Building A Professional Portfolio

What is a Portfolio?

Whether in a hard-copy binder, video or audio tape, or DVD—or increasingly, online—a presentation portfolio is a way for communication and arts students (and increasingly, those in other fields, too) to showcase their best work to prospective employers and others who can further their careers.

What Goes Into a Portfolio, and in What Order?

  • Include only those work samples that will best represent your talents and speak to a particular employer’s, or type of employer’s, needs and interests. (Tip: be sure to research your audience!)
  • This isn’t a chronological or exhaustive history. Choose wisely, and place the best, most relevant samples of your work up front.
  • Provide some explanation of each sample—what the assignment was, where and when it was aired or published, etc.  But keep it brief.  In choosing samples and providing copy, less is more.
  • It is better to have no samples than to have bad or irrelevant samples. You can provide work on spec, charm your way in, or have references pave your way, but you can’t remove the memory of below-par work samples from an employer’s brain.
  • That’s all the more reason for you to recruit help from mentors, professors, alumni contacts , and others,  in choosing what goes in and what stays out.  It is VERY important to seek and accept critiques on your work from those in the know. (Tip: getting advice on your portfolio can be a great way to start networking with people who already have some vested interest in you…

What Are Key Tips for Hard-Copy Porfolios?

PRINTED WORK (published articles, design work, marketing collateral, etc.): It’s usually best to use a binder or artist’s portfolio that enables you to move your work samples around, so that you can reorganize as needed, for different target audiences. Make sure that everything is presented as professionally as possible. Make a neat packet of copies of key work samples (in color where appropriate) to leave behind.  DO NOT leave your original portfolio with an employer. (You don’t want to find yourself having to nudge them to return it, because they will only remember you as a nudge!)

VIDEO OR AUDIO: Whether you are a filmmaker working on a demo reel, or a broadcast student working on a resume tape, make sure that the clips you include will speak to the person/outlet you are targeting; that your role on the production is clear (reporter or anchor will be obvious; camera operator, editor, producer, etc., less so unless you make it clear with titles or some other tool); that you keep the samples short (really short, if possible); and that you always lead with the best-quality or most-interesting clip.

ALL MEDIA: Create a “look” for your front cover, or VHS or DVD label, that ties your materials (including your resume) together, with consistent elements like typeface, logo (if you have one), use of color, etc.

What About On-Line Portfolios?

Electronic media have changed everything about the job hunt—and portfolios are no exception. Creating a Website that serves as an online portfolio is one of the best ways to manage your online presence, and streamline your job search.   Offering a link to your website allows prospective employers to quickly gain access to work samples, your resume, and a sense of you as a professional, with just a click of a mouse. When you’ve got talent, this can be a great way to show it off.

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