Why a portfolio is a must for creative jobs

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Portfolios, love them or hate them, they’re almost always an essential when applying for creative and design jobs.

A portfolio is supposed to hold a selection of a designer’s best work, yet we have found that often they are either full of out-of-date and irrelevant examples from the more senior designers, or do not show junior candidates’ work in a succinct manner. Companies are paying more attention to portfolios and these play a major part in their decision to interview potential employees. Despite the fact portfolios are so often requested with applications for graphic design and other creative job roles, it surprises us how many designers will say that they do not have a suitable portfolio.

When we come across resistance when asking for a portfolio, and get reasons such as ‘It’s not up to date, as I haven’t had time’, or ‘it’s limited, as I was under NDAs’ as excuses for not having something suitable, even though they’ve been working as a designer for years, freelancing, and across multiple organisations; it’s frustrating to say the least. Even when you consider the fact it’s not always possible to document every single piece of your work if it’s not in the public domain; surely there’s no excuse to not have at least some suitable, relevant, and up-to-date examples?

As a recruitment agency we want to be able to sell you as best as possible to our clients, and a portfolio will help us to really showcase your talent and show what makes you different to other applicants, as no two portfolios will be the same.

1. If you don’t believe in your work, who else will?

There’s been several occasions where our recruiters have had to fight to see a good portfolio when one hasn’t been easily forthcoming; or we’ve seen enough potential to ask for more examples from a specific client or campaign, and unearthed some real diamonds in the rough which, if we hadn’t asked for specifically, we wouldn’t have seen. And it’s in this scenario that we just don’t get how people that believe in their work and skills, can’t see the obvious benefit of letting their work speak for itself. Surely if you don’t have belief in your own work, how is anybody else expected to believe in it?

Of course, a portfolio is not the only basis for a decision, but it is a major factor, when combined with a CV, as to whether people are invited in for an interview. Candidates are sometimes surprised when we tell them they’re likely missing out on opportunities by not putting their work out there more.

2. A portfolio could be what sets you apart from the competition

We can’t hide from the fact that in today’s day and age this type of material is much more easily shared, and employers want to see that people are savvy at collating their work for display in this sector. With so much complaint in the recruitment industry recently about people potentially being prejudiced against based on age, gender, and nationality; surely a sector that can allow people to show their ability first-hand with examples, which can stand out above anything written on a CV that they feel may go against them, should be something that is grasped with both hands?

The truth is, there are many unsuitable candidates for every role. Not just those with absolutely no creative skills that apply for everything, but there will often be lots of designers/creatives with backgrounds that are simply not the best fit applying for the same jobs as you. So, if you have done the design work that could be in a portfolio to show that you’re the best for the role, then without doubt it must be a benefit to include it, or how else will you ensure you stand out from the crowd?

3. You can tailor and adapt your portfolio to fit the specific job

Throughout your career you should try and document your work. Whether this is by putting it into an online portal, or making a nice PDF that you can then adapt depending on the role you go for. Some people put together a CV as a PDF, that has work examples at the bottom on extra pages, which is a format that seems to work well.

Just as it is recommended to tailor your CV for the specific job you are applying for; when putting together your portfolio for a job application, graphic design and creative jobseekers should spend time carefully choosing examples of their work which are relevant to the role. For example, if you’re applying for a role within the beauty industry, you do not need to include loads of examples of work you have done for an automotive company.

Some work might be private, and you’re not allowed to use it; but you also need to be proactively asking if you can use stuff where you think your client or employer will agree. And where you’ve not been told you can’t use it, putting it to one side, as that could be the difference between you getting your dream role or not. If people ask why, you can just say it’s for your freelancing, or because you might need it in the future. It shouldn’t really be looked at as unreasonable for creatives to want to build a portfolio; and if this is marketing materials that are out there in the public domain, surely it can be in your portfolio as well.

So, remember that when applying for creative and design jobs, recruiters and employers will most probably need a portfolio from you at some stage or in some form. And it could be what makes you stand out from the crowd, and gets your work taken into serious consideration.

Brand Recruitment specialise in PR, marketing, creative and design recruitment. Search & apply for all our current creative jobs, and if you would like anymore career advice do not hesitate to contact us.


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