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Creating an L&D Portfolio

creating an L&D portfolio

Mary Cropp, Director of Learning and Development at Bluetooth Sig, offers guidance on putting together an L&D portfolio of work samples that can help open doors and turn heads as you look for your next L&D role.

Mary has spent the past several years presenting at conferences across the country about the importance of putting together a portfolio, and in this brief podcast she shares her thoughts from the perspective of a hiring manager.

During our chat, we talk about the benefits of portfolios, what kinds of things should be included in a learning professional’s portfolio and how to navigate proprietary information that you may want to include in your portfolio.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Mary Cropp

Brian Washburn: Welcome to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development-related in bite-sized chunks. Today we are here with Mary Cropp who’s the Director of Training and Development at Bluetooth SIG. Hello, Mary.

Mary Cropp: Hey, Brian.

6-Word Introduction: L&D Portfolio Edition

Brian Washburn: And thank you for joining us. As you know, we like to start out just briefly letting our audience get to know us through a six-word memoir. So for example, today as we talk about putting together effective work portfolios, I would say “the world should see my work”. How about you? What six words would describe you?

Mary Cropp: My six words would be “my portfolio showcases my professional chops”.

Brian Washburn: Wow. You had some nice big words there for six words. You definitely got your money’s worth. 

What is the value of an L&D portfolio?

Brian Washburn: And I know that you’ve done a number of different workshops at a bunch of different training conferences on this topic, and so I’m excited to be able to talk to you a little bit about this and bring it to our audience. When you are thinking of portfolios, especially in your position as a hiring manager, what’s the value of seeing someone’s portfolio of work?

Mary Cropp: Well, first of all, thank you for asking me, because I really am passionate about this topic. I am trying to evangelize it with the rest of the people out there who are looking for jobs. So bottom line is, as a hiring manager, I will not look at someone unless they provide me with a portfolio.

I think it’s a good indication of past performance and their creativity, and if they have the principles of sound instructional design. I don’t want to waste my time with a candidate, no matter how good they look on paper, no matter how good they say they are on their resume, without seeing what they’ve actually done or is capable of doing.

Brian Washburn: Yeah–

Mary Cropp: That carries all the water with me.

What should be in a training professional’s portfolio?

Brian Washburn: Yeah. I am totally with you 100% as somebody who’s also been in the hiring manager role. It’s scary to try to decide, who am I going to bring on my team? And people can do really cool things with their resume or their LinkedIn profile. It’s kind of tough to fake it if you’re being asked to present a portfolio, too. When it comes to portfolios, what kinds of things do you think should be in a training professional’s portfolio?

Mary Cropp: Personally I like to see a variety of things. You may, as an instructional designer, done some really great work with maybe simulations, or you built an entire leadership curriculum. And that is awesome. But unless you’re looking to be moved into a huge L&D department with highly specialized roles, I look for somebody who’s done a little bit of a lot. Don’t have to do everything, but some variety there. So some e-learning if that’s where you’re going to be going into with some variety there.

And then if you are going for a more face-to-face or webinar-based role, again, sort of a variety. Of paramount importance – I cannot stress this enough, though – is it has to be of sound instructional design. Don’t bother, for instance, with lecture-only slides, especially if they’re poorly done, or e-learning that’s nothing more than a tarted up PowerPoint deck with a “Next” button.

But if you have snippets of a variety of behavior-changing design, yes, please. More, please.

How and when should someone present their L&D portfolio?

Brian Washburn: Are you looking for more electronic files or are you looking for hard copy? Do you like to see things in advance or do you want people to present them during the interview?

Mary Cropp: So my particular process I do a resume screen, and then I look to see their portfolio. Some other people do more of that at the interview loop, but I eliminate candidates based on their ability to show me a portfolio.

Intellectual Property Rights and Portfolios

Brian Washburn: And you mentioned that you like to see a broad variety of different things that somebody can do. Now what happens if somebody is in the position where their work samples are proprietary, right? So they develop them for an organization or they develop them for a client or for somebody that they work for internally. What should people do if they really can’t or shouldn’t share their work?

Mary Cropp: This is the reason that I, kind of, got on the conference circuit about this. It’s a big problem in our industry, and I’m very sympathetic to instructional designers here. But really, you have to know that you don’t own anything you’ve done for an employer or a client and you cannot share that unless you’ve gotten permission to do so.

And when I’ve asked candidates for verification that what they’ve shared – often marked proprietary and confidential, by the way – has been done so with permission, I lose that candidate. They’ll either, kind of, ghost me or they’ll say, “well, I don’t really…I haven’t gotten written permission” and I eliminate them myself.

