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It’s 8pm on a Friday and I’ve just looked through what feels like 200 billion (but is more likely about 45) of the most mind-numbingly bad portfolios ever to be submitted for a design position. When I started this process, it was 5pm on a Friday and the foolish me of two hours ago was brimming with optimism at the promise of finding a dream designer and leaving the office early. Then it was 7pm and the parade of near unintelligible applications for a position whose primary qualification is above average communication skills had reached the point where I checked the job listing to see if it was accidentally posted in Swahili.

And now it’s 8pm on a Friday and if I have to look through one more schizophrenically organized, grammatically bankrupt, and unusable online portfolio, I’m packing up my stylus and moving to Peoria, IL to become a taste tester at a rat poison plant. But before I mothball my Mac and head off to start my new, less painful life, I offer a favor to my fellow creative directors, producers, and decorated heads of multinational conglomerates.

A favor in the form of portfolio best practices that have gotten me hired and impressed me when I’ve done the hiring. A list of principles that you can apply to your very own portfolio, that will see you to your dream job and might just save a despairing creative director from a life of choking down vermin extermination product in a midwestern suburb.

Show Completed Projects

It doesn’t matter if they’re personal, didn’t see the light of day, or invented; show off work that is thought out and complete. If it comes down to two designers vying for the same position where one is an obvious natural talent with a body of work that shows an inability to finish and the other has a strong portfolio with well rounded projects, I’m going with the finisher every time.


Control the Message

Chances are your portfolio is being lumped in with a stack of others that look pretty similar. While top quality work will obviously stand you apart, presenting that work thoughtfully can take you nearly as far. Think about how you want your portfolio to be “read”. Start off with the project that best shows your skill level and potential and follow up with three or four solid examples that prove that you’re the only choice for the job. Spend the time thinking about how your work is being seen and you’ll be paid back royally.


Show a Buddy

If you’re doing it right, building your portfolio is an exhausting process. Wading through your body of work to find gems that best exhibit what you do best involves a level of self-critique that most of the population can’t muster. You’re probably going to want to push it out the door because the very sight of it sends you into cold sweats and a fetal ball. This is a perfect time to plop it in the hands of an objective friend or colleague. Have them give you their impressions and check things over for grammar and spelling mistakes. You’ll be relieved when they find that you spelled your name wrong.

Don’t Be Vague

Nothing drives a creative director battier than looking through a portfolio of top shelf work and having no idea what the applicant did on each project. Be clear about your role. If you make your future boss guess about what your level of involvement was in the project, or worse, mislead her; you’re in for a day of misery capped off with your things in a box and your ass on the pavement. That said, having a junior role on a big project is still an impressive thing, so own what you did all the way.


For The Love of All That’s Holy, Don’t Make Me Work!

Your portfolio needs to be a conduit to getting you hired. Obscuring the work behind some novel navigation or gimmicky flippy-slidey-clicky gallery is not doing you any favors. Keep the presentation simple, the artwork big, and your contact information easy to find and you’ll be light decades ahead of your competition.


Other recent and nice portfolios:

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FYI – This poll closes at midnight Pacific Time on August 19th. The results of the poll will remain hidden until then so we can reveal the results in a follow up post early next week! Thanks for voting and all your comments!