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Perfecting Your Portfolio: 6 Do’s + Don’ts For Presenting Your Work

If you work in the creative or fashion industries, having a well-organized portfolio is a must. Not only does it display tangible examples of your work, but it also helps you showcase (rather than state) your skills. This is why the way in which you present your resume—both online and in-person—to prospective employers and clients is key to long term career success.

“While most creatives seem to know that their portfolio is an important resource to have on hand, some fall short in its actual execution or have trouble reviewing it with others,” says Julie Maurer, an Account Executive within The Execu|Search Group’s Fashion/Retail specialty area. “Unfortunately, these are two mistakes that can cost you potential opportunities. Employers are looking for candidates who are invested in their work, so an inability to clearly display and articulate who you are and what you do can raise some red flags about your professional credibility.”

Whether you are a recent grad or a seasoned professional, there are a variety ways you can make a strong impression through your portfolio. To help get started, here are our Creative & Digital team’s top do’s and don’ts for compiling outstanding digital and print portfolios:

Do invest in a high-quality portfolio site: In today’s digital age, an online portfolio will make it easy for other people to find and view your work. Not only can this help you improve your personal brand and establish yourself as a thought leader, but it can increase your chances of connecting with employers for both full-time and project-based roles.

“In many cases, employers will review your digital portfolio before they decide to meet with you,” explains Ashley Hill, a Director at Execu|Search. “As a result, it’s considered a best practice to host your digital portfolio on a high quality, completely customizable site that allows you to have your own domain. I typically recommend Squarespace, but if you can’t invest in a subscription-based site, dribbble and coroflot are two free, but less customizable, options.”

Don’t publish or submit confidential work: Displaying work that a current or former employer deems confidential is a challenge that many creatives face. If you find yourself in this situation and don’t have permission to add the project to your public portfolio, there are a couple of ethical ways you can get around this. For example, you can disclose to the interviewer that you have additional work that you can’t share over email, but would be happy to show them in person. If your work is featured on the company’s site, another option is to direct the hiring manager to the webpage, and explain how you were part of the project.

Do include mockups and/or mechanicals: While it may be tempting to only document your best (and most final) work, it’s important to show prospective employers how you achieved the end-result. “Many of our clients want to see the story behind the work,” notes Julie. “This helps them learn more about the qualities that inform a candidate’s problem solving, creative thinking, or collaboration skills.” As a result, Julie regularly advises her candidates to include mockups or mechanicals in their portfolio. This is not only a great way to highlight your individual process, but also describe the project, from start to finish, when meeting with the interviewer.

Don’t overlook a PDF portfolio: Whether or not you create your own website, it’s always a good idea to create a PDF version of your portfolio as a backup. “You want to make it as easy as possible for hiring managers to review your work,” says Ashley. “We strongly advise against sending multiple JPEGs in different emails or a compressed folder of your files, which make your work difficult and confusing to review.” Instead, Ashley suggests creating a PDF portfolio that allows you to compile all of your relevant work into one, easily sharable document. To ensure it can be attached in an email, it’s considered a best practice to limit it to 15-20 pages of your most recent work.

Do prepare a condensed print portfolio: Although the world is becoming increasingly digitalized, there are some circumstances where you might need to have your print portfolio available for review. To prepare for these occasions, we recommend basing this portfolio off of your digital version. You should print on crisp, clean paper and make strategic use of negative space. If you have more than a decade of experience, it’s considered a best practice to go back about 10 years at most when selecting which work to feature.

Don’t forget to prepare brief talking points: According to Julie, your ability to seamlessly navigate through your portfolio can make or break your chances of landing the project. “An inability to articulate their work and how it relates to the opportunity at hand is the top reason why candidates don’t receive job offers,” she says.

Fortunately, this mistake can be easily avoided with some pre-interview prep. You can start by reviewing your portfolio and selecting a handful of projects that relate to what the job entails. In the interview, these examples can serve as talking points to help guide the conversation and prove you are the right fit for the role. Just remember that an interview is meant to be a two-way street, so keep your explanations brief and to-the-point! This will give the hiring manager opportunities to discuss the role in greater detail and ask you questions.