Why? Because if I can’t trust that a candidate knows the requirements of intellectual property before they’re hired, I certainly can’t offer them a position in a field where we’re all about safeguarding intellectual property. And I’m maybe more of a stickler than some in my positions, but I think it’s really important that we respect the intellectual property.

Instructional designers are free to do a variety of things, however, to make it safe and nonproprietary, such as using Lorem Ipsum, providing case studies, or building separate things on their own, which I can talk about more later.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And that building separate things, that’s actually something that I’ve done a little bit of and I’ve seen other people do it. And it’s really interesting, because they don’t necessarily build — they don’t necessarily recreate the complexity of an entire module that might be proprietary. But what they’ve done is almost like an e-learning hero’s challenge where they’ve given a little bit of a snippet that shows their capabilities. 

Tips for Creating Nonproprietary Work to Share In a Portfolio

Brian Washburn:Do you have any other tips for people that are like “you know what? That’s a really good point. Maybe I shouldn’t be sharing my proprietary stuff even if I stamp it confidential”. What should they do?

Mary Cropp: Well, I would say, first of all, as you said, start small. You don’t, and shouldn’t need to, build full courses or day-long sessions. But well-designed little pieces that show behavior change, yes. Second, I would say get inspired. You can look at the robust community of Articulate Storyline 360. You don’t need to even be designing in virtual learning to get inspired by some of the things that you see there, and they give you really great ideas to build job aids, to build face-to-face sessions, to build webinars, etc.

Another fantastic resource for instructional designers is the website They just post challenges there. You can scroll through them and get some ideas for yourself.

Brian Washburn: And that sounds like it’s not dedicated just to Storyline developers. So the e-learning hero’s challenges is something that Storyline puts out or Articulate puts out, but it sounds like that last one that you mentioned,, is tool-agnostic?

Mary Cropp: It is definitely tool-agnostic. I would say the Storyline ones are definitely tilted more towards e-learning and towards their tools, but the idea is that you can gather from them about design challenges are sort of tool-agnostic and universal.

How do I begin developing an instructional design portfolio?

Brian Washburn: Sure. Now my last big question here, let’s say that somebody was listening to us. They are thinking, “OK, I get it now. I get that a portfolio is really important and can make or break my candidacy, but where should I start?” Do you have any tips for somebody to keep in mind as they’re thinking about “where do I begin developing my portfolio?”

Mary Cropp: To borrow a phrase: just do it, don’t overthink it. The portfolio is an investment in yourself, so set a goal for yourself. Maybe one little mini-design challenge a week or every 10 days and just get going. I think that’s the hardest thing to do is to start.

Get to Know Mary Cropp

Brian Washburn: I just want to make sure that we’ll get a chance to know you just a little bit more. So let’s start our speed round here with a few final questions. Are you ready?

Mary Cropp: I hope so.

Brian Washburn: What’s your go-to meal before you get in front of a group to present?

Mary Cropp: A double latte. That’s a meal, right?

Brian Washburn: I think that– well, especially if it has the cream in it, I think it can be hardy enough for a lot of people. What books should learning and development folks be reading right now?

Mary Cropp: Well, if you haven’t read Clark Quinn‘s Millennials, Goldfish, and Other Training Misconceptions, you are missing out. It’s not super new. I think it was published in 2018, but it is absolutely great.

Brian Washburn: What’s one piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Mary Cropp: OK, so we are recording this during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are using the heck out of virtual collaboration software, virtual whiteboards. I don’t know how we did without it for so long.

Brian Washburn: Actually, I’m going to stick on this question just briefly and turn it from a speed round question to something that’s really interesting, because I was having this conversation last week with someone. What are some virtual collaboration tools that you think are really crucial?

Mary Cropp: Well, I am not yet a spokesperson for either of these organizations, but we’ve been using MURAL and Miro. I love them. They are so easy, they’ve enabled us to go seamlessly forward with stuff. We’re doing virtual – everything from virtual brainstorming, drawing, asking people to use them like flip charts, guess-and-go. It’s been so easy to do.

Brian Washburn: And MURAL– M-U-R-A-L. What was the second one?

Mary Cropp: Miro. M-I-R-O. There are some other ones. You know, there’s a bunch of virtual whiteboarding things, but these are the two that I think have come up most recently.

Brian Washburn: Excellent. Thank you so much, Mary Cropp, for joining us here for Train Like You Listen. And thank you, everyone else, for tuning in to this week’s episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast. You can subscribe, if you find value in this, at Spotify, iHeartRadio, iTunes, or any place where you listen to podcasts. Until next week, stay safe and have a great week.

If you’re working on your first L&D portfolio and need an extra nudge to get examples that are realistic and will set you up for success, the L&D Pro Academy has a Fundamentals of L&D course that is designed to help you build the skills you need to be successful and feel confident in your new role.

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