How to Make Your Portfolio Stand Out with a Few Short Words

The following is a guest post from Dana Leavy-Detrick, founder of Brooklyn Resume Studio.Star image by Aleksandar Mijatovic

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 defense. This is true for the resume and the 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.

Here’s the thing: rarely does an organization’s internal hiring team specialize in any one specific field, particularly if it’s a larger operation like an advertising agency that sources qualified candidates across multiple specializations. 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 in regard to what they’re looking for in a portfolio: they want to understand the creative process behind the 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.

Sharpened Pencil image by discpicture

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 of work you’ve done, 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.

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

“In honor of the brand’s anniversary, we created a social-media campaign that encouraged people to post their ‘cheesiest’ pictures, jokes, and pickup lines on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. During the two-week promotional period, we received more than 15,000 tweets, posts, favorites, retweets, shares, and likes corresponding to the hashtag. The client saw a 12-percent increase in net sales.”

Even if you played more of a supporting role on the 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 personal 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.

Dana Leavy-Detrick is the founder of Brooklyn Resume Studio, a company specializing in resume preparation, job-search strategy, and personal-brand building tools. With more than 10 years of experience in career advising, recruiting, and human resources, she has helped hundreds of professionals develop careers that allow them to make a living doing what they’re passionate about. She has led career and job-search workshops for several colleges and universities, and her advice has been featured by Forbes, MSN Careers, Fox Business News, Newsday, CareerBuilder, GlassDoor and About.com.

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