6 Tips to Perfect Your Portfolio

Download The Creative Group's Creating and Presenting a Powerful Portfolio Guide.

As a graphic designer, your portfolio remains your primary branding and self-promotional vehicle. To help you craft a well-rounded collection of work samples that packs a serious punch, The Creative Group recently released a new guide, Creating and Presenting a Powerful Portfolio.

The information is based on surveys of advertising and marketing executives, as well as insights from creative thought leaders and our staffing teams who interact with hiring managers daily and have a keen sense of what employers look for when reviewing portfolios. Here is some advice from the guide:

1. Start Strong, End Strong.
Open with your best work. Your lead sample should not only highlight your design talent but also serve as a conversation starter about the skills you bring to the table. The items that follow should fuel further discussion about your core strengths. End with a bang by making your second-strongest piece the last one the reviewer sees.

2. Don’t Put Style Above Substance.
In a survey by our company, advertising and marketing executives said the most common portfolio mistake is including work that doesn’t show value. Provide context by labeling each piece with the client’s name, the project’s objective and your role in developing the finished product. Most important, make note of positive outcomes, such as increased sales, greater brand awareness or cost savings. Simply put, play up your problem-solving prowess and ability to boost the bottom line.

3. Show the Right Number of Samples.
You want hiring managers and potential clients to gain a good sense of your creativity, technical expertise and range. But you don’t want to overwhelm them. It’s best to feature seven to 10 samples in a hard-copy portfolio. You can include more samples in an online version, as long as the navigation is intuitive and the pieces are well organized.

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4. Tailor Your Materials.
You’ll do a better job of connecting with prospective employers if you customize your content to their needs. Review your target company’s website, paying close attention to the sections that provide background on the organization and its main products and services, case studies, and recent news. Follow the firm’s social media feeds and tap your professional network for additional insights. Once you’ve done your homework, add relevant samples or reorganize your book to emphasize your skills most pertinent to the opportunity.

5. Display Professional Polish.
Regardless of how impressive your projects, a cluttered portfolio full of worn samples will cause hiring managers to question your professionalism. Make sure all samples are free of tears, smudges, folds and extraneous marks. Protect fragile pieces with plastic covers and carry odd-shaped or bulky items separately. In addition, always bring copies of your resume, references and client list to job interviews.

6. Finesse Your Presentation.
Finally, when presenting your portfolio, remember the importance of spotlighting both your design skills and interpersonal abilities. After all, if you can’t sell yourself, an employer won’t believe you can sell concepts to clients. Help yourself by practicing and fine-tuning your pitch. Rehearse in front of a trusted colleague, mentor or friend, and solicit honest feedback. Was your pitch compelling and concise? Did you effectively communicate the value of each piece? Did you maintain good eye contact and project confidence and enthusiasm? A trial run will help you identify potential stumbling blocks, calm jittery nerves and gain confidence.

Now that your portfolio is presentation perfect, find out 8 creative—and effective—ways to land a new job!

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