How to craft the “perfect” portfolio
Graduating from University and landing your first job is a daunting prospect for anyone, let alone when you’re in the middle of a global pandemic. The portfolio, the CV and the list of agencies you’d like to approach are all things that leave you not knowing where to begin. But like a lot of creative people, being hit by adversity just meant that I had to think about things differently and shift my focus to find new means of adapting, connecting and succeeding.
Whilst we were all locked indoors and unable to see our family, friends and loved ones, I used the long summer days to curate my portfolio. With no face-to-face interviews and the difficulty of showing your personality through a dreaded Zoom call, my portfolio carried even more weight than normal and really was the ticket to a job opportunity.
So here I have listed my top tips when designing your “perfect” portfolio. It contains pointers that I’m sure your tutors have told you time and time again. It’s by no means original and definitely not the only way to do it. You may even disagree with what I have to say. However, this is how I picked up my role as a Junior Designer with ilk Agency and began my creative career.
Stop putting it off. Just get started.
Crafting the “perfect” portfolio is a BIG job that in the moment, feels like the be all and end all of your future. But what you need to remember is that all the hard work is already done. You’ve put the hours into your university projects and the deadline all-nighters are behind you. All you have to do now is clearly present your work in a way that communicates who you are as a designer, so potential employers can see what you’re about.
Make it YOURS.
One of the biggest challenges when creating your portfolio is finding your own style. I spent a lot of time wanting to see how others presented their work for fear of “getting it wrong” but really, there is no wrong! Your portfolio is a representation of YOU so don’t be afraid to get your personality across wherever possible. Maybe you’re a grid enthusiast so structure and rigidity will feature throughout. Or are you an illustrator? Ask yourself where you can pop little quirks and tags on pages, maybe a sticker or a small logo-like drawing. Could colour composition be your bag? Or perhaps photography is your passion – let those hero shots shine through!
Only show your best work.
If you don’t think it’s good enough, don’t put it in. Portfolios are all about the quality of your work and not the quantity. There’s no point showcasing a project you’re not proud of.
Let your work do the talking.
Keep the text minimal. Be specific and clear with your information – one or two sentences here and there. Nobody wants to read through paragraphs of explanations and waffling, they want to see your work.
USE A GRID, for God’s sake!
Setting up a grid in your document is perhaps the single most beneficial thing you can do when creating any piece of design, let alone a portfolio. Not only will a grid help you organise your work, but it will also enable you to balance your designs and enhance your visual hierarchy. A grid will provide you with structure, allowing you to utilise white space and steer clear of cluttered layouts. And just because you have a grid doesn’t mean you always have to stick to it. Sometimes breaking the grid every now and then will help your designs have more impact – but make sure there’s a reason for changing it up and ignoring those guidelines.
Start and end on a high.
The first thing a prospective employer will see should be the project you are most proud of. Make them think “WOW” as soon as they open that document. Save your second favourite project for the end – leave them with something to remember you by.
It will never be “perfect”.
Your portfolio will constantly evolve and improve throughout your career, as you develop your skills, create new work and adjust your future focusses. So, when you’re stuck tweaking the tiniest of details, adding a page here, removing some text there and blatantly putting off sending it – just STOP! It’s great – it’s yours and it’s time other people got to see what you’re capable of.
Use your connections.
You never know where a week’s work experience or two-month placement could land you. All it takes is an opportunity to get your foot through the door and show people what you can do. So, if an opportunity lands in your lap, grab it with both hands – it could be your big break.
Get advice wherever you can.
Talk through your work with as many people as possible, whether that be professionals, tutors, your course mates or even friends and family. The more you explain your work to others, the easier it will be when you’re sitting in an interview trying to climb that first step of the career ladder. Listen to what people have to say, their thoughts and opinions could make you see things in a different light but don’t rely on them. It’s your portfolio at the end of the day, an expression of who you are, so trust your own judgment.
We all get setbacks. But don’t let them phase you.
Getting that dreaded rejection email, or worse, not hearing back from an agency at all can be disheartening and leave you questioning where you went wrong. But remember, sometimes it can be a blessing to be denied that job you thought you wanted. You never know what could be around the corner and quite frankly, if an agency doesn’t think you’re the right fit for them, perhaps they also aren’t the right fit for you.
And that rounds up my top ten list of tips to craft a killer portfolio and land your first junior design role. If you’ve managed to get this far down the blog post, I salute you. Hopefully there’s something you can take away from my experiences, although, I wonder whether reading this has just been another avoidance tactic to put off the task in hand for a little longer? Whatever your situation, it’s time to get to work. So, grab a brew, pop on your favourite playlist and start sifting through that goldmine of artwork you’ve spent the last few years producing!