How to Present Your Portfolio: Advice from a Creative Recruiter

I’m a designer and I’m not sure how to present a digital portfolio! It 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 should it change based on the scenario?

Fernweh Editions Candles

— Deborah B.

This post may have affiliate links, meaning we earn a small commission on purchases through the links (at no extra cost to you). This does not change our opinion but does help support the site. Thank you!

Whether your craft is in writing, art, graphic design, interior design, fashion, photography or journalism, you will need a digital portfolio to highlight your skills and present your work.

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.

Fernweh Editions Candles

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 Digital Portfolio at an Interview

1. Understand How They’d Prefer to View Your Portfolio

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.

2. What to Say About Each Project

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.

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.”

Fernweh Editions Candles

3. Check on Your Pacing

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 if they’d like to slow down or clarify anything or just keep moving ahead. It could be that they’ve already seen enough and are just waiting for a break so be sure to give them the opportunity to tell you that.

4. Wrapping Up the Presentation

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.)

Fernweh Editions Candles

What does a Digital Portfolio Look Like?

It’s also important to consider 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.

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 keyword 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.

Fernweh Editions Candles
what should you include in your portfolio

What Should You Include 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.

This can be an opportunity to show a more personal side, maybe it was a client you loved working with, an industry you’re passionate about, or a situation that you really had to prove yourself in. What exactly it was matters less than the story you create around it.

2. What you’re most proud of — and why.

While this is very similar to your favorite pieces, it’s not always the same. What you’re most proud of should have a more professional bent than your favorite project. Maybe it’s a project you learned a lot on or had wild success with, in any case, it should be a professional achievement.

3. Something that was very challenging or had a really short deadline.

Unfortunately, most hiring managers have probably experienced the creative who has great work but can’t meet deadlines or handle stress. This is your opportunity to show that you can still perform under dire circumstances.

Fernweh Editions Candles

4. Anything relevant to the place you’re interviewing with, or if it’s an agency, their client.

People love hiring someone with directly applicable experience. There’s always a big risk in hiring and the more closely you can show you’ve done exactly what they need doing, and completed it successfully, the more likely they are to feel safe hiring you.

This could be the type of industry or the specific type of work — but don’t stretch the truth. Most hiring managers would rather get an honest fit than have a surprise later.

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.

How to Present Your Portfolio if You Haven't Had Much Work

How to Present Your Portfolio if You Haven’t Had Much Work

A common problem is how to present your portfolio if you don’t have much work yet. Actually, the most experienced interviewer will know very quickly if they think you’re a good fit for the position.

Fernweh Editions Candles

Likely they’ll already have an idea of your talent after the first 3-4 projects and many will even stop reviewing the portfolio at that point.

The worst thing to do is stuff your portfolio with sub-par work. Every recruiter would much rather a shorter, high-caliber presentation than 40 pages of sub-par work.

If you don’t have enough client work, create your own creative brief, and complete the project or use student work to show off your abilities. If you want real client work to beef up your portfolio, ask family and friends, similarly, non-profits are often happy to have free help.

How to Present Your Portfolio on a Phone Interview

Phone interviews are 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.

Fernweh Editions Candles

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 the 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.

Fernweh Editions Candles

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 digital 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.

How to Send a Portfolio

How to Send a Portfolio

How to best send your portfolio depends on the scenario. A physical portfolio should be sent by messenger or hand-delivered. Digital can be sent either by link or download.

PDFs are probably the safest way to give someone your digital portfolio as they display in a uniform way, don’t require special equipment and are easy to be printed out or forwarded around. Keep an eye on size though — you don’t want it to bounce or take them forever to open.

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.

Fernweh Editions Candles

Conclusion

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.

Fernweh Editions Candles

6. Thank the interviewer for the opportunity to present your portfolio.

If you follow these key points of how present your portfolio you can be assured that the interviewer will leave with a thorough impression of your abilities.

Fernweh Editions Candles