4 Keys to Building a Design Portfolio That Gets you Work

Every creative needs a great portfolio, but some of the most beautifully presented still fail to result in employment. So what makes a portfolio successful in the eyes of the hiring manager? You might be surprised…

1. Fewer conceptual pieces, more work case studies

When recruiting a designer for a project or role, the hiring manager often won’t be a creative themselves. But they will know what is involved in terms of deadlines, client expectations, resource constraints, schedules and the like! So the more you can show that you have worked on real jobs and have an understanding of how client expectations and artistic treatment need to meet for a successful outcome, the more attractive you’ll become as a candidate. Essentially this means showing how you have used your creativity to solve client problems in a commercial context.

2. Include things that didn’t work out

Hiring employers get nervous when all they see in a portfolio is beautiful art and design. What they want to know is how you operate in the real world. So don’t be afraid to include examples of projects that weren’t 100% successful – just be prepared to talk about your positive role in them and the lessons you learned. Again, this demonstrates that you have more than ‘just’ creative skills, and makes you highly employable as a self-aware, reflective team player who is keen to learn new skills and develop.

3. Curate!

Many creatives work across mediums and skillsets, especially when they are studying in the creative fields and starting out in their careers. So be prepared to curate your portfolio for the type of role or project you are applying for. For example, to get into digital design, don’t include lots of print. Focus entirely on relevant projects, and show that you have plenty of experience in them. This is what corporate candidates have to do in the business world – they tailor their CV specifically for every role. Your portfolio is the creative equivalent, so think a) understand your audience b) know what they are looking for and c) customise accordingly!

4. Talk results

When you include real work examples, interviewers sit up and take notice. Every hiring manager has looked through pages of beautiful university work but failed to see the application for the job in question. So use your real examples, and talk intelligently and in detail about the results of the work. Again, this shows your understanding of how good design and creative work fits in to broader business objectives, and that you appreciate this context. It shows that you are a fully rounded individual, and someone that can bring an awful lot to a multi-disciplinary team in a commercial context.

With these tweaks in place, take your portfolio out to wow the world and commit to securing that job!

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