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Craft a Portfolio for the Job You Really Want

Written By Bart Cleveland | Mar 15, 2016

You know that place you dream of working; the one that does such great stuff that everyone wants to work there? If you want to dramatically improve your chances of getting an interview, you have to craft a compelling narrative with your portfolio, and make sure that every included piece speaks to your strengths.

1. Make it a page-turner. Your first piece is the catalyst. If it doesn’t make the reviewer want to see more, she will look no further and put it in the “no” pile. If you can get her to turn the page, you may make the short list. The first piece is everything. Make it “bullet-proof.”

2. Create a narrative. Building your case as the right person for the job is done layer by layer. Each piece adds credibility. Do not allow peaks and valleys in quality. The story of your work rises to an apex and holds there until it resolves to a satisfying end. The reviewer can’t wait to see what you will do next. She begins to imagine you doing it for her.

3. A portfolio is more than your work. Employers are looking for soft skills too. Share your personality. One of my protégés wrote this “About” section on her site: “Once upon a time, a five-year-old demanded a box of crayons. Not just any box, the one with 96 colors. Thus began my creative journey.” In three sentences, she demonstrated a genuine commitment to craft and a passion for creativity.

4. Show work you want to do. Unfortunately, many naively believe that prospective employers consider people with potential. The majority of employers want someone that will make them better. If your work isn’t at their standard, you will not be considered. What can you do when your current job doesn’t offer such opportunities? Apply the next piece of advice.

5. If you don’t have quality work, make it. Work on pro bono assignments. Do freebies for companies that fit your target employer’s area of expertise. Do speculative work. Do what it takes to fill your book with the work that highlights your actual capability.

6. Show range. The number of communication channels is diverse. Demonstrating an understanding of how to communicate a brand story across those channels will give you a competitive advantage. A range of brand categories adds to that advantage.

7. You’re only as good as your portfolio’s weakest piece. This is probably the toughest point to believe, but it’s true. Keep the range quality in your work narrow. Assemble all the possibilities and then ask those you trust to pick the best. Cull everything that is ignored. Be brutal. The sum of your book must be as great as it parts.

A great portfolio takes dedication. But you want that opportunity, don’t you? And you’re worth the investment, right? Chip away every day and before you know it, your work will reflect your real potential. I’d love to hear from you when you succeed.

Bart Cleveland has developed branding for a broad range of companies, including: Coca-Cola, The Ritz-Carlton, CNN, DuPont, International Paper, Carter’s Baby Clothes, Applegate Organic Meats and James Hardie Siding. In 2012, Bart founded Job Propulsion Lab to help people entering advertising plan and manage successful careers.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.