Portfolio power-up: showcasing skills and turning heads

May 22, 2023

8 mins

Portfolio power-up: showcasing skills and turning heads
Kaila Caldwell

US Editor at Welcome to the Jungle

As job hunters, we all share a common adversary: the cluttered job market. To stand out, we need more than a standard resume; we need a dynamic showcase of our skills, accomplishments, and individuality. Enter the professional portfolio. It’s not just a slideshow of your work, it’s your personal brand story in high definition, captured in a way that gets potential employers to sit up and take notice.

Gone are the days of simply blending into the crowd; today, we aim to lead the pack. A well-crafted portfolio is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s your must-have ticket to career advancement. From exploring the real power of portfolios to learning the art of personal brand storytelling, we’re here to guide you toward creating a portfolio that doesn’t just impress but inspires. Ready to level up your job hunt? Let’s jump in.

The power of portfolios

“Portfolios are a visual body of work that represents the job searcher’s personal aesthetic, how they apply that to client work, and how they adopt and adapt their work to different industries,” defines Kristina Cappuccilli, career coach and creative recruiter. With over six years of NYC-based experience, Cappuccilli has placed creative, advertising, and digital marketing candidates across dozens of industries and environments. “It’s not like a resume or Linkedin profile,” she adds. It goes deeper than traditional job search tools by incorporating your personality. “It’s an invitation into your journey and story,” elaborates Peter Spellman, author of The Self-Promoting Musician with 24 years of creative career development experience at Berklee College of Music.

Portfolios are a great way to round up and summarize your career assets. As Spellman describes, “It’s like a very selective abstract of your whole body of worth thus far displayed in an easily digestible and impactful way.” Portfolios help recruiters successfully pair the creative person with the product person. “Without them, recruiters wouldn’t know how to match talent with specific products, projects, and companies,” adds Cappuccilli.

But are the efforts spent creating a career portfolio worth it, and will it boost your career? The answer depends on the work you do or want to do.

Creatives can’t skip the portfolio

Spellman and Cappuccilli both agree that portfolios are essential for creative careers. “When I say creative, I’m talking designer, copywriter, someone who, on paper, has a traditionally creative job,” explains Cappuccilli. Creative jobs include graphic designers, writers, web designers, musicians, and, of course, visual artists. “For them, having a portfolio is not a preference. It’s not a ‘nice to have.’ It’s a requirement,” she stresses. Cappuccilli insists it’s nearly impossible to get hired without one. “When I was recruiting for a staffing agency, I was told not to even look at candidates unless they had a portfolio.” While in some industries like event planning and marketing, she clarifies, a portfolio might be a bonus and not a necessity. However, it allows you to be more competitive.

Show, don’t tell: essential elements for your portfolio

No matter the industry or discipline, Spellman says you want to add your mountain-top accomplishments. These accomplishments can be personal, like projects that have impacted your field or positive feedback from reputable sources. “Peer accolades, market and client feedback, audience responses, or comments from the media—anything that shows a boost in your numbers.” If you have high numbers on social media, add it. If

However significant your accomplishments have been, no one will be captivated by your portfolio if you don’t have a solid introduction and bio at the beginning.

Introduction and bio

Besides the apparent contact information and social media links, Spellman and Cappuccilli recommend personalizing your intro. “Tell people why you’re creative. How and why did you get started in your creative field, what drives your creativity, and what drives you professionally?” But also show your personality. Cappuccilli suggests adding hobbies, a Spotify playlist, a book list, and other things that will let the recruiter know a little bit more about you.

Cappuccilli gives an example of a personalized intro. A client of hers who is a copywriter created a landing page before you could access her portfolio. Her homepage stated she wants people of color to have the same opportunities as her and then listed about seven website links where recruiters could search for diverse hires. “It says a lot about her. We know her personality right away. I don’t ever want someone, especially a creative, to shy away from their personality.”

The discipline dictates the content

“I’ve placed all types of people across all types of industries, and I don’t think the industry makes the portfolio different, but rather the discipline of the job that makes the portfolio different,” explains Cappuccilli. It depends on what type of creative you are or want to be. For example, if you are a branding graphic designer, you want to show your branding guidelines, logo development, and color theory and explain your decisions. If you’re in video editing, she says you need to establish a year-long compilation reel of your work with a breakdown of projects from storyboards or animations.

Cappuccilli stresses that contextualization is important. You have to give the reader context behind your work. “I’ve seen portfolios be super detailed with job title descriptions, objectives, challenges, deliverables, and results, but I’ve also seen people simply say, ‘We won the pitch.’” She says there is no wrong way of contextualizing as long as the reader understands the project’s purpose. For Spellman, music creatives should definitely have popular recordings, concert videos and photos, media quotes, and, of course, tour dates.

Multi-disciplinary creatives like advertising designers who work on branding, campaign design, social media, and print need to show work from all these disciplines, especially if they are required for the jobs they are applying to with the portfolio. However, figuring out how to organize your portfolio, especially with multi-disciplinary assignments, can be tricky.

Organizing your portfolio

For any creative discipline, Cappuccilli says you need to create a hierarchy directed to the type of work you want to do in your future position. For example, if you’re a content writer who likes long-form copy, she suggests this format should take up the bulk of your portfolio.

The organization depends on your projects and what you want to continue doing. Cappuccilli advises organizing your portfolio by client, project, or channel, depending on your work history and skills.

  1. Organize by client: This configuration is for freelancers or people who have worked for many clients. Organizing your portfolio by clients can also demonstrate your experience in a particular industry or with a specific type of client. It can help build trust with potential clients. By showcasing work you’ve done for reputable companies or organizations, you can demonstrate your track record of delivering high-quality work and meeting your clients’ needs. It can also show your versatility by highlighting different designs or writing styles.

  2. Organize by project: Arranging your portfolio by project is suitable for someone who’s worked at only a few different companies. Someone working at a company for seven years will have worked on various projects, says Cappuccilli, so they should organize their portfolio by project rather than the client. By organizing your portfolio by project, you can showcase your creative process and the steps you took to arrive at the final product, which is especially important for product designers, says Cappuccilli. By showcasing various projects that span different industries, styles, or mediums, you can show potential clients or employers that you’re adaptable and can tackle multiple challenges.

  3. Organize by channel: This type of organization, explains Cappuccilli, would categorize your work based on the kind of channel it’s on. For example, you can categorize your work by combining all your social media, email, digital ads, or print and sort them accordingly. She does warn that this type of organization can lead to poor navigation through your portfolio. “Let’s say you have done email marketing for five years across 10 different clients; if you organize it by channel, now I’m scrolling through a bunch of emails, and that’s a really long scroll.” She says that with a deep scroll, getting a Creative Director to see anything you want them to see is really hard because their attention span is not there. While Cappuccill doesn’t prefer this form of organization, it sometimes works for specific candidate backgrounds and experiences.

4 tips to make your portfolio stand out

Grabbing attention and keeping it is the most challenging aspect, not only when creating a creative portfolio. “Attention is the new scarcity,” explains Spellman. “There has got to be some kind of hook that happens in the communication of your portfolio.” As standing out is more challenging now than ever, Spellman recommends not coming out half-baked. You must come out strong so people want to learn more about you. Here are some ways to make your portfolio stand out in the crowd.

1. Visuals that pack a punch

Flowery writing and purple prose are not resonating anymore, according to Spellman. Text is almost a turn-off, he adds. So what is important? The images, says Spellman. You need to find an image and visuals that set the tone and create emotion. This helps you cut through the noise, explains Spellman.

2. Target your audience

Spellman and Cappuccilli agree that targeting your audience when creating your portfolio is crucial for ensuring your work resonates with potential clients or employers. “You have to make sure that you’re representing what type of work you want to continue doing,” explains Cappuccilli. For example, suppose you’re a graphic designer who wants to work with fashion brands. In that case, you might focus on showcasing your experience creating fashion-related designs, such as lookbooks or product packaging. Otherwise, everyone is getting the wrong traction. Don’t send mixed messages by showcasing work that isn’t relevant.

3. Contextualization is key

How you show your work with descriptions and context of projects is also vital, explains Cappuccilli. You need to have more than just a visual diary with beautiful images. How you show your work is also important, she says. You must contextualize your work so people understand your process to get there.

4. Personal branding

Cappuccilli believes that personal branding and a portfolio go hand in hand. You don’t want only to put projects you did during your 9-to-5, but include side hustles and other projects, too. Cappuccilli gives an example: “One of my clients had a sneaker design business on the side and put her Etsy page on her portfolio and this is what resonated with the hiring manager.” Creatives shouldn’t shy away from showcasing every part of what makes them creative. Just make sure there is a hierarchy of information depending on your audience.

Extra tricks to elevate your portfolio game

Hold up, we’re not done just yet! Here are three additional pointers from our portfolio experts to keep in mind before sending that application.

  1. Get feedback: Cappuccilli and Spellman highly recommend getting feedback. “Share it with those you respect and whose opinions you respect,” suggests Spellman. Cappuccilli recommends finding an unbiased perspective to give you feedback on your portfolio.
  2. Always in beta: Your portfolio is always in beta and constantly being updated. This is especially true for freelancers or small business owners. Your portfolio should be updated and evolve with you, explains Spellman. “All these different representations of your career are always in beta, just like we are,” he describes. “So we must always be tweaking, adding, and taking things away to make it even more impactful.”
  3. Put in the work: Creating a portfolio is no small feat. Cappuccilli explains that it’s a lot of work, and if you’re not ready to put in the effort, you’re probably not prepared to work in a creative role. “I think the idea of it might be more appealing to them than the actual job. If you can’t assemble a portfolio for yourself, how are you supposed to do it for a client?” she questions. Ensure you’re excited about the work before embarking in a creative career.

Making your mark in the creative field

A portfolio is a necessary tool for anyone in a creative field. It provides a curated selection of your best work and allows recruiters to see your potential for their specific product, project, or company. It’s not just a way to showcase your work but to show your personality. Create a captivating and personalized portfolio that will make you stand out from the rest. So why wait? Start building your portfolio today and take your career to the next level!

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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