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March 24, 2016
The Portfolio Check-up
 
Give your portfolio an annual check-up.

If you can’t get anyone’s attention in the communication arts industry, more than likely your portfolio is the culprit. A goal to refresh your portfolio every year will keep you competitive. Employers seldom look for potential. They want the sure thing. Your portfolio has to do more than share examples of your ability. It must prove you are going to make the employer better. Here's a quick check-up to determine if your portfolio is good enough to get you the interview:

1. Innovation. Insight into a brand's story and its target audience must be evident throughout your work. By executing across multiple communication channels, including social media, you demonstrate an understanding of how marketing is integrated and the skill to implement one idea using any tactic.

2. Craft. If you're a writer, show you have a range of writing ability. If you’re an art director or designer, avoid having a style. Your design should be a reflection of the brand, not your personal tastes. Craft is king. Avoid showing work where your skill is nominal. Never forget, the better the company, the more people will be applying for the job. Well-honed craft will separate you from most applicants.

3. Relevance. Customize your work to appeal to the companies where you most desire to work. Don't use their clients but those in similar categories. The more your target employer imagines you doing work for them, the closer you are to an interview.

4. Narrative. Think of your portfolio as a "page-turner" thriller. The first piece in your portfolio must have the same effect. Like a great novel, your portfolio must have a narrative. It builds to an apex and then resolves, leaving the viewer eager to see more. Keep the quality of your work very close. It's difficult to accept, but your portfolio is only as good as your weakest piece. Great companies don't compromise quality. They don't consider inconsistent work.

5. Experience. Your goal is to appear experienced. Don't refer to yourself as aspiring or a recent graduate. If you want to be a writer, you're a writer. Craft your work to appear real. Your objective is to convince the prospective employer that you are ready to jump right in. The less training they believe you will need, the better.

Keep in mind that your portfolio's user experience is as important as the work it displays. If you're designing your site, make sure your coding is flawless. If you use an existing platform, invest in a template with a user interface that is intuitive and displays your work professionally. Embed your video using professional services. You don't want banner ads for Viagra appearing over your video. Finally, résumés should be viewable on the site, not just as a pdf download.

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Bart Cleveland spent over 30 years helping grow brands like Coca-Cola, The Ritz-Carlton, and CNN. Now, he guides creative professionals to plan and execute successful careers through his business, Job Propulsion Lab℠. He also helps both agencies and marketers nurture customers into advocates through a relationship development program he calls, ACES℠. 
 
Bart launched Ad Age’s most popular blog, Small Agency Diary. He is also a contributing author of the book, The Get A Job Workshop, How To Find Your Way To A Creative Career In Advertising.
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