Portfolios: What do employers really want to see

More than a beautifully crafted showcase, your portfolio is a visual story that tells others about you. Your work. Your experiences. Your skills. Your personality.

So what do Creative Directors really look for?

Beyond the obvious stuff – your best work and breadth of skills, being aesthetically beautiful, and clear – you need to curate a portfolio that can tell your story, even if you’re not in the room, to bring it to life. Inherently, portfolios are reviewed in advance of a potential interview, and more often than not by a person who’s first point of call that doesn’t always ‘get it’. So, you need to excite two audiences: creative and gatekeeper.
From speaking with our creative clients, here are some tips:

  • ONLY THE BEST – might seem obvious, but we still see books rammed with lots of work, that when unpicked is actually not that relevant / exciting. Be selective.
  • DIVERSITY – appearing one-dimensional is a common trap; make sure you show versatility and breadth. If you’re in advertising, show your integrated thinking and experiences; if you’re in innovation, show your multidisciplinary skills from user research to graphic and 3D, service and product design.
  • IMPACT – here it’s about more than brilliant creative; it’s also about showing the commercial result of your work – can it be quantified / awards won / was there an uplift in sales / increased market share / positively disrupted a category etc.
  • CONCISE – As a rule of thumb, 8 examples is a good number. Be selective, only pick the best work, and if you can’t talk it through with passion, don’t include it. More than 10 slides/pages in total is too much.
  • NARRATIVE – you must show the process (particularly key in innovation) – what was the opportunity / problem? What was your approach to unlock the killer insight and idea? What was the impact?

We’d suggest structuring this in a short, powerful way that both your audiences can understand. Opportunity. Approach. Impact.

  • PERSONALITY – get some of ‘you’ in there. Either by curating excellent copy, or perhaps including one piece of creative that is not part of the day job that gives a little insight into you.
  • RELEVANT – keep it up-to-date and adapt it for audiences / types of roles.
  • CAREER STORY – Employers are busy people, so reading a portfolio and CV is not ideal. From our experience, your first page of your portfolio should have some sort of career chronology highlighting where you’ve worked, your academics and a short story of you – excellent storytelling is key, as is keeping this punchy and text light. It’s about the beauty of simplicity.

Once you’ve crafted your book, get an outside perspective – you’re not the audience. A little help can be invaluable, be that from a specialist recruiter or someone in industry. Finally, make sure it is clear, tells your story (even without you there), and is designed beautifully.

I’m a Founding Partner of Bamboo Crowd. I help our clients invest better in people and scale through Engine. I solve recruitment challenges and help our clients source the best talent across operations, business development, programme management, and technology. Ask me about good films, beards and hip hop.