spend time on all these elements and always check/rework your email, c.v. and portfolio for EVERY application. Focus on what matches that job/company.

3) The phrase should be ‘build’ a portfolio. Then rebuild it. A portfolio is a living thing. Once you have one, that is not the end of it. Your writing samples need to grow, evolve and improve.

4) No, you can't see my portfolio as I don't have one. That is, I don’t have a permanent one, or anything online. Every project is different, so I put together writing for the job I’m applying for. Every time. I’ve worked on 80 games and I do that even now. I advise that you do so too.

5) Finished writing counts more than that paragraph you really like that you did in night class/last summer/the novel you haven’t finished. Complete that Twine game, put on a play, shoot a short film. Get the article online. Finish the writing. This gives better samples and also helps you fill both your c.v. and the portfolio. Show commitment!

6) Whilst you should have a nice concise portfolio to send to places, it is useful to have longer sections available, or which are easily accessible (this could be online). Employers are unlikely to read a whole book, or film script, particularly not in the early stages as they are unlikely to have the time, but have complete examples ready for later stages, or if they ask to see something (see above – complete game, not nice paragraph).

7) Spellcheck the damn thing. Yes, really, that advice still needs to be given in 2018. I wish I could follow this piece of advice more often myself.

8) Portfolios are not magic gnomes, fire and forget missiles, or super-detective unicorns. They will not find you work. You have to find the people and the opportunities yourself and then present your portfolio. Or, to put it another way…putting a portfolio online does not immediately lead to people knocking your door down begging you to work.

9) Make sure your portfolio answers the most important questions – what do you want to write and why? If you’re white and middle class, is a gritty urban gang thing really your voice? It can be with research and empathy, but who are you and what do you want to write?

10) Make sure your revised portfolio answers the question why you want to write on this specific project.

11) If your portfolio doesn't answer the questions above, an employer won't magically read your mind to know the answers. Your c.v. and email should answer these questions too.

12) Remember that emails/additional letters might not make it through the internal process along with your portfolio, each must stand alone.

13) After answering the questions above, look for the breadth of examples you can put into your portfolio. Sending your Sam and Max clone in to apply for the next Dragon Age game won’t display the best writing for the job. So, look to broaden your portfolio (where that matches points above).

14) As you write, your passions, interests and abilities will change. Embrace this and let your portfolio do so too.

15) After answering the questions above, look for the breadth of examples you can put online. Sending your Sam and Max clone in to apply for the next Dragon Age game isn’t the best fit. So, look to broaden your portfolio (where that matches points above).

16) Get people to review your portfolio and then when they give advice a) listen and b) make appropriate changes.

17) ANY sort of writing can work for a portfolio. So, if you are starting out, put the pieces you have in there and then build out from that starting point (revised and reviewed with points above). All of the above means you can start a portfolio now - so don't be afraid. Start and build! Don’t put off and dither.

18) If you want to work in games, your starting c.v. can be writing from other media, but you need to start filling it with games writing asap. Same in reverse if you change to other media.

19) Your portfolio should demonstrate your knowledge, passion and understanding of – i) the medium ii) the genre iii) the subject matter iv) yourself.

20) The 'yourself' bit should not be overdone. The employer will decide if you fit the project. If they decide you don’t fit, then you don’t fit, that doesn’t mean you are a bad writer, or a failure as a person just that this particular employer didn’t see you in this particular role.

21) Writing tests can be better than portfolios as they allow you to respond directly to the project. We can talk about writing tests elsewhere, but for starters - Writing tests should not take more than a few hours, or if they do then they should be paid! Times ten if you are putting forward ideas not just script samples. Test = a test NOT FREE WORK/IDEAS!

22) You can spend more time on the test than is set out, at the start of your career/if it’s a job you really want, this can be an investment. But, if they’re exploiting you with the test, then it is likely that they will as an employer. Similarly, if the test is unclear…the feedback they give in the job is likely to be unclear.

23) If you want to use a writing test in a portfolio (you did the work), check with the employer. If they say no you can’t, then if it is clear that the writing relates to a particular property then you can’t use it as it stands. However, if it is something you can make generic by removing/replacing key terms then change some details so it is outside the IP and boom you have a portfolio piece.

24) Fan fiction can count as portfolio pieces but can be a double-edged sword. Some people love fan fic, some hate it and many companies worry over IP issues if you send them stories from their universe. Rethink for each application/company.

25) Don’t just blind send a portfolio – find who to send it to, make your portfolio fit that company and do the same for your c.v. and email.

26) If answering a job ad…read the damn job ad and tailor your portfolio to match what it asks for! No seriously, too many people miss the details and that is likely to mean your writing doesn’t even get read. 3 samples means 3 samples. Up to 10 pages means 10 pages. Comedy means… comedy.

27) If all of the points above are an issue…then why are you trying to work in this industry? Write if you want, but if you can’t be bothered to invest in writing/get up wanting to write/keep writing and boring your friends crazy about the fact you’re doing this – why do it as a career/in this medium?

28) Keep doing every step above.

29) Diversity in your portfolio means diversity in every way. Don't populate your samples solely with 30 something, white space marines...

30) Do not make an employer work to find things. Do not think a sheet of links = a portfolio. If you can't be bothered to pick out samples to illustrate why you are passionate about this opportunity, why should they give a flying Shetland Pony about you as a candidate? Think...

31) C.v.s are a different topic, but much of the advice above can be applied to them too. Main advice - keep them concise. Pick out relevant work/work skills for each application.

32) Cover letters are a different topic, but much of the advice (etc etc), but main advice - ... Dear (left generic greeting here), I would like to work on your <insert name of you know whatever project> at <some company somewhere>. I am super ace amazeballs as a writer. Here's a link to 10 lines I wrote 4 years ago. Is NOT a job application!

33) Good luck out there. And remember....portfolios aren't the magic ingredient. You are.

Further advice on the games industry can be found in the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain videogames guidelines – https://writersguild.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/WGGB-A4-Videogames-2.pdf 

Andrew Walsh is a writer/director who has worked on more than 80 games including Prince of Persia, Risen, Need for Speed:Most Wanted, The Division 2, Harry Potter and others… He can be found at www.andrewwalsh.com, or @englishscribe . Apologies in advance that I can't review most portfolios, c.v.s etc sent to me and I can't offer feedback on scripts. Whilst I always try to help out where I can, I'm a working writer, dad and campaigner which combines to take up most minutes of most days!

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