5 Digital Portfolio Best Practices: How to Make a Portfolio that Pops

By Robert Half April 11, 2019 at 11:00am

Whether you are — or want to be — a graphic designer, copywriter, marketing professional or other accomplished creative, you need a great digital portfolio that proves your street cred and showcases your skills.

Lucky for you, portfolio examples are easy to come by at The Creative Group. We regularly showcase our exceptional talent, so there are a lot of examples that can give you some inspiration or direction.

We also offer a free portfolio tool when you’re ready to buckle down and create or refresh yours. And now’s the perfect time — it’s a great job market for creatives out there. Even if you don’t have much experience in a creative field, there are ways to put enough work together to make a solid portfolio.

“People come from all different backgrounds, some creative and some not,” says Lois Snavely, TCG Sr. Recruiter of Digital Media in Chicago. “I placed someone in a full-time front-end web developer job who worked in a help desk role before that.”

Many candidates Snavely places attend boot camps in UX design or web development, for example, to make a career switch or build upon their existing skills. “Because this space is changing so fast, most people don’t want to go back to a four-year school for a specific degree because it’s all changed again by the time you get out,” says Snavely.

“Boot camps typically link people up with a real company and the students get to work on real projects, which they can highlight in their portfolios.” 

Even in a candidate-friendly job market, having a standout portfolio is key to landing a creative job. As Snavely says, “You only have three to five seconds to get a hiring manager’s attention.” Here’s how to create a collection of your work that catches their eye.

Best practice time: How to make a digital portfolio that pops

1. Select your strongest samples. A survey by TCG says eight is the lucky number, but anywhere from seven to 10 samples should adequately demonstrate your skills. The digital samples you choose should also:

  • Represent your core strengths, industry experience, technical ability and range.
  • Be no more than five years old; keep it new and fresh unless you were the mastermind of a high-profile campaign.
  • Start and finish with a bang; lead with your strongest work and end with the runner-up.
  • Be customizable; always ensure your portfolio content will appeal — and be relevant — to different employers.

2. Take away the barriers. “The less reading, clicking and scrolling in your portfolio, the better your chances of getting the interview,” says Snavely. “Don’t force a hiring manager to scroll or go to the menu to find your work.”

Snavely advises removing intro pages, ‘about me’ sections and categories in digital portfolios. 

When it comes to presenting your work, Snavely says, “You want to look like a specialist, not someone who does a little bit of everything.” She advises using tiles for digital portfolios, but making it obvious what each tile is, whether it’s a brochure or website. “If you worked on a campaign for a well-known company, make the image a clickable link to your work for that company.”

Two common digital portfolio formats are:

  • Industry-specific — For example, if you're applying for a project or position at a hospital, lead with your healthcare samples.
  • Chronological — This works best for entry-level creatives. Start with your most recent work to show your professional progress.

3. Showcase your creative style, within reason. Companies and hiring managers want to get a sense of who you are. That said, don’t reinvent the wheel when creating your portfolio: “When people go to see the Mona Lisa they’re not looking at the frame, they’re looking at the painting,” says Snavely. “It’s okay to use a simple template of white space and tiles.” Here are some other tips:

  • Match your digital portfolio design to your personal brand; be consistent in look and feel with all job-hunting materials, such as business cards and resumes.
  • Approach your own portfolio as if it were a client project; this means understanding your target audience and how you'd like them to experience your work.
  • Highlight your adaptability and creativity.

4. Focus on user experience. You want prospective employers or clients to have an easy and enjoyable experience when reviewing your work. Put your portfolio to the test by checking image load times and making sure your portfolio functions properly and is easy to view on every version of every browser on every platform. Be sure that:

  • The navigation is intuitive (as discussed earlier).
  • It is responsive for mobile devices.
  • You feature high-quality photographs of any printed work.

5. Include detailed caption information. A well-written and compelling description of each sample can add key context about your contribution and creative process. Your caption information should include:

  • The client or agency you did the work for
  • A few sentences outlining the main goal and challenges of the assignment 
  • Your role in the project
  • Any positive results (Did it help lift sales, build greater brand awareness or boost online traffic? Did the piece win any awards or receive coverage in industry publications?

Now create your own digital portfolio

It's easy. If you're already a TCG candidate, log in to your dashboard, scroll down, and then click "Manage Portfolio." If you're not yet a TCG candidate, the first step to becoming one is to simply upload your resume.

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