Should Marketing Students Upload Course Projects to Personal Websites?

One common aspect in the life of a marketing major is working on numerous marketing projects, both individually- and group-based.  Examples may include business plans, marketing plans, IMC plans, marketing research studies, spreadsheet analyses, selling presentations, digital marketing projects, presentation decks, and more.

Students occasionally ask me, should I upload course projects to my personal website?  Typically this question is posed because they are interested in, or required to, develop an online portfolio to showcase their coursework for personal branding purposes.

My answer is…it depends.

There are occasions when my students sign client confidentiality undertakings/agreements whereby they agree to keep certain information strictly confidential.  In this case do not upload projects with any confidential information under any circumstances.  Keep your word and honor your agreements.

If students signed a client confidentiality undertaking whereby they agreed to not publish certain details of a project, do not upload those components of the project.  Look at your project from the client’s perspective.  Is there sensitive information about the client?  Is there anything that could be detrimental to the client if others saw your project?  Request permission if you are unsure.  Contact the client, or other parties involved in the agreement, to seek permission.  If permission is granted, obtain it through some type of written consent such as email.

Below is an example of a situation where student in the JMU Ad Club agree to “not post online any, all or parts of the work created…at any point…The only exception is if the students place the work in a private, password-protected, online environment.” I teach strategy-oriented marketing courses, not art and design courses.  In one of my courses where students develop integrated marketing communications plans, students create ad samples to explain their creative concepts.  I encourage students to either create these ads entirely on their own if they have the requisite art/design skills; if not they should provide rough hand-drawn images (even with simple stick figures) to convey their concepts. I sometimes allow students to outsource their graphic design work to a fellow JMU student.  In this case, students need to seek my prior permission and provide proper attribution to the other student’s work in the project. This guidance is to protect the students from problems.  For instance, if a project contains any material that the students did not create, they are not acting in accordance with our university’s Honor Code.  Specifically, such actions would be in violation of “submitting for academic credit any work completed by someone else.” Furthermore, such violations could potentially open up the door for legal entanglements with other parties beyond our university.  When in doubt, do not upload copyrighted project elements to personal websites and speak to your instructor about any concerns. 

Sometimes students do not intentionally plagiarize, but sometimes they do.  In group projects, students may not know if other teammates plagiarized.  To avoid having your name (a.k.a., your brand) associated with a dishonest project posted online try using a plagiarism checker.

Speaking of groups, as a courtesy to teammates consult with them about whether and how to put group project information online, since they were involved in the development and have some ownership in the end product. Get team buy-in about putting their work online and provide proper attribution to acknowledge teammate contributions to such work.

I communicated with two recruiters to determine how course projects on personal websites factor into their hiring decisions for entry-level positions in digital marketing.  Although it was a sample of only two in only one area of marketing, their information was insightful. Below are some excerpted quotes from our exchanges:

Recruiter 1:  It always comes down to time and even with cover letters and resume, most of the time they are being scanned quickly for the initial interview.  If I got to the personal website of a student during the initial screening, I would want the quick details that make you stand out. If I see a 5-page project uploaded with no brief summary or no call-outs of results, I will immediately get overwhelmed and bounce from the page. If I went on a student’s personal site that was well organized and provided helpful summaries/information of accomplishments, they would definitely be a standout candidate for me.

Recruiter 2:  This depends on the industry (obviously applications for more creative positions are nicely supplemented by examples of work). But in our industry and those similar to ours, and particularly for entry-level/graduate roles, course projects aren’t necessary or even helpful. We don’t have time to even read them! We had a candidate interview onsite last year and she brought in a small booklet she designed and wrote herself — it was something really creative like “Who is this person in my office?” or “Why [insert company name] is the place for [insert student name].” It was well done – a great personal branding and selling piece – and the hiring managers enjoyed the extra effort and creativity. Things like this are only effective if they’re really well done and intentional, otherwise you risk sending the wrong message or misrepresenting your brand. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this for everyone.  Call me old-fashioned. A well-written resume that’s organized (easy to find information) and highlights tangible contributions or results; a practiced, polished ability to translate how accomplishments and strengths make them a good fit for the role; and demonstrating sincere of interest in the company and position are still my top three.

I concur with their guidance. When uploading course projects to personal websites, emphasize parts over the whole, and ensure that it is well done.

Find key excerpts from the projects to showcase your best work.  Highlight aspects of projects that demonstrate something very specific such as your solution to a challenging problem, a highly creative element, or a complex analysis.  Pull out those components and repackage them into a succinct and compelling story about you.

Think about what skills and characteristics you want to communicate about yourself and then find a way to convey those elements tangibly through your projects.  For example, you might create an infographic that illustrates your skill sets based on different components of a variety of course projects.  A sampling of your best work is even good for positions that require a portfolio of work, such as copywriters, content strategists, technical writers, graphic designers, visual arts, etc.  Such portfolio requests are often made through the job posting or after a first round of interviews.

I welcome ideas and comments about these issues, especially from professors, students, and recruiters.  For any marketing professors who would like to explore these issue further, let’s collaborate on ideas for an empirical study.

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