Does Your Portfolio Need a Makeover?

Does Your Portfolio Need a Makeover?

A few years ago I was at a transitional point in my career. After finishing a 2 year project, I realized that the handful of small clients I had left were not enough to pay the bills. It was time to get a full time freelance gig. I started to work on my résumé, photographed my portfolio, tightened up my website, made new connections on LinkedIn and contacted a few creative recruiters.

The recruiter I decided to use was brutally honest with me, a little harsh even. It was like being in a portfolio boot camp. It would have been easy to get upset at their critique, especially after all the work I had already put in, but I realized their comments were spot on. I chose this recruiter because of their expertise and they knew their stuff. So, I dug into the task at hand. The pieces they told me to remove were weakening my portfolio. They also edited my résumé down to one page and fine tooth combed it to the last misused hyphen.

The most important point they made was; how you present your work is key. I was showing up to interviews with a loudly printed tote bag with my pieces stored in a Tupperware-looking plastic box. My work was good, but this makeshift, bag-lady-like ensemble I hauled it around in did not do it justice. How could something this obvious have eluded me for so long?
It was time for a make-over…

Check out my portfolio before and after below.

portfolio before and after

Photography and design work by Emily Johnson-Russo of mootsa design LLC.

Case by Portfoliobox, Inc.

Here are a few things I learned during my make-over.

Brand Yourself

It’s more than just your logo or the look and feel of your website. It’s everything from how you display your work to the clothes you wear and your confidence level, even your work ethics. No one can be a better ambassador of your brand than you.

Hard Work ≠ Portfolio Worthy

Just because you spent months on something, doesn’t mean it should go into your portfolio. If it’s not strong enough, don’t include it… which brings me to my next point.

The Weakest Link

A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. If it sucks, it makes your good stuff suck by association. Even if you won an award for it, if its not as good as your strongest piece or if it doesn’t show off a stellar skill, don’t include it.

Less is More

While variety is good, you shouldn’t inundate people with a lot of similar pieces. Choose the best one, then move on. This also applies to your résumé. One page please and you don’t need to tell them about the summer job you had when you were 13.

In Context

It’s important to show your work in context. Did you design a really cool logo for a beverage company? If you can’t get samples, mock it up on a bottle or Photoshop it on to a t-shirt. You work should be relatable to the viewer.

Just a Taste

You don’t need to show everything on your website. Leave your potential employers wanting more by showing a few “teaser” shots of a project. If they want to see more, let them call you in for an interview.


If you have enough info a head of time about a client or company, hone your portfolio to that perspective job. If you don’t have that advantage, follow up after the interview with a selection of your work that directly applies to them.

iPad: Not Just A Toy

Pry it out of your nephews tiny little hands and use it as a job landin’ tool! Get a nice case for it and download a portfolio app that you can customize to match your brand. You will have a slick hi-tech vibe and appear incredibly up to date.

Check out this iPad Portfolio App

Professional Photography

Do you have specialty printed or 3D pieces that need to be photographed? You might want to consider hiring a professional. Yeah, that sounds expensive, but consider working out a service trade with them. They might need your help as much as you need theirs. It’s a win–win.

 Cases and Boxes

You need a convenient way to transport your portfolio while still looking professional and true to your brand. You can purchase cases off the shelf from an art supply store, convert a vintage suitcase, repurpose a unique container or have something custom made. I went the custom made route and it more than paid for itself. Portfolio Box has great customer service and are true artisans of their craft.

Now every time I go on an interview I feel like “cool Sandy” at the end of Grease.

sandy makeover

Does your portfolio need a make-over?

Tell me about it, Stud.

By Emily Johnson-Russo, mootsa design, llc.

Featured Image credit: Jenna Mack

discuss this post

(1) responses

Jennifer M.

October 24, 2013

Okay what is a creative recruiter and where can I find one? Do they help you get a job? (Hey Wes, maybe you can talk about this on your podcast?).


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