The Top 5 Portfolio Pitfalls

As most creatives know, your portfolio is your No. 1 career tool. In fact, in a survey among advertising executives commissioned by our company, 63% of respondents said they consider a portfolio the most important factor when hiring creative talent.

You want your book to convey your core strengths, range of talent and level of professionalism. After reviewing it, a prospective client should have a clear understanding of who you are professionally and what you can accomplish.

However, even though your portfolio speaks volumes to potential employers, there are several common mistakes creative professionals make when assembling them. Following are the top five pitfalls and how to avoid them.

1. Leaving no piece behind. If you’ve been in the business a while, you probably have enough material to make “War and Peace” look like a quick read. Be careful not to overdo it. Instead, think like a minimalist: Less is more. In our surveys, prospective employers said they want to see about 11 pieces in a creative portfolio, and they typically know whether someone is qualified after viewing just nine items. Prioritize your samples and include only 10–15 of the most recent, relevant ones. Keeping your book brief and focused ensures your best pieces are seen.

2. Poor assembly. A back pocket stuffed to the gills or a portfolio with unsecured items falling out of it can be just as overwhelming as one with too many items. Your book should be neat and clean, and if you’re bringing in bulky items or additional pieces geared to a firm’s specific needs, carry them separately.

3. Giving too many details. Displaying numerous versions of the same piece can be confusing to the person who’s reviewing your work. It also may detract from the final product. Although occasionally you may want to show several different phases of a project to demonstrate how it evolved, it’s generally best to include only the finished, final piece.

4. Creating a mystery. Label each piece in your portfolio clearly with the following information: the name of the client for whom the piece was produced; your role in the project; software utilized; and a sentence or two describing why the piece is important. It’s basic, essential information, and if you don’t identify the items clearly, you could frustrate those reviewing your materials.

5. Providing “over the hill” examples. Even if you think it’s your most creative logo ever, most hiring managers don’t want to see a piece you did 15 years ago when you were just out of college. In general, items should be no more than three years old, unless they’re connected with a particularly memorable campaign. Even if you’re not job hunting, it’s wise to keep multiple copies of key projects on file so you’re prepared when it comes time to put your book together.

Much like gifts, an attractive package can make all the difference in the world when it comes to portfolios. Preparing a professional book that reflects your talent and capabilities is essential to making a good impression—it also improves your chances of being hired.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.