Why Your Portfolio Will Not Get You a Job - Top Creatives Weigh In.

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Your work is not that good.

Ouch! You may be thinking at this point, "That is the opposite of click-bait." But, don't turn away just yet, because this bit of tough love is important. The reality is that most creatives cannot adequately evaluate the quality of their own work.

You need to make a real effort to change that. Take a good, hard, critical look at your work. Does it compare with other creative work you've seen online? Can you improve the work? Is it the best that you can do? If the answer is no…. Edit. Then add new, better pieces by doing some freelance, pro-bono, or spec work. If you need some additional motivation, take a class with an instructor whose opinion you value. Updating and eliminating will refresh and improve your portfolio. 

You’re too attached to certain projects.

Five years ago the art directors that saw it were praising it and so you’ve kept showing it. But, times and tastes change. That older graphic design, advertising, or copywriting work might be making your book look dated and that makes you look out of touch. This is especially relevant in the web design industry which is rapidly changing. Another reason to EDIT.

You assume all of the feedback you’re getting is honest.

Henry and Stephanie 

Henry and Stephanie 

This can be really frustrating. People say they like your work. But, they don’t hire you. The fact is, Creatives don’t like to hurt feelings. 

Henry Hikima, a creative recruiter and Portfolio Studio Creative Officer, offers this advice: "Put reviewers on the spot and ask them to give you completely honest advice. You can go on for months thinking your work is good and leave it as is. If you hear the truth, you can make changes, and then you can go back and show the same creatives the improvements. Unfortunately, most people will not make the changes, so the ones that do stand out."

"Put reviewers on the spot and ask them to give you completely honest advice. It is better to know the truth."

Remember, there is a difference between liking and loving your work. Liking is a passive emotion. Design and creative directors need to LOVE YOUR WORK to act. You need to create work that they love.

You don’t have the right work on your website.

Your website should be focused on the job that you want. The work that doesn’t relate to the position you are looking for should go. Tailor your portfolio to the types of companies you want to work for. Do your research. Look at their sites.  Show work that they would like with similar client and marketing challenges. 

Todays employers are looking for digital work including design for responsive websites and apps. Copywriters need to show writing for the web and social media. If you have no work that reflects current employer needs, landing a new job or securing a promotion will be a lot more difficult. 

You don’t even have a website.

Big problem here. Creatives look at websites before they reach out to you. No website. No call. Ever. 

You have no contemporary media.

Your work is just print. Or radio. Or outdoor.  The world is changing – and so is the industry – you have to keep up.

Art at Deutsch in New York

Art at Deutsch in New York

Art Boonklan, Associate Creative Director at Deutsch in NYC has worked with clients like PNC Bank, Microsoft, and Tylenol. He explains that, "agencies and clients are looking for innovative things that have never been done before." In addition to traditional media, he creates programs, events, even games and brands them.

 "A lack of contemporary and emergent media shows that you are not current in thinking or practice." 

Your book is too narrow.

You need to show diversity. You will not always be designing for the same clients. And, even if you are, you (hopefully) won’t always be designing the same types of projects. Remember, just because you really love the color pink – doesn’t mean it works for every client.

You haven’t rolled out your projects.

Where does your idea go? What other media is possible? What brand extension is possible? Roll out that idea. Agencies, studios, and businesses will be looking to see that you come up with ideas that can expand a brand, a job they have to do, everyday. 

You show no evidence of process.

Young designers especially need to show how they get to their final pieces.

Paul (left) reviewing web design work

Paul (left) reviewing web design work

Paul Drohan, Executive Design Director for Mirum/JWT suggests that you “show a complete process for at least one project and consider creating a short video case-study or two that demonstrates your understanding of the project challenge and effectiveness of your solution." 

A website project might show personas, user flows, sitemaps, and wireframes along with the finished web design. 

An impressive example of a graphic design process, beginning with the logo design and brand strategy and working through a variety of pieces, can be found in this example by Brooke Hugus. Another good example by Brooke Lingenfelder (a different Brooke) showcases packaging and display advertising. 

You have no “wow” piece

You need your portfolio to say, "Here is what I'm capable of doing." A WOW piece makes a Creative Director pick up the phone and get things going. Make sure your portfolio wows. 

Don't forget - A portfolio is always a work in process. It takes time to update or create new work to show, but it will pay off. Today is the day that you can begin to update your portfolio to get that job you're hoping for. 


If you'd like a review of your portfolio or are interested in developing new work, contact us. We'd be glad to help. 

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AUTHOR: Gina Greco is the Director of Operations and Programs at Portfolio Studio.