Portfolio Lab: Part 3. Prepping & Presenting

You’ve designed your portfolio, you’ve written it... now for the all-important outing of your portfolio. When you’ve spent hours crafting and perfecting the file, it can be easy to forget that soon you will be face-to-face with a prospective employer, who you really need to impress with your presentation skills. We’ve spoken to leading creative directors throughout Leeds and Manchester to compile the ultimate list of what to think about when talking through your work.

Why?

When your portfolio has already been sent to the agency, why is the presentation of it such a big deal? Well, the interview is your opportunity to sell in your offering and fully explain the way you work, and your portfolio is a fantastic tool to showcase this.

As Rory Sutherland, Creative Head at LOVE. puts it; “The guys meeting you will have already reviewed your introductory work and be expecting to see and hear more.” This is the time where you can explain the ‘behind the scenes’ story of your work – regurgitating the annotations from your PDF book just won’t cut it. With this in mind, you should think more deeply about each piece of work; from the initial brief, to any challenges you had along the way; the team you worked with, and the final deliverables.

Timekeeping

In an ideal world, you would be given plenty of time to fully explain every project and go into detail about your involvement. But realistically, this is rarely the case; Adam Rix, Creative Director at Music, says “I need you to help me see that your work can work for my clients and their businesses. If you can talk me through it in half an hour – that’s what I’d aim for.” Practice your speaking and wear a watch on the day so you can subtly keep on track.

However, you shouldn’t rattle through your work without pausing for questions and discussion. Nicky Place, Director of Build feels the perfect portfolio presentation comprises of “6 – 10 projects; it depends on how in depth they are. The ideal time to go through it is about 15 minutes – that will become 20 – 30 minutes with discussion.” So, make sure you’re ready for any questions about the project – this part of your interview will feel like a genuine discussion, rather than a recital in front of a silent audience.

Format

It’s up to you whether your portfolio is printed or in a digital format at interview; whichever you do, make sure it suits your style and is practical for the style of meeting. “An interview is an opportunity to expand on what you’ve shown already, with a couple of extra projects and some printed materials where appropriate,” says Matthew Tweddle, Creative Director at Only.

In terms of copy, much like any other presentation, the words should be removed or pared down for the version that you present in person. Rory Sutherland, Creative Head at Love, tells us; “The main thing is to be clear and concise. If you are presenting in person keep written annotations to a minimum, making sure you only include the relevant details. The aim is to talk people through it with confidence rather than having to strain and read 8pt type on screen. That never does you any favours!”

Tone

As with any interview, it’s important to read the room and gauge what your audience is looking for. You should have an informed opinion of the kind of agency you’re interviewing at, so this could help to inform some of the terminology you use. You could even relate your work to similar projects of theirs if it feels right, but the most important thing is to show how passionate you are about your work and your field.

Whatever you do – don’t slag off your project teammates or clients; it never puts you in a good light and would come across as very negative. If things didn’t go your way throughout a project, be truthful and careful about how you explain these challenges.

Most of all, be yourself as this is what will really shine through - “I’m keen to know more about you than your work at this stage – I’ve already decided you’re pretty good. I want you to talk through your work clearly and concisely, and I want to see a genuine passion for what you do. I want to see some of the ideas you’ve shown in your first portfolio applied in new and different ways, and I want to see that you don’t take yourself too seriously.” says Adam Rix, Creative Director at Music.

Creative Head at Love, Rory Sutherland, agrees with a more tailored approach to your attitude in the interview - “I think it’s important to always be conscious of the agency you are planning on presenting to. Do they have a sense of humour or are they quite straight? Are they more design or advertising focussed? More interiors or graphic design?”

Flow

“Start well and end well, with impact. I don’t think it necessary to tailor the work to match the agency, but the story should be well considered to suit and everybody likes a personal touch.”
Simon Forster, Executive Creative Director at Robot Food

We all known the importance of threading a story through any case study, and the same can be said for your portfolio. Consider how the projects hang together, creating natural developments through the projects which will help you to continue speaking through without awkward pauses.

Something we’ve heard a lot is that you should open and close on your strongest projects – Adam Rix told us, “Make sure the last project you show me leaves me feeling something. Maybe it’s great, funny, or a bit crazy – but everybody needs to end on a high.” This will truly make sure your interview is memorable – remember that the interviewers could be seeing five people in a day – that’s up to fifty projects to remember!

Even if presenting work isn’t your strong suit, hopefully these tips will help you feel more comfortable in this stage of the interview process. Think of your portfolio as a prop to stimulate conversation, be confident and proud of it, and try to enjoy sharing your great work with those who are clearly interested in knowing more about you. Best of luck!


Is your portfolio in need of some work? Or maybe you just want some practice presenting it?

If so, we run regular a Portfolio Lab here at Craft, offering advice to designers of all levels. Tips, tricks, a cuppa and an impartial chat about what we know creative directors want to see... what more could you ask for?

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