Do's and don'ts to perfect your portfolio

Do’s and don’ts to perfect your portfolio


One of my favorite things about being a Creative Recruiter is spending my day looking through portfolios. And trust me, if you’re a creative, you probably need a portfolio. Copywriters, Visual Designers, UXers, Researchers, Art Directors, Creative Directors and Web Designers alike all need to be able to show off what they can do. A good portfolio should be an accurate reflection of your aesthetic, process and experience, while avoiding certain blunders that could throw you out of consideration. Here’s a quick list of do’s and don’ts to make sure your portfolio makes the cut.

Portfolio Do’s:

  • DO include an “about me” page. Creative managers especially like to get an idea of who you are, what makes you tick and what you enjoy outside of your career. Including a fun picture and your dog’s Instagram handle can add extra flavor – just make sure you’re keeping it *mostly* professional.
  • DO show your process. A lot of creative teams are not just hiring for an aesthetic, but also for a mindset. Be sure to highlight your end-to-end process, from decision making and complex problem-solving skills to collaboration with diverse teams. Use a good mix of images of your deliverables with descriptive copy.
  • DO make it clean. Your portfolio itself is your first chance to impress a recruiter or hiring manager. Think of it as an extra project. Pay close attention to detail: use white space, organize your projects and thoughts, ensure all links and videos work, etc.
  • DO work with your recruiter to make improvements. Recruiters look at portfolios all day and have heard directly from managers what they like and don’t like. Your recruiter’s insights and suggestions for tweaks can help position you in the best way possible for review by creative managers!

Portfolio Don’ts:

  • DON’T make a website that’s hard to use. One of the hardest pieces of feedback for recruiters to pass along is, “the client liked your work, but couldn’t figure out how to use your website.” So, ask your recruiter (or your friends or your mom) to navigate your site and make sure it’s intuitive for anyone to easily find your work.
  • DON’T use words like “we” and “us.” Yes, it’s important to demonstrate you can work in a team, but keep in mind they’re not looking to hire the whole team you worked with! Managers want to know what you specifically contributed to the project – which is what you’ll be able to bring to their team.
  • DON’T forget context! Even if your work speaks for itself, it’s helpful to explain to your audience more about why you were doing what you were doing: How did the need for this project arise? What were your goals? What changed along the way?
  • DON’T stop adding projects. If you’re just starting out in your career or if you’re a seasoned veteran, you should keep adding new work to your portfolio! For newer creatives, more projects show you’re continuing to learn and adding in new skills. For more senior creatives, you never know when business needs might change and leave you on the hunt for a new opportunity.

Bonus round! What if you have the perfect portfolio, but most of your work is protected by NDA? Make sure you understand the limits of your agreements, and consider some alternatives to sharing your work:

  • Add passwords to your protected projects
  • Share protected samples via private PDF
  • Create a process portfolio that demonstrates your design process without showing protected deliverables
  • Create a few personal projects to show off your skills and take private samples to share in an interview setting.

Ready to get your work working for you? Reach out with your portfolio for a review with one of our experts! Not ready yet? Check out this 6 must-haves in your creative portfolio tip sheet.

About the author
Karissa Buckner serves as Sr. Creative Recruiter for Synergis, a top IT and creative staffing firm. She has four years of experience in recruiting and has been leading the Creative Recruiting Team for two years. As the company’s democratically-appointed UX Queen, she focuses on working with all types of UX, UI, VUI, and Research candidates, and networks in the UX community every chance she gets. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia.