Top 10 Tips for Making a Portfolio

Getting a job in the creative industry can be a real challenge. It seems everyone is after the same vacancy, and it gets difficult knowing what you can do to make sure you stand out from others. Eve, the illustrator of this blog, has put together a list of her top 10 tips for making a visual portfolio.

how to make a portfolio

First, I’d like to say that most creative jobs will ask for some form of portfolio. As this is your chance to showcase your work and show off what you can do, you’ve got to get it right. I’m a freelance writer, so I always keep a record of what I’ve written, who for, and when. Then, upon request, I can provide a list of links to all published online content I’ve written for various employers. A writing portfolio is less visual, and will take employers longer to get through it. Therefore, it’s always best to take a hard copy of your work along to the interview, too, so that they can keep it for reference. Take screenshots of your published work, as well as providing a link, and have this all in one document so that it is easily accessible.


Eve’s Top 10 Tips for Making a Portfolio:


1. Visual Portfolios: Physical Vs Digital

If you are an animator, create GIFs of your work. or if you intend your work to be displayed digitally (website design, creation of social media assets etc.), then you may as well show it on the platform you intend it to be used for. There is no point in printing out frames of an animation or screenshotting samples of a website you created, when you can present it digitally or provide a link to it.

Therefore, when you attend an interview either have a copy ready on a memory stick/hard drive, or take your own laptop/tablet to display your portfolio.

If your work is mainly print-based, then it makes sense for you to have a physical portfolio. That way, clients/interviewers can see your work in the format you created the work for.

2. Portfolio Size

This really depends on your work, if your work is naturally rather small then your portfolio could be A4 size. As an illustrator, I work with large images, and so I have an A3 portfolio, but if you are applying or studying a subject such as Fine Art or Textiles then you are probably going to want an even larger portfolio to showcase the best of your work. Basically, the size of your portfolio depends on the size of your work, it should always be proportionate.

how to create a portfolio

3. Selection

Be critical, what are you trying to show the client/interviewer? What skills are do you  want to demonstrate? It should look professional, so only place images in your portfolio which are finished to a high standard, that demonstrate your style, creativity and talent.

4. How Long Should Your Portfolio Be?

This really depends on how long your interview/meeting is but, at university, we were advised that it should be around 15-25 pages. You don’t want a crazy long portfolio that you have to rush through, but equally you don’t what to be sat there with nothing to talk about. So, again, just tailor it to the job; your interviewer may tell you with how long the interview/meeting will last, so that you can get a good idea of how long to make your portfolio.

5. Order

You want to give an amazing first impression, so put the best piece of work at the beginning of your portfolio. This way, you’re starting with something you’re really proud of. Similarly, end with a strong piece of work in order to create a positive last impression, something that is memorable. Make sure your portfolio is structured well, that it is organised in some way and that your projects/pieces of art flow effortlessly. This will make your interview/meeting run a lot smoother.

how to put together a portfolio

