How To Make a Design Portfolio That’ll Get You Hired
In the creative industries, you don’t need a fancy degree to get your foot in the door. So in order to stand out above your competition, your portfolio is the single most important weapon in your armoury.
You can use a portfolio to tell your potential employer who you are, what you’ve worked on and which skills you bring to the table. It’s your chance to make an impression, so you need to dedicate time and attention to the detail to make your portfolio count.
But in the modern design world, creating a good portfolio just won’t cut it. To make a portfolio that’ll get you hired, you need to find out exactly what the hiring managers and experienced pros are looking for. So we asked a few of our friends this very question: how do you make a design portfolio that’ll actually get you hired?
James Greenfield of Koto, Leo Edmonds of Barclays, Niamh O’Donohoe of Framestore and Henry Foreman of The Mill weigh in with their advice.
Tell your story, but be concise
“Spend time on the writing as much as the design. Introduce yourself with brevity. Avoid writing a massive cover letter.” – James Greenfield, Koto
In your portfolio, the words are equally as important as videos or images. But that doesn’t mean you need to tell your whole life story. Focus on the key events in your narrative. The work you’ve created, the brands you’ve worked with, the places you’ve studied. How have they shaped you into the designer you are today? Why are they important to your potential future employer?
Once you’ve considered these, you’ll be ready to get your story into words. And then, cut it down. Spend time on the writing, yes, but spend more time proofreading and editing than writing more and more.
Make it as concise as possible. Let your work do the talking, but use words to guide your audience through your journey. Supplement videos, images, showreels and outcomes with words, explaining your process and your contribution. Make your reader feel what you felt, but also put it in black and white. What did you create? What did you achieve? Keep it short and direct and make each word count.
Justify your decisions
“A good portfolio grabs attention with strong polished visuals, however a great portfolio demonstrates the rational behind how you got to that final visual, the decisions you made and what you brought to the project. Try to avoid just showing a final visual with no context around it.” – Leo Edmonds, Barclays
You know that words are important to your portfolio. But what should those words say? According to Leo, you need to explain the process you took to reach your final design. Adopt a considered approach. How can you convey the most important bits of information in a concise way? It’s true that hiring managers don’t have a load of free time to read through your portfolio, but they still want to see your process and your decision-making abilities as this helps them understand how you work.
Strike a balance
“The creatives who stand out are those with a strong process and diverse practice. Constantly learning, they have a variety of ideas and multiple ways to execute them.” – Niamh O’Donohue, Framestore
Employers need rounded designers.
This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert at every software and every design discipline. So what does it mean? It means you need to demonstrate the 9 core skills you need to make it in design in equal balance.
James Greenfield, Founder of Koto adds “When hiring, I’m always looking for balance in a portfolio, of the ability to generate brilliant creative ideas and then to execute them. There is no point in one without the other. Ideas are essential to stand out in our industry, but execution and craft should always be present.”
As James says, hiring managers want to see great ideas, but they also want to see a designer who has the technical skill to execute them. When you make your design portfolio, consider how each project you’ve worked on demonstrates your ability for ideation and also your knack for turning them into reality.
Your portfolio gives you an opportunity to present how you can balance your process, your practice, your ideas and your execution.
Create your portfolio with thought
“What separates a great portfolio from a good one? One which has been put together with thought. One that shows a breadth of experience, with a good amount of projects, but doesn’t include everything the designer has ever done. Nothing should be in there that the designer is unsure of.” – James Greenfield, Koto
What’s going to make your portfolio stand out above the rest? The thought process behind it.
Curate your portfolio with care. You don’t need to include everything you’ve ever designed. If a project you worked on 2 years ago doesn’t say anything about the designer you are today, cut it out. Look for the projects that showcase your creativity, experience and skill set in the best light possible.
So how many projects should you include?
James says “Someone can tell their story in 3 killer projects, but for others there is benefit in a longer, more nuanced story. I tend to avoid the formula of X number of projects.”
Looks like there’s no magic number. Making a great design portfolio isn’t that easy. But you’re not in this business because it’s easy, right?
Don’t look at this as a negative. Look at it as an opportunity to show your talents. You know that making a design portfolio means you need to put a lot of thought into how you present it, how you tell your story and how many projects to include. Accept the challenge and get stuck into your process.
Don’t take your eye off the ball
“We’re looking for people who have an understanding of the professionalism it takes for us to create the work that we do. We’ll be looking for the same from them.” – Henry Foreman, The Mill
Think your portfolio is finished? Think again.
You’ll need to adapt your portfolio to different audiences. Pitching for a client in the Fintech space? Established brand vs challenger start-up? Applying for a job at a design studio? Or in-house in the corporate world? All these different audiences will respond positively to different portfolios. If you think your ‘one size fits all’ portfolio will cut the mustard, you’re already out of the race.
Research your audience thoroughly. What work do they create? What’s their process? What challenges do they face in their day-to-day? And how can you merge with all this? Your portfolio needs to answer that last question clearly. This shows you understand what your hiring manager is looking for and that you’re the right designer for the job.
James Greenfield of Koto weighs in with “Don’t ever think your portfolio is finished. Always be working on it.”
Your portfolio is your CV. Your story. Your pride and joy. As you evolve as a designer, your portfolio should evolve with it. In real time. Not just as an afterthought you get to once a year. Think about your portfolio every time you complete a project. Could it make the cut?
Need a helping hand?
On a Created course, you’ll work on real-world briefs produced in partnership with industry professionals. Whether it’s motion, UI or UX, you’ll leave with an industry-ready skill set and a design portfolio that showcases your talents.
If you’re looking for support on making a design portfolio that’ll get you hired, take a look at our courses.
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