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Come armed with examples

By Sue White

Trying to gain a job or promotion in a creative field? You need a portfolio, writes Sue White.

If you're working in marketing, advertising, architecture or, let's face it, any field with a hint of creativity, don't walk into your next interview with only a CV in your hand. To be really successful, you should also present a portfolio - a folder of designs, campaigns or materials you have brought to fruition.

"A CV is fantastic to tell [potential employers] about your qualities and experience. But when working in a design [or creative] field ... the best way is a job portfolio," the engagement manager at the University of Sydney's faculty of architecture, design and planning, John Elliott, says.

About 75 per cent of people working in creative fields such as marketing use a portfolio when applying for jobs.

"They're helpful for marketing-based positions, or those working in fields such as public relations or advertising. If there is a tangible campaign you worked on, a portfolio can help demonstrate your ability to work in that arena," the director of recruitment company Carrera Partners, Michael Floyd, says.

Of course, not everyone needs a portfolio. If you're applying for a sales job, your potential employer is probably seeking something a portfolio will fail to show.

"In that case, we're looking for a very good, detailed CV [so] we can probe the candidate around the results. That can't be demonstrated by a portfolio," Floyd says.

If portfolios are common in your industry, get started early. An excellent portfolio can't be put together overnight, so make it a project you work on throughout several months.

You should also get in the habit of documenting examples of different campaigns and projects, so that if your dream job comes up, your portfolio is ready.

When it comes to deciding what's in or out, being selective pays off.

"You have a very short window to impress somebody ... [and] you don't want to make it look like you haven't been selective," Elliott says. For the most part, less is more, he advises.

Once the content is there, think long and hard about how you put together the final product.

"Your portfolio becomes a selling document and demonstrates pride in your work. If you're selling yourself, you don't put on your cheap shoes and T-shirt; you put on a suit. The portfolio is the same," Floyd says.

Both experts agree beautifully presented material counts, even outside design-based fields such as architecture or graphic design.

"We've seen portfolios which are A3, letter bound and laminated through to those that sit inside a $5 folder with plastic inserts. Those are less impressive," says Floyd, who recruits mainly for sales and marketing roles.

Effective portfolios typically showcase a mix of work rather than focus on one example, repeated over and over.

If you are certain the recipient is able to deal with your DVD or flash file, consider presenting it electronically - but never forget paper is a foolproof technology.

"The benefit of paper is that it's zero technology - that can be better for an interview," Elliott says.

During the interview, ensure you explain the material well.

"Don't rely purely on the document. Instead, think through everything that's in it, why those projects were developed and what they achieved," Floyd says.

An explanation of how you arrived at the project is of interest to most potential employers.

"Portfolios aren't the be all and end all but they are a critical element on which you can base a discussion.

If a portfolio is constructed well, the interviewer is able to develop a story [about the candidate] and see the skill the employee has for a role," Floyd says.

Is your portfolio ready to go? Tell us at


■Be selective. You're after quality, not quantity.
■Present it professionally. A cheap plastic folder reeks of "I couldn't be bothered".
■Practise talking an interviewer through your work. The story behind each example is almost as important.

■Assume potential employers have an hour to peruse your portfolio. Keep it concise, with a good cross-section of the types of work you have done.
■Leave it until the last minute. Keep collecting examples as your work or studies progress so your portfolio is ready. 

Published: 22 October 2011

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