Portfolio Perfection: What the Best Agencies Want to See

Different media on which employee portfolios can be presented

Just like a museum that pulls from its archives to create theme-based exhibits, your portfolio should serve as a curated collection, flexing for each client or job opening you pursue. The best agencies expect your portfolio to be targeted to the skill set, industry knowledge or discipline required for the position or project you seek. If you want to land a coveted gig, you'll need to fine-tune both your physical and online portfolios. Here are some portfolio tips to help you rise above the competition.

Create a portfolio even if you're not a designer

It's a no-brainer that every designer should have a killer portfolio. But copywriters, account executives and marketing managers can benefit from creating portfolios, too. In fact, because it's not as common for those who work outside the field of visual communication to have a portfolio, creating a collection of your work can help you stand out from your competitors and demonstrate your initiative and organizational skills.

Think both digital and analog

Whatever creative role you hope to land, your portfolio needs to be both online and on paper. A website or PDF may help you get your foot in the door with the best agencies, but it's helpful to be able to point to something physical when you want to call out specific examples during a creative job interview.

Include the optimal number of pieces

How many pieces do you need in your physical book? Advertising and marketing executives surveyed by The Creative Group said they prefer to see eight items, on average, in someone's physical book. In a digital portfolio, you can include more samples, as long as they're organized by category and easy to navigate.

The best agencies are looking for eye-catching pieces that highlight your ability to:

  • Think strategically
  • Communicate complex concepts
  • Utilize multiple software applications
  • Solve real-world problems as part of your client's objectives

Focus on the most essential elements of your online portfolio. Whether you create a personal website or use a portfolio hosting site, your online portfolio should follow these rules:

  • Include a brief biography, full resume and partial client list (with permission)
  • Display your contact info on every page
  • Divide your work into clear categories
  • Give a brief description of each sample
  • Keep your portfolio current by adding new samples (and promote them on social media when you do)
  • Use search engine optimization techniques to make your portfolio easier to find

Brand your book

The pieces in your portfolio show how you create and position brands for clients. But the portfolio, in its entirety, can convey your own personal brand. Choose a case or book that continues the look and feel of your creative resume and business cards. Then, keep that aesthetic consistent throughout your labels and project descriptions. The same principle applies to your digital portfolio. Make sure it's a reflection of both you and your work.

Search Jobs or Upload Your Resume

Strategically arrange and label your work

Depending on your particular strategy for approaching the market, organize your online and physical portfolios by industry, media specialty or chronology. For your hard-copy version, start with your strongest piece and end with your second-best sample. Include:

  • The name of the client for whom you produced the piece (again, be sure to obtain permission)
  • The date it was completed
  • A sentence or two explaining the project objective and your role
  • The software you used to complete the project
  • Any positive outcomes (awards, client praise, increased sales, better customer engagement, etc.)

Perfect your pitch

Even a stellar portfolio won't wow the best agencies if your verbal presentation turns into a 20-minute monologue. Select five pieces that best represent your skills and align most with the company's needs. For each one, develop a 30-second pitch that addresses the project objective, your role and the results. Revenue, stats and percentages are instant indicators of how your work made a difference. The more you can quantify the project's outcome, the better.

Make it a living document

Finally, keep updating your portfolios with your best work so your samples are fresh when a career opportunity arises. It's far easier to archive and summarize your work when you've just completed it than to resurrect it months later and try to recall the details. It also makes it easier to swap pieces in and out of your physical portfolio as you customize it for particular clients and companies.

Of course, there's no one-size-fits-all portfolio solution. To land a job with the best agencies, you'll need to tailor your portfolio so it presents work that's most relevant to the position you hope to score.

Visit The Creative Group's Career Center for more tips on personal development and professional advancement.