Portfolio Tips

A laughing man with an open CD caseOver the last few weeks, I’ve worked with the internship committee on helping our interns update their resumes and begin a portfolio. A resume and portfolio should complement each other like peanut butter and jelly. A resume will help you get your foot in the door for a face-to-face meeting but a portfolio gives you an opportunity to really showcase what your experience is. It can truly set you apart from your competition and putting one together is not an easy task. Over the last few years I’ve received some great tips from my mentors that I will share with you here, and hopefully learn some news ones from you.

Before I share the tips, I want to stress the important of targeting the company with whom you are interviewing. Look over their client roster and services they offer. Are they creative or conservative? Are they traditional or one step ahead? By using your portfolio to target the prospective employer, you’re being strategic. It also means you did you’re homework and took the time to learn about the company. Now onto the tips:

Writing samples. This is a no brainer. Employers want to see that you can write coherently and also keep the reader’s interest. Choose your *best* writing samples. Pick samples that are within the same areas of the company’s clients. If they work exclusively with finance clients, they may not be as interested in your pitch about the new “must-have” hair product for women. However, at the same time be diverse. Include collateral projects, clips and bylined articles. Danielle’s portfolio includes both for-profit and not-for-profit clients. She also trys to strike a blanace between business-to-business and business-to-consumer content.

Edit. Some of my best placements have come from pitches that I wouldn’t consider my “best” but they’re still included. But as you’ll see in my next tip, the reason they’re included in the portfolio. Go over every writing sample in your portfolio with a fine tooth comb. Don’t change the content, but double and triple check for grammatical errors or how you can make it stronger.

Show rationale. When I discussed these tips with PRBC, Danielle reminded us of the importance of organization. Employers want to see great placements but they also want to see the strategy and rationale behind it. Organize a portfolio so that its easy to understand the strategy/tactics behind the placements. For me, that means including all writing samples that helped secure my placements. If you can, Danielle suggests taking it a step further and include planning documents. If that isn’t possible, write up a couple of paragraphs summarizing the planning and executional phases of the project.

Don’t be afraid of color. This may sound trivial but on an interview it’s important to show your personality. When I graduated from college my portfolio was a stark white or a sleek black. The colors of “professionalism.” However after going on a handful of interviews I wanted to change it up a bit. My portfolio is now an orange like the color of sherbet. Did people notice? Actually yes, so I believe it made a difference. (Note: this plays into the “target” employer tip. If you’re interviewing with a conserative company that might not work as well.)

Include items outside of client work. I wasn’t so sure about this tip, since a lot of us loathe hearing about ‘personal branding’. But on an interview it’s important to show you are well-rounded and the one time you can talk about your skills without sounding full of yourself. In the back of my portfolio I have select blog posts that were linked to other industy leading blogs or that created a solid conversation through comments. It shows you’re not afraid to voice an educated opinion and showcases your professional perspectives. I learned that I’m not the only one who has recently updated their portfolio to reflect this. (H/T to Danielle)

Leave a copy behind. I’ve heard many people say it’s too pricey to leave it behind but so what? Not all clips need to be color copies or if it’s really that much of a burden create a digital version. This allows those you’ve interviewed with share it with their colleagues. (Via Cog)

I would love to hear from the community on how they put together a portfolio. What would you add and how does it change after many years of being in the industry?

*Many thanks to Danielle and Cog for adding some of their thoughtful tips.

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  • Laney

    Don't laugh…but my overachieving blood had me do this – I had a hard copy of my portfolio bound all nice and colorful and then I created CDs with everything on it. This was my way of leaving it behind. Not gonna lie, I am now working at a place that I interviewed with when I first graduated. When I came back here, the people I interviewed with still had it.

  • Nice tips, Christina!

    I especially agree with you on the color part- my cover letter and resume both have orange (like yours!) as the headlines/titles/etc. Anything I wanted them to catch while scanning really fast. I think, too often, professionals are afraid of using color because they don't think it's “professional,” but in the Communications industry, I think it's ok 🙂

    Thanks for the reminders!

  • All great tips Christina!

    I would like to add classroom projects to the mix as well. A lot of communications classes provide client experience that is similar to internship work and is definitely worthy of being included. Including an abstract of a project as well as a couple of visuals from it can showcase a semester's worth of work. I've always organized my portfolio by internship/class work, writing samples, graphics samples, and miscellaneous.

    Also, great tip about adding color to your items. Anything that adds a little “pop!” to your work and sets it apart from the hundreds of other applicants sounds good to me!

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  • KDMisevich

    Great post Christina! I'm in the process of updating my portfolio from the traditional “black and white” version that I used when I first started in this field. I think it's important that my portfolio reflect my personality a little more.

    I agree that you should create a portfolio that you can leave behind. I've sat in on interviews with several people and only one person really gets the chance to look at the portfolio. I know if I was in the opposite position I would want all of the decision makers to be familiar with my work.

    I love Laney's idea of creating a CD of your work.

  • alliemckenna

    I love your idea of having your portfolio stand out. I saw my friend's portfolio and it was purple, compared to mine that was just black and white. I think it makes a difference depending on who you are interviewing with.

    “editing” your portfolio is like editing a cover letter, you are making it relevant to the company and position you are interviewing for.

    great tips!

  • rachelwells

    Christina, first of all, great post. I think it's helpful to tackle portfolio tips and not only resume. In addition to keeping writing samples, I've found that adding visual supplements help facilitate conversation. For example, if it's an event, I'll develop “show pages” including screen shots from valued web coverage or day-of photos. While it's vital to articulate you are a great writer, etc., this adds some color and creates a “face” for your work or project.

  • It's also important to see what questions you get asked while the interviewer is reviewing your portfolio. A question like “Can I keep this?” is a big hint that they'd like to (and in case you only have the one copy) a hint that for your next interview (with the same company or another) you should bring one (or more) to leave behind.

    Similarly with any confusion – if your writing samples are in their own section, separate from the results of those samples and the interviewer doesn't realize this it may be a sign to reorganize the portfolio.

    A table of contents to make sure everything is crystal clear also never hurt anyone….

  • bethvonbehren

    This was very helpful. I'd like to know a little more about how the documents are displayed on the page. Do you have a snapshot of your portfolio that we could see?

  • katrinalennon

    Great post and incredibly helpful. I am not actively searching for a job right now (I have an internship in Hartford and am attending grad school for my MBA next year) but I know how important it is to have a portfolio and I try and add a little bit to it here and there. I will definitely be making some changes to it after reading this post.


  • KC

    Which portfolio case would you recommend for a new grad?

  • Hi KC,

    I use a simple binder. I first used a white binder or black but depending upon the company you're interviewing with you can always change it. Have fun and show your personality.

  • KC

    Thank you for your reply 🙂

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