Everything You Need To Know About Building a Portfolio

2017 was the worst year of my life. Having finished college with A-levels a hair’s width from failure, I decided that my best bet would be finding a programming apprenticeship with the little knowledge I had attained. I was somehow even less successful than you’d expect. However, I was able to learn something from this experience; having solid proof of your skills, or the ‘value’ you’re claiming you could bring to a company is crucial. A portfolio will unlock more doors than you could ever imagine.

It’s easy enough to tell someone you have an interest in journalism, design, or film, or fashion, but without a portfolio, those are hollow words. Employers and institutions will ask you for examples of previous work, and in the current climate it’s more important than ever to make yourself appear not only employable, but more employable than the rest. So, to make sure you’re prepared, I’m giving you the advice I wish I’d received all those years ago. Here’s everything you need to know about building your own portfolio. 

Represent Yourself

The first question you’re asking is obviously: what in the world do I put in it? Simply put? Your best work, and the work that best represents you as a creative individual. If you as an artist have a clear and unique style, then do your best to illustrate it here. Make it clear exactly who you are and what you can provide, so that employers can decide whether you’d be a good fit for whatever you’re applying for. If you’re in a situation where a portfolio is necessary, then there’s a good chance you’ve already had an interview with the person examining it. You’ve already listed your skills and experience, boasted of your creativity and your passion, and now’s your chance to show proof. Give your evidence.

Keep Your Work Centralised

OK. So you’ve collected your work. But where do you put it all? Do you build a website, or do you collect physical copies of your work in a folder? Well, that’s up to you, and is largely dependent on what you’re actually showcasing. If you’re trying to show off footage of a short film you’ve storyboarded, shot, and edited, then you’ll obviously be putting them online, unless you’re interested in carrying around a collection of flipbooks and narrating the scenes yourself.

The main point I’d stress is to keep everything simple and presentable. If you’re storing your work online, then keep it all on one, easy to understand, personal website. If your online presence is larger than a single website, and you have 3 different pages all dedicated to completely different lines of work, then simplify it to the best of your ability. Cut off what you no longer consider useful, relevant, or representative of you, and provide links to external work you’re actually interested in showing off. 

Of course, it’s good to have proof of growth, and to show an interest in a variety of fields, but don’t make employers have to crack the Da Vinci code to make sense of any of it. This is why I use Linktree, a link sharing website that allows each of my articles to be easily accessed from a single page, that I can then share across social media as I see fit. 

Mention Who You’ve Written For

No, not the British rock band, I mean who you’ll be writing for. 

Diversifying your portfolio is important not only in stocks, but when looking for a job in the creative and media sectors too. Showing that you’re able to adapt your style to meet the demands of a variety of projects with different employers is vital in today’s job world, where each employee is expected to be multi-skilled to the Nth degree. 

Also, remember that both paid and unpaid work both have their pros and cons. It’s important to know your worth, which is why I’d recommend conducting your own research into what your peers, especially those with a similar level of experience to you, are being paid for their work. Being informed is the absolute most important step you can take to avoid being exploited. Not every paid job will be worth your attention, and the meagre pay from one project may not be worth sacrificing the freedom you’d have when working on a similar, volunteer project. 

Know Your Purpose

Lastly, the most important question to ask yourself is of course, why are you building a portfolio in the first place. After all, if you don’t know what your goals are, then how will you ever know if you’re reaching them, or where to focus your efforts? WordPress, for example, is a great platform for showcasing your work or managing a blog, but ultimately provides little in the way of immediate engagement or growth opportunities. Would this be the right website for you?

If you’re posting work online with the goal of building a social media presence and finding fame, then don’t expect it to happen overnight. None of the most successful and popular online content producers ever expected to be in that position. They didn’t write, film, or edit in their spare time because they knew they were destined for fame, they did it because they enjoyed the process, and you’ll have to too.

Take it from someone who absolutely refuses to write a cover letter or personalise their CV, and most likely suffers as a result. How your portfolio is presented, and ultimately how you present yourself, is far more important than having the world’s most impressive portfolio with gleaming references from every professional publication in your industry. Work smart, not hard. 

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Words by Ben Jamieson


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