Using Your Portfolio to Make the Strongest Impression Possible

One of my long-term design goals is to land more magalog assignments. So I decided to create a 16-page self-promotional magalog to hand out to Job Fair vendors at Bootcamp. After all, what could say more about my desire to create magalogs than to put my own portfolio into that style?

I wanted my portfolio to contain different styles of work, not just pieces from magalogs I had done. I reasoned that with about 30 or so marketers, you never know what type of designer they might need.

My portfolio magalog included samples from past magalogs I'd done. It also included 3D book cover designs, before/after techniques, and some things that might look nice in general purpose magazine ads.

In other words, I wanted at least one sample in my portfolio that would be of interest to just about any potential client.

But … at the Job Fair, one marketer who thumbed through my portfolio said something like, “So you mainly do 'image' pieces.”

Image pieces are Madison Avenue style ads. They're not trying to make a direct, instant sale. Instead, they're trying to build up a brand's name and “image” (so you think of it when the time comes to make a purchase).

Uh oh! That's not what I wanted to get across. This vendor wasn't looking for “image” designers … and I don't consider myself to be one.

The experience drove home an important lesson for me … and I hope for you.

There was a part of me that was afraid to lose out on any type of job available at the Job Fair, so I played it safe. What I should have done was focus on the design areas I like and excel in. I should have pushed those preferred areas so it left no doubt as to the type of work I wanted to get.

When you're starting out, it's natural to want to include a variety of styles in your portfolio and to cast a wide net to find clients. And sometimes, if you don't have enough samples in one area of design (like magalog work), you feel you have no option but to include a little of this and a little of that.

But when you're approaching direct marketers, it's important to realize that they're interested almost exclusively in one style of design: the type you're learning in the Graphic Design Success program.

So if you don't have an extensive portfolio of “real world” jobs, make one up. And do it in the areas you feel most comfortable in and/or you are truly interested in. Be honest when you present it, and tell potential clients that you reworked packages you've gotten in the mail (or off the Web). But if you show them good, strong DM design, they won't care.

This was my third Bootcamp and my third Job Fair. Each year, I've learned a valuable lesson that seemed to correspond with my level of development at the time.

For my first Bootcamp in 2004, I had barely finished the program and had few samples … and no samples of paid work. What I learned that year was that my skill level was not where it needed to be to land a lot of jobs. (I did land one great job from a spec assignment, but that's a story for another day.) Instead of being depressed about it, I was thrilled to clearly understand what I had to do to get to the paid-assignment level.

In 2005, I learned that not every marketer has a table for you to get more information. You need to talk to people who are wandering around the Job Fair. I landed a client that way (a client that has led to continuing work) because I just happened to be introduced to a company representative who just happened to be there watching the activity. Lesson: Your design jobs won't always come from the obvious places.

And in 2006 … well, I already told you the main thing I learned this year.

Something I talked about with several first-time Bootcamp attendees this year was that you often don't know what area you want to work in (magalogs, logos, etc.) when you're brand-new. But if you stick with graphic design, you'll soon find areas that are a natural fit for you. Once you do, zero in on them with pinpoint accuracy. You may think you're giving up chances to do other work, but you're not. You'll still land other jobs. But you'll also start attracting more and more of the jobs you really want.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: November 16, 2006

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