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August 28, 2009
Do's and Don’ts to Consider When Building Your Online Portfolio

I'm getting asked a lot these days to provide feedback on newly minted online portfolios, or to provide counsel on what should be included before the process has begun.

I guess it's on a lot of people's minds.

I know you all hate rules. But whether you're driving a car, or making Jell-O there are always some rules. Now how you get down the road, or what liquid you add to that Jell-O, that's up to you. Up to you to interpret as you see fit. Because you're creative people, so I get that. Many of these things will seem like common sense (well duh) moments. A reminder of the obvious. But it must not be that obvious to many people, or else, I wouldn't be drawing on my personal experience for this article.

A reality that has withstood the transition from an old school to online: A portfolio that is beautifully presented and thoughtful is a joy to review. It looks good, it has wonderful work, it is neat and tidy, and there are no typos.

A portfolio that is careless in its execution shows no consideration for the viewer, communicates volumes about the pride you do (or don't) put into your work, and screams about the kind of commitment (and contribution) you'll make to a company. Usually equal to or less than the commitment you've made to yourself.

And it's no fun to review.

The old school version was a portfolio that looked like it had been dragged behind a tractor, the zipper didn't work, the binder popped open and the pages kept falling out. It was filled with yellowed papers flying out from every pocket, and it exploded like one of those coiled snakes in a can when you opened it.

Here are 10 observations or suggestions, that I hope will help you achieve the online version of the former (joy portfolio review status), and avoid the latter (snake in a can).

- Your copy is so small I can't read it. I work on a 22" inch screen at work, and a 15" laptop at home. So do a lot of people. Some don't even have the large screen. Which means your work has to be legible in both environments. If you don't have the smaller version, you must know someone who does. Take your site for a test spin.

- Ixnay on the usicmay. Please. I love the song for about 8 seconds, then I can't find the mute button fast enough. Besides. I'm trying to concentrate on your book! It's like someone talking to you when you're trying to read.

- I can't find your phone number or your email address. You've sold me. I want to meet you. I want to let you know I want to meet you before my phone rings, or someone walks into my office, or my calendar blurts a reminder that I have a meeting in 5 minutes. Whatever page I'm on, I want to hit a link to your email address, I want to send you an email, and go to my meeting. Yes, that's how it happens.

No one is reviewing your portfolio while soaking in their bathtub with the candles lit.

- If I close a page on your portfolio and it closes the tab or takes me to a place where I have to re-type your URL, chances are, I won't. Check your navigation, make sure windows close and take me back to the page I was on before I launched your TV spot, or your client's website, or your radio commercial.

- Read every word of your website backwards. That's how the proofreaders used to do it before your cell phone was your spell check. I have received resumes from Creative Directors and Executive Creative Directors that had 17 spelling mistakes in a one page bio. I am not kidding. I actually printed it, circled all the errors, scanned it and sent it back. This is the same person who said they were friends with Andrew Robertson (Worldwide CEO of BBDO), then called him Andrew Robinson repeatedly in that very same 17 spelling mistake bio. Typos are not cool.

- Tell me what you DO!!!! I've seen portfolios where I can't figure what the person does. Name. Got it. I know your name. Are you a writer or an art director? I know, I'll look at your resume! No titles on your resume. What do you do?!?!! I'll check where you went to school. See what program you took, maybe that will tell me. Oh. You took journalism, but wait - then you took Design. Do not make me work that hard. No Creative Director will. Their phone just rang. Time's up.

- Tell me your story. I love the stories. Your resume is the stops you have made along the way. Your story is who you are. You need both. Don't you? Don't we go on and on about how we're in the business of telling stories? Tell yours. If you're not great with words, use pictures. They work too.

- Graphic Designers. Sorry, but we're tougher on you. If you're a graphic designer, I expect your portfolio to be beautiful. This is your logo, your brand, your website. This is where you get to express your aesthetic without a client, or a Creative Director sitting on your shoulder whispering in your ear. This is all you. So make sure "you" shines. By the way, tiling of any image is ick.

- No clicking sounds whenever I go to the next page. See Point #2 on music.

- Clean is best. Unless you plan to craft the snot out of something that gives you as much bang for your buck as clean. Chances are, your work will do most of your heavy lifting, so give it a chance to stand out. I haven't seen that much flock filigree wallpaper in art galleries.

- Put your heart into it. All of it. I find there is a direct relationship between how much heart you put into your book, and the amount of heart you put into everything you do. The more heart, the more likely your portfolio will end up on the "Joy to Review" list.

Still not sure? Last week, a Creative Director was given 11 portfolios to review for the purpose choosing which of those 11 people they would like to meet. The decision to not meet one of those 11 people was accompanied by the following rationale (not the only reason): "....and their portfolio is so frustrating to use, it just bugs me."

You can dismiss what this Creative Director said. That would be easy.

Or you can think about what that portfolio said to this Creative Director. "If the portfolio created by this person bugs me, I can only imagine how much the person who created it will bug me."

I'm not trying to make you paranoid.
I'm trying to make you think it through to what might seem like the most trivial detail.

If you already are thinking, congratulations.
Chances are you're already on the short list you want to be on.

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Heidi Ehlers is The Career Coach for The Creative Class, an expert on helping creative leaders excel, find their leadership voice, and flourish. www.heidiconsults.com
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