Portfolios for GIS Professionals: More Than Just Maps

July 6, 2022
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I’ve always believed that résumés were not enough documentation to understand a potential employee or volunteer. In order to really understand a potential hire, you need to see examples of what they’ve done and how. As a hiring manager and a participant on hiring panels, I’ve seen so many people who either looked great on their résumés but couldn’t deliver or weren’t able to communicate their relevance despite being highly qualified for the job. Resumes don’t tell the whole story. Professional portfolios build a more complete picture of a candidate and can help to highlight skills beyond the standard. Portfolios are much more common than they were when I started in GIS almost 30 years ago (and way more portable!), and I think we’re a better, more robust community as we build more.

What Is a Portfolio?

A portfolio is a collection of examples of your professional and/or academic work that showcases what you have accomplished, what you are capable of, and your creativity. If you’ve been around long enough, you will remember when portfolios were made out of fabric, leather, or other similar materials and had a three-ring binder set up with page protectors for hard copies of your recent, relevant work. These days, you’re more likely to find a portfolio on GitHub or on a website.

Why You Should Have a Portfolio

1) Stand out! 

If you’re looking for a job in GIS, geography, cartography, or really any field, it’s important to show potential employers what you can do. When I started working in GIS in the 1990s, it was enough to have a recommendation or two and a well-designed resume. Now, there are many more analysts out there vying for the same positions, and GIS degrees are now much more commonly achieved. It’s important to show your potential employer(s) that you not only know the concepts of geography but also how to apply them. Use your portfolio to show off your real world skills!

2) Display your technical AND nontechnical skills.

Of course, you want to display your GIS and related skills in your portfolio, but a portfolio should be more than just maps. Many hiring managers are looking for technical people who can communicate beyond the tech. A portfolio allows you to show the maps and applications you’ve built, as well as demonstrate your writing and speaking skills. 

Code Academy recommends that you include descriptions of the projects in your portfolio and offers that bullet points are sufficient. My philosophy about project descriptions is somewhat different. Start with bullet points, but as you develop your portfolio, use these descriptions as opportunities to show your documentation and synthesis skills, and show that you are able to communicate with others in a professional manner. Take the time to show off your critical skills (a.k.a. “soft skills”) and show how well-rounded you are.

3) Build your community!

Juliana McMillan-Wilhoit is a geospatial analyst and educator, and a huge proponent of the portfolio as a career development tool. She encourages people to use their portfolios as a networking or community-building support. Ms. McMillan-Wilhoit recommends using a portfolio as a “visual representation of your work" that you can share with people you are interested in connecting with. While working in research and development, Ms. McMillan-Wilhoit would use her portfolio as an opportunity to present herself to someone before they met, so the other person would have an idea of who she was as both a technical and professional colleague. 

What Should I Include?

Contact information is key. Don’t assume that people know how to find you. Make sure to have a current email (or a phone number) that you check frequently on your portfolio. You could create a special one for the purpose of the portfolio or use whatever version makes the most sense for you. Include any other social media contact information that you think would be appropriate. I generally include my Twitter account because there are a lot of other geofolks on Twitter and it’s a great way to connect, build your community, and show off what you do!

Present the basics, including examples of your maps and apps and descriptions for each project. Descriptions should include at least a brief summary of your methodology, as well as the tools and programming languages used. If a process that you used in a project is novel or particularly of interest to a specific subject area, you might consider adding a section to your portfolio that goes into more detail about this process, in addition to the basic project section.

Include a section for any writing or speaking that you have done related to your projects or GIS in general. Link to the article or video whenever possible, or provide a sample embedded in your portfolio. A short explanation of what each link leads to is a good idea.

If you have a side hustle or you like to create GIS projects for fun, include these too. Kate Berg does a great job of including personal map projects in her portfolio. The more you can show, about who you are and why you are awesome, the better!

What Tool Should I Use?

There’s no right way to build your portfolio. What format and what tool you use will depend on what makes sense for you. I’ve seen website tools (Squarespace, WordPress, etc.) and GitHub

used to great effect. I’ve also seen portfolios built using ArcGIS StoryMaps, which has the added bonus of showing off the creator’s StoryMap skills. I have also seen GIS portfolios built in PowerPoint and saved as PDFs that can be emailed. You are only limited by your imagination.

Get started by searching the internet for “GIS portfolio” and see what comes up. What portfolios speak to you? Which ones are not your cup of tea? Gather your projects and start building your own portfolio. It’s never too late to show off your skills!

Resources

Berg, Kate. (February 18, 2022) Building Your Professional GIS Portfolio. [MP4]  Retrieved from https://youtu.be/wBP-s4fP5uQ.

GitHub, Inc. (Accessed June 30, 2022) Where the world builds software. https://github.com/

McMillan-Wilhoit, Juliana. (Accessed June 30, 2022) Portfolio Challenge. Tabula Spatial.  http://tabulaespatial.com/portfolio-challenge/

Spatial Node Technologies Limited. (Accessed June 30, 2022) Discover the world’s top Geospatial Professionals. https://www.spatialnode.net/  Author’s note: By a GIS professional, for GIS professionals, Spatialnode is an emerging platform to host your GIS Portfolio and connect with others in the GIS community. 

Tjukanov, Topi. (Accessed Jul 5, 2022)  #30DayMapChallenge. https://30daymapchallenge.com/  Author’s note: Use previous years’ challenges to create maps and graphics to build your portfolio. You can join the next challenge in November. It’s also a social project that helps you to build your community!


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