Show and Tell: Presenting the Perfect Portfolio

Even the portfolio has gone digital, but when it comes to job interviews, old-style portfolios still rule.

Whether you’re changing companies or leaving behind internships for that first professional gig, the portfolio is a key marketing tool.

Here are some thoughts on compiling a strong presentation of sample work. I’d love it, and I’m sure readers would, as well, if you’d share what’s worked for you and your portfolio in the comments.

Organization is critical
Interviewers who take the time to review a portfolio – and plenty don’t spend time on this – expect to see a professional presentation. Grammar and spelling must be correct. Graphic elements should be appealing. And a portfolio shouldn’t be overburdened with too many examples – edit judiciously.

Showcase a variety of talents
Pick a half-dozen good pieces, including one that shows off writing and editing skills, another that displays strategy and concept, a third design, and others from your most successful programs or campaigns.

Target a specific job
Take time to consider what the company is looking for and what the position is all about. Then, move the most relevant pieces of work to the front of your portfolio.

Highlight important clients
If you’ve recently worked for an industry-leading company or brand, make sure those samples are close to the front. It shows the caliber of work you’re capable of and that a prestige brand hired you for your expertise.

Call out your contributions
Don’t just stuff a brochure into a portfolio sleeve. Highlight or use arrows to indicate exactly what you want your interviewer to see or understand about the work you did. This is especially important on group projects. You deserve credit for your contribution, but if you had no input into or responsibility for delivering the graphics or a video package, you should be clear about who did what and which work is yours.

Have a leave-behind
There’s rarely time during a job interview for a panel to actually read through examples of your work. If you photocopy your best work and hand it out before you leave, the panel will have something tangible to remember you by when they make the hiring decision. (For online portfolios, share your best pieces and then list and link to other samples, such as press releases or magazine articles.)

Tell a story
Consider Don Draper’s Kodak Carousel pitch in “Mad Men.” He sold the clients because he had a complete, organized package structured as a story, including visuals. Whether you organize your portfolio chronologically (newest to oldest or past to present), by skill set or by client, prepare to lead interviewers on a tour. Know what to highlight and where stunning graphics can tell the story for you. Build a sense of excitement through your own enthusiasm – not only about how terrific your work is, but also about how effective it was at engaging the audience and meeting the client’s goals.