For the passionate creative, who is almost always blessed/burdened by perfectionism, putting together a personal portfolio can be a daunting task. Deciding exactly what to show and how is only the beginning—the details of your online portfolio say a lot about not only your experience and thoroughness, but also your potential as a future hire.
The truth is, in the time-strapped working world, it's unlikely that the person viewing your portfolio will look at every single project you've chosen to share. They want to get in, get a sense for who you are, and decide whether you go in the "yes" or "no" pile. Thus, it's crucial to keep your portfolio streamlined, make it easy to find the most important projects, and give reviewers a reason to want to learn more about you and your work.
Here are a few things that my agency counterparts and I take note of when evaluating a candidate's work.
Let Your Work Speak
Remember the purpose of a portfolio in the first place -- showcasing your work. Your portfolio's design and functionality should not interfere with the work you're showing, so keep it simple, clean and easy for the viewer to peruse. If web development isn't your thing, consider using an online service with well-designed templates (e.g. Behance,Cargo, Squarespace or Semplice.) to create a customized portfolio with fewer headaches. However, if you're interested in roles where development knowledge is important, then use this as an opportunity to show off your skillset.
Share your Process
In addition to displaying the finished product, show evidence of the thinking that went into creating the work. A peek behind the scenes gives the project substance and provides the viewer with a greater understanding of your creative process and workflow. Keep it brief, but explain the project, the problem, the purpose and the inspiration behind the solution. This is also a chance to highlight the tiny details in your craft that might have been overlooked, yet really brought the project together -- sketches, rough drafts, wireframes, prototypes, mood boards or references that provided inspiration are all great examples.
While there's nothing wrong with having a distinctive style and playing to your strengths, it's refreshing to see portfolios that showcase a wide breath of work. Since most agencies strive for their own diverse portfolio of clients, showing your ability to adapt to varying scenarios and taking on contrasting projects is a plus. Including side projects or spec work (work for a fictitious client) is a great opportunity to broaden your portfolio. You could put your own spin on a recognizable product or redesign something that exists in the world that you feel needs improvement. Try out a different technique, experiment with a new tool or software, or tinker with a foreign programming language. Switch up your workflow and see where it leads you.
Explain your Role
Maybe you did every aspect of a project all by yourself, or perhaps you just created the assets or were responsible for a specific section -- whatever the case, it's always a good idea to explain your role in the projects you're showcasing. If you're collaborating with other people, whether it's other disciplines (designers, writers, developers, etc. or just additional members of your team, give them credit and point people towards your specific contributions. This is a rule that's always worth following but even more important once you start your professional career.
Attention to Details
Your portfolio is a reflection of you as a potential hire, so be a stickler for the details. Sometimes, the small nuances will be what really make your portfolio stand out. For example, are there grammatical errors? Does the link to your portfolio actually load your site? Are the thumbnail images you've selected to represent your projects blurry and pixelated? Are you embedding videos on your site that take a week to play, if at all? These kinds of hiccups seem like common sense but can put a damper on the experience the viewer has with your portfolio, so be sure to pay the finer details a little attention.
Above all, remember that your portfolio is a living thing, not a project to be finished -- you should always be looking for ways to make it more relevant, interesting, and representative of the talent you can offer a future team.
About the Author
Brett Swanson is the Team Development Director at Firstborn, a creative and technology company in New York City. Starting at the agency as an intern, he spent five years creating award-winning digital experiences through his work as a 3D artist, motion graphics designer and audio engineer. The University of Florida grad is now focused on growing the agencies' innovative creative, strategy, production and technology teams."