If you’re a creative, one of the most valuable assets in your job interview toolbox is your design portfolio.
While hiring managers want to get to know you and your accomplishments, your portfolio can help set you apart from the crowd.
We picked the brains of some of our top Red Ventures designers and gathered their wisdom to help you polish your portfolio and land your next dream gig.
What Hiring Managers Want to See In Your Portfolio
Focusing on quality over quantity is a tale as old as time but rings particularly true when it comes to your portfolio.
As Matt Keeler, Director of Digital Design in our Detroit office, notes, “Quality over quantity. Pick 10 (or less) projects to showcase and dive deep on each. Treat each piece as a case study showing the thought and process that went behind the work. Don’t just focus on the end product.”
Madeline Weiss, Director of Editorial Design, feels similarly. When she’s looking at a portfolio, she’s looking for something that “you’ve poured your heart and soul into, something that you unabashedly share with your friends and family who have absolutely no idea what it is you do but love hearing you talk about it because you have that spark.” Bonus points here if you can tell a story and “care about the details,” she adds.
Keep in mind, too, that depending on what level of a position you’re applying for, the hiring team will want to see a wider range of projects, says Jill Bressler, Director of Design at The Points Guy.
What Hiring Managers Don’t Want to See
Now that we have the good stuff out of the way, let’s focus on what you might want to consider leaving out of your portfolio.
First things first: you’ll want to tailor your pieces for the role you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a digital product role, you might not want to focus your energy on your skills as a portrait photographer, notes Chris Rodgers, a Director of Digital Design in our Charlotte headquarters.
This is where highlighting too many different projects may work as a disadvantage, too, Jill adds. This shows a lack of self-awareness — and the hiring team is looking for an ability to discern what is good work and what is, well… not.
Another major faux paus? “Don’t try to make it look like you did the majority of the work if you, in fact, did not,” says Lauren Kerwell, Director of Digital Design for Higher Education. If you weren’t the lead on the project, don’t be afraid to focus on your contribution instead.
How to Style Your Design and Layout
If you’re wondering if the look of your actual portfolio matters, we have some news for you: it does.
Consider it as another project in your portfolio, says Matt. It acts as a window into your ability to pitch, tell a story and ultimately sell your work.
Jon Aron, Vice President of Creative, is in agreement. “It definitely matters,” he says. “It should effectively show off your work and be easy to interact with.” While it doesn’t necessarily have to be a statement piece or surprise or delight the team, you’ll want to make sure the work itself is doing that.
The good news? Your portfolio doesn’t need to be something you design yourself. A simple WordPress theme or a service like Behance will do just fine, Jon adds.
The ultimate hack, though, might be to save it all as a PDF. Madeline encourages candidates to make it easy for hiring managers to zoom in and really check out all the details, so it’s important that your site, portfolio or PDF allows for that.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, so keep it as “minimal as possible while still conveying your personal aesthetic,” Matt suggests.
How to Make Your Portfolio Stand Out
This is probably the first question on your mind, and there are a few things you’ll want to consider.
First up: “First impressions are the site design itself,” says Jill.
Jon suggests using a “beautiful modern UI” and “work that shows a deep level of product knowledge and a focus on the users.”
Madeleine says she looks for portfolios that create an emotional response, as well as ones that are conceptual in nature and show a distinct point of view and intention.
Well-written copy is also a huge plus, Matt and Jill both agree.
“During a portfolio review, I consider a designer’s quality and range of work. Are they working in a similar framework as we are at RV? Do their solutions work? Do they innovate?” Jill suggests.
How to Add to Your Portfolio If You Don’t Have a Lot of Experience
You likely have more experience than you think you do, say our design pros.
If you’re struggling to dig up projects to add, consider finding your own design problems to solve.
“If you’ve ever gone through a process or used a product and experienced some friction, turn that into your exercise. Research it – get to know the problem you’re tackling inside and out – including how other people may have already tried solving it,” suggests Chris.
How to Knock Your Portfolio Review Out of the Park
Above all else, you’ll want to know your work inside and out.
“Articulate why you did certain things, and back those decisions up with data or insight,” says Matt.
Jon agrees, and encourages applicants to “have a plan.” It’s a good idea to choose the work you’ll want to talk about the most in advance.
Jill offers similar insight, adding “Be prepared to talk about your design process at length.”
How to really have an extra confidence boost, though? “Wear something you feel confident in,” says Lauren. “Feeling comfortable in your own skin is going to make this so much better.”
Looking for more tips on acing the hiring process? Find out what our recruiters recommend for a seamless virtual interview.