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How to make your portfolio stand out with a few short words

Getting the approval of a creative director can be a tough feat. Getting their attention can be even harder. Having worked on the hiring side of the creative industry for more than 10 years, I always stress to job seekers the importance of remembering who you're marketing yourself to and that, in most cases, the recruiting team or hiring manager is going to be your first line of defence. This is true for your CV and cover letter, for sure, but when it comes to your creative portfolio - whether you're a writer, a designer or an art director - you're shooting straight for the creative team.
Star image by Aleksandar Mijatovic

Explain the creative process behind your work


Here's the thing: rarely does an organisation's internal hiring team specialise in any one specific field, particularly if it's a larger operation like an advertising agency that sources qualified candidates across multiple specialisations. It's not part of their everyday job to understand what denotes good design, which elements make up a truly effective marketing campaign or what beautifully crafted copywriting sounds like. Their job is to look at your resume and determine whether your experience and skill levels speak to the needs of the role; and while they will also look at your portfolio, that typically gets handed off to the guy or gal who's likely to be your boss and who can better assess your creative talent.

I've worked with hundreds of creative directors and most of them say the same thing regarding what they're looking for in a portfolio: they want to understand the creative process behind your work. I've seen numerous portfolios full of beautiful work get turned down by creative teams because it's unclear either what the person's role on the project was or how they arrived at the final campaign from the original idea.

Put your best foot forward


The easiest way to approach this problem is to include a short narrative alongside your top samples - your portfolio should showcase only your best work, not everything you've ever done. Discuss points such as:
  • The client's initial request or idea
  • How you arrived at your initial concept
  • Campaign elements that you brought together
  • The overall results of the campaign
  • Your specific role on the project

These are simply a few examples of topics I've seen people effectively address - typically the candidates who end up getting the job. While it's not necessary to write an essay about each piece, providing insight positions you as someone who understands the process and how to take a client's vision and transform it into high-quality work.

Sharpest tool in the shed


Here's an example that one creative wrote about a social media campaign he worked on for a cheese brand:

"In honour of the brand's anniversary, we created a social media campaign that encouraged people to post their 'cheesiest' pictures, jokes, and pick-up lines on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. During the two-week promotional period, we received more than 15,000 tweets, posts, favourites, retweets, shares, and likes corresponding to the hashtag. The client saw a 12% increase in net sales."

Sharpened Pencil image by discpicture
Even if you played more of a supporting role on a project, you can illustrate this idea from a team perspective, highlighting the challenge you were presented with and how the group arrived at the final concept. Be sure to mention how you personally contributed to the campaign.

With more competition and less focus on leveraging human connections to network and get in front of the right people, today's job market is increasingly difficult to stand out in. It's more important than ever to not only zero in on the unique value you bring to the table, but to also be able to communicate it effectively through your portfolio, resume and other personal branding tools.
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About Dana Leavy-Detrick

Dana Leavy-Detrick is the founder of Brooklyn Resume Studio, a company specialising in resume preparation, job-search strategy and personal-brand building tools.
    Comment
    Ralph Higgo
    Good advice. Thank you.
    Posted on 28 Jun 2013 09:22

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