I’m a designer and I’m not sure how to present a portfolio! is the biggest make-or-break factor in a hiring decision. However, I spend weeks preparing my portfolio and reading best practices online but how to handle the actual moment of presentation: What do I say? Am I talking too much? How it change based on the scenario?
— Deborah B.
Presenting yourself and your work to a prospective employer will take practice to make your presentation flow easily, but it’s also important to stay flexible, as everyone will have a different way of reviewing your work. A presentation used to be a physical portfolio that you either dropped off with an employer or brought with you to present in person during an interview. Now that portfolios are online, we need to learn how to present a digital portfolio. here are some new things to consider, depending on how you’re “meeting” with the person. Let’s look at 3 different scenarios: in person, on the phone and on video chat.
How to Present Your Portfolio at an In-Person Interview:
The first thing to consider is the format of your portfolio. Right now, a mobile tablet presentation is the favored format. A laptop format is also acceptable, but somehow it is not quite as sexy as a presentation on the tablet.
What does a Digital Portfolio Look Like?
Putting together a PDF specifically for the company that you’re meeting with is ideal for catering to their needs. If you don’t know exactly what they’re looking for, then do a PDF of your online work. Do not assume that there will be wifi available to get to your online portfolio during your interview. I know that seems a little old school, but if you’re meeting with an old-school HR person, they will appreciate this. (In fact, on that note, always prepare a PDF copy of your resume too.)
Have additional pieces of your work available that you could easily pull if requested or if it seems appropriate. The key word here is “easily” because nobody wants to sit there while you look for something and you don’t want to get flustered as you look. If you’re interviewing for something print or packaging related, bring in a few physical examples to show. It’s always nice to see the real thing. But do this only if it’s potentially relevant for the job.
Before you begin, ask the interviewer if they’ve seen your work and if they would like you to present it to them. Sometimes interviewers will want to flip through your work on their own, which I never understood because having someone present their portfolio tells me so much about the person. If they want you to present your whole portfolio, the two biggest variables are timing and how in depth you go on each project. In presenting the first project, you can get a sense of both of these.
Start with a brief summary of what the creative brief was. (If it’s for a lesser-known client, then briefly explain what the client does.) Explain your role on the project, and if relevant, who the other key players were. Then explain what you’re looking at on the screen, advancing to the next screen as you walk through it. Give them a few seconds to look at the screen, and then move forward. If you’re a copywriter, it’s always a nice touch to read the copy out loud, rather than waiting for the interviewer to read it. After the first couple of projects, ask the interviewer if you’re going at a good pace.
What should you put in a digital portfolio?
You won’t always be asked to present your whole portfolio, so be prepared with well-chosen examples if they ask you to show a few. I’d say 3 to 5.
Some possible pieces to include:
1. Your favorite project — and why it’s your favorite.
2. What you’re most proud of — and why (very similar to favorite piece but not always the same).
3. Something that was very challenging or had a really short deadline.
4. Anything relevant to the place you’re interviewing with, or if it’s an agency, their client.
If they’re an all-digital place, then show all-digital if you can. If you don’t have all-digital, but want to show that you get it, then show the digital that you have and something that shows innovative thinking.
If it’s an integrated place, show something from all media — print, TV, digital, mobile, social.
Before you present each piece, state why you’re showing it. “This is my favorite campaign because the client was so much fun and encouraged us to try things we had never done before.” or “This next campaign is for the same target audience that your client is selling to.”
In closing, ask if the interviewer has any questions. If he or she is a Creative Director or somebody who sees a lot of portfolios, and it seems like there’s still time, you could also ask for feedback on your book. (If you make a suggested change, this is always a nice way to follow up — i.e. “I took your advice and removed the Verizon work. I really appreciate that feedback and found it very helpful.” But everyone has different opinions, so don’t do something if it doesn’t feel right. Take it all in and then trust your gut.)
On the phone an interview is usually done where the interviewer has your portfolio on their screen and you have it on yours. You can ask the same question about how they want you to present it.
As you present, you will need to first indicate how to advance the screen, i.e. “click on the arrow to the right” or “hit “next” in the upper right hand corner.” Then after that simply say, “let’s move to the next screen” when you’re ready to advance.
Since you can’t see the interviewer’s face, be sure to listen for verbal cues. Also, ask after the first couple of projects (or half-way through) if you’re going at a good pace.
How to Present a Digital Portfolio:
First, make sure you know whether the interviewer wants you to use Skype or Google Hangout or something else. If you’re not accustomed to their choice, it’s a good idea to practice with a few people so you have a comfort level with it.
Second, pay attention to your background. Make sure there’s no clutter or mess behind you.
Third, check your lighting, especially at the time of day of your call. A light behind you will make your face dark, but in front of you it could work, depending on the light. Just play around with it and figure out your best set up.
Finally, make sure the sound is good and the door is shut to outside noise. My dogs are famous for barking when I get on Skype, but if I have a job interview, I get them out of the house.
Ask your clients how they’d like you to present your portfolio. Do they want you to share your screen? Or just go through it on your own screens? Make sure you know how to share your screen ahead of time. Practice it a few times with someone else so it’s seamless.
In fact, for any of these scenarios, the key is practice. It’s also important to pay attention to the person whom you’re presenting to. If you are presenting in person or on Skype, you have visual cues, but on the phone you don’t. Be sure to pause, so the person has a chance to interject, and to listen for any cues that they might be giving while you’re speaking. Sighs can be very telling.
In conclusion, there are 6 steps to remember for all scenarios:
1. Introduce the project and why you’re including it.
2. Explain the creative brief and who the client is.
3. Tell them what your role was.
4. Tell them what the results were. (Ideally the results should be quantified, but if that’s not possible, then a happy client is worth stating.)
5. Pay attention to your audience, whether in person or on the phone, and present accordingly.
6. Thank the interviewer for the opportunity to present your portfolio.
If you follow these key points of how to do a portfolio presentation, you can be assured that the interviewer will leave with a through impression of your abilities.
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Anne Hubben believes the only thing worse than looking for a job you want is looking for a job you don’t want. Anne is a career coach and recruiter for creative talent. She has been recruiting creatives in the design and advertising industry for 17 years and coaching them internationally for 6 years. She can be found at AnneHubben.com where she offers free resources and creative career tips. Say hello on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook or Google+.