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10 Portfolio Presentation Tips for New Graduates

Every year, I review portfolios at universities and events hosted by our regional advertising club. It’s fun to see the work of the young people. Some of it is amazing. Some of it is a work in progress. But the promise of these young people is what is inspiring. Truth be told, I had no better than a middling portfolio coming out of college and my career has worked out just fine.

A lot of the specific advice I give in these reviews is of marginal value. Whether I like the colors or design of your portfolio is a reflection of my own taste (which is sometimes suspect), but there are a few pieces of advice I can offer with absolute confidence.

  1. Don’t apologize for anything in your portfolio. I often have students apologize for something…I wish I had done thisThis would have been better ifI messed up on the trim…etc. Don’t apologize. Fix it. This is the one time in your career you have complete control over your portfolio.
  2. Related: Don’t say, “This was just a class project.” Instead, say, “This was an assignment my 400-level class did for Exxon to promote its new environmental emphasis.” Or “My class took on the label design for a local craft brewery startup.” There is nothing trivial about your work, even if it was an assignment.
  3. Put your best piece first and your second-best piece last. Sometimes people won’t get past your first piece unless it wows them…why start with anything but your best?
  4. Don’t put in pieces just to fill out your portfolio. It is better to have fewer good pieces than lots of mediocre pieces. Don’t have enough good pieces? Make new ones for local businesses or companies you like. You say you’re busy? Cry me a river. You’ll be a lot busier when you get a job.
  5. Every piece should showcase one of your strengths or a tool in your toolbox that can bring value to a potential employer.
  6. Have both a physical and digital portfolio. These days, many jobs require digital submissions, so you need to have a good online, web-based presentation. But it doesn’t end there. There have been a number of times when a student has tried to share their portfolio with me on a laptop or iPad and it just hasn’t worked. Sometimes there’s a weak internet connection. Be prepared.
  7. Know something about the person or company you are interviewing with. I have done hundreds of portfolio reviews. The review board is publicized ahead of time. I can only think of one time where a student I didn’t know came up and said, “You’re from Access. I checked out your website and I like your work.”
  8. Have fun. First interviews are hard for everyone. If you are lucky enough to land an in-person interview, be yourself and try to relax. The people you are talking to are interested in you and want you to be successful. If they have no position for you, don’t be shy about asking them what they would do if they were in your situation or if they know of any company that might be hiring someone with your skills.
  9. Show your portfolio to friends and family and have them play the role of potential employers. Make eye contact and be engaging.
  10. Understand that getting your first job in advertising can be hard, but all you need to do is get one job under your belt, and that one job doesn’t have to be forever. If you are lucky enough to have multiple job offers, don’t just look at the job and the benefits, but also consider the people you will be working with. Can they nurture you and help you add to your arsenal of abilities? A good first supervisor is probably more important to your career than a good first benefits package.

Good luck on your job search. If you’d like me to take a look at your digital portfolio, I’d be glad to. Send me a link at [email protected].

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