Think of your portfolio as your shop window. A well laid out and designed shop window draws people in and creates interest.
A poorly designed one puts people off before they’ve even got through the door. The more time and effort you dedicate to honing your portfolio, the higher are your chances for attracting potential employers.
Working with Creative Directors on a daily basis means we have a pretty good idea about what they tend to look for when reviewing candidates’ work, so we’ve d distilled this in to our top tips for honing your portfolio.
Good portfolios are always evolving; if you don’t like something, it’s easy to change. Back to the shop window analogy – it’s a representation of the current range, not next season. Nothing is permanent and nor should your portfolio be.
One of the best quotes we’ve read over the years encapsulates this point perfectly:
“You should never consider your portfolio finished. You should always be dissatisfied with it. Your book requires endless work and few things are more important. And no matter how successful you become, this never changes.”
These days a lot of designers opt for both an on and offline version of their CV. We’re going to focus on your print portfolio, but don’t forget, this will also need to be duplicated to be sent out to prospective employers electronically in pdf format. Personalised websites are increasingly popular, whether this be a simple, templated site (there are lots available), or whether you use one of the popular portfolio sites likewww.behance.net
With such a variety of portfolio cases available, the key point to ensure is that it’s in good condition and presents a professional appearance. Equally, your work inside should be well mounted and consistently laid out throughout. There’s nothing more off putting than tatty old pieces of work falling out everywhere.
If there’s one piece of advice to take from this guide it should be this: always start and finish your portfolio with your best pieces of work. Your first piece, should make the interviewer (or recipient) sit up and take note. Your last needs to be equally impactful, after all, it’s likely to be the piece of work that’s open in front of the interviewer for the rest of the interview.
The middle of your book should be organised so that it demonstrates a variety of activity, styles and formats. If you can help it, try not to group similar pieces of work together – keep it as interesting and diverse as possible.
Tell a story
Your portfolio should create interest even if you’re not in the room to present it. Whether you’re emailing a copy of your portfolio to a prospective employer, or leaving one behind at the end of the interview, it needs to tell a story. Make sure piece of work is accompanied by a short description that gives a concise summary of what the brief was and why you chose the creative route that you did. If possible, a top line summary of the results achieved will always be well received. As with the overall layout of your portfolio, ensure descriptions are consistent in terms of positioning, size and font.
When presenting your work to a prospective employer, treat it like a pitch. Show enthusiasm for your work and your craft. The worst trap people fall in to is simply turning the pages in their portfolio without explanation or any sense of pride in their work. So tell a story about your work, bring it to life. Be ready to elaborate on the brief description in your portfolio and to articulate the brief, what the client was aiming to achieve, who the target audience was, the creative route you took, the results it achieved. All this will help you stand out from the masses.
Practice makes perfect
Presenting your work isn’t something that comes naturally to a lot of designers. But it’s an important skill to learn. Take every opportunity to talk about your work, whether it’s to colleagues, clients, family or friends. The more you do this, the more comfortable you’ll become. Quite simply, you want them to be as interested in your work as you are.
Quality not quantity
Avoid the trap of putting every piece of work you’ve ever done in your portfolio. Keep it tight and as high quality as possible. The general rule is 10 key pieces of work. Much more than this and you risk losing the interest of your audience. You’re showcasing your talents, not giving your entire life history.
Nothing from 1983
Not that we’ve got anything against the 80s, or 90s for that matter, but your portfolio must remain current. You might get away with one real stand out piece that you did years ago, but if your book is full of old work the interviewer is likely to worry why you haven’t done anything recently that you’re proud of.
Keep it updated
As we stated at the beginning of this guide, it’s good practice to always keep your portfolio updated, whether you’re looking for a new job or not. Every time you put a piece in, look at what can be taken out. We’re our own worst critics most of the time so learn to be ruthless with your portfolio and it will always remain strong and relevant.
In summary, your portfolio should be an ever evolving entity. It should showcase your creative talents and be something you’re proud to present. Every job, every internship, every project, should represent a stepping stone to an even better portfolio.
Everyone has their own opinion on what makes the perfect portfolio, so if you have anything that you'd add, we'd love to hear from you.