Essential guide to improve a design portfolio
Collecting our creative work in a single document can be a difficult task, but if you do it successfully it will help you make a positive impression.
Throughout seven years as Design Director managing creative teams in different industries in Mexico, I’ve noticed endless important details that determine the selection of a great portfolio and a good Designer.
Your portfolio, in addition to being comfortable to look at, must transmit your essence and your experience, as well as your technical and graphic skills; select those projects that you consider show the best conceptual, visual, and communication solutions a brand needs. Limit yourself when trying to include a “trendy” project; showing only these kinds of projects could make you appear as seasonal and in the moment. You have to aim for timelessness in everything you design.
Think about this: When a design position opens, it is as if an ocean of candidate emails flooded into the recruiter’s inbox. Even just crafting a precise subject line will make you stand out from the start. Keep in mind recruiters only have a few minutes to review and literally “scan” the portfolios, so your information must be concise, relevant, and show your best creative work.
Your CV also plays an important role when selecting the best candidate, and is an excellent tool to expand your professional profile, so I’ll make sure to cover that topic as well.
With all this, I have listed a series of tips that you can consider in each case.
BUILDING A PORTFOLIO
Let’s start with the format where you compile your work, the most appropriate will be to use generic one (widescreen or standard), organize it in an orderly and cohesive manner. Here we’ll see your editorial skills.
If among your projects only have some logotypes and branded applications, take a few hours and expand its graphic universe, what other visualizations will help to complement it? and, how could show it to give it more cohesiveness? If you don’t have photographic documentation, use stock images or free mockups, these give the necessary professional level to highlight your portfolio. Use high-quality images and don’t look pixelated.
Select the projects that you consider to depict your best work as a Designer, those that distinguish your creative skills, and those that are most relevant in your career. Remember, quality is better than quantity, be versatile, and look at them with a clinical eye. In this case, two or three slides per project works well; you can have an online portfolio or a personal web to expand your projects and show up everything you want.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if your projects are real or fake, if the client approved or if it’s a simple proposal, the creativity will speak beyond the project. We know when you’re a student you only have academic projects, so I’d advise taking the time to develop personal ones, for friends or family, so you can gradually develop a portfolio and extend your professional experience. Don’t forget to include a brief description, this will help to understand the context of each project, as well as the creation date, if it was developed for a client or at a company, and the role you played in its development.
To finish, when your portfolio is ready, give it one last revision to check that everything is correct and there are no spelling errors; export it to a PDF format and try to optimize it to weight 15 MB or less (this will speak to how well you know the optimization tools).
WHAT SHOULD I INCLUDE IN MY CV?
The presentation and structure of this document are very important, as well as the readability. For this, consider a letter-size format with a clear background. Your editorial skills will also be tested, a single page is ideal.
Your personal information (full name, city of residence, personal phone and email) are as important as academic training (from professional studies; extracurricular activity within your profession, honorable mentions, titles and/or recognitions are also welcome) and the work experience you have (roles, activities or responsibilities that you performed within a company). Mention the most relevant points in each section, as well as important dates. Creative skills, personal and work strengths are details that also speak a lot about you, don’t forget to add them. A good tip is to always include how many years of experience you have!
Before exporting your CV to a PDF format, check the spelling.
HOW SHOULD I SEND AN EMAIL?
Take the time to craft a good email that distinguishes you from other candidates: start from the subject of the email specifying your name and the title of the position you are applying for, then develop a short body text where you talk a little about yourself, mention the reason why you want the position and why they should consider your profile.
Attach your CV and portfolio (both in PDF), regardless of you having an online portfolio or personal website, having these documents will talk about exactly what you want to highlight. Remember that it is better to customize them depending on the position you are seeking, include what is relevant to the needs that are being requested. Don’t attach heavier documents, or links that have to be downloaded, unless you want to show an animated document or video, use a link that redirects to what you want to show. To close the message, you can include a digital signature with your contact information, as well as links to your online portfolio (sign up for Bēhance please if you haven’t already!) or to your website. Before sending it to any recipient, check the spelling TWICE.
Do some research and get to know the work of the company that you’re applying to. If you follow them on social media, take a look at their latest publications and show some interest in the work, maybe even bring it up at your interview! Show that you care and talk about why you want to work with them and what you can contribute to the work and the company.
What if you get the interview?
Keep in mind that for creative positions an interview could take between 45 – 60 minutes. Remember to be concise on how you respond and what you ask to the person interviewing you, as well as explaining your work and what you are looking for professionally.
Whether it is a video call or in-person, try to arrive on time (five minutes before is always better). If it is a video call, keep in mind that outside noise is a problem, don’t go to a coffee shop or a place with lot movement, and take the interview on a computer, your phone isn’t the best option. If it is in person, remember that the first impression is the most important; dress professionally but in your style, and bring your laptop if you can, perhaps they’ll ask you to delve into your portfolio.
Take the time to constantly develop and update these documents (portfolio and CV), and abilities to increase your chances to get your dream job. Good luck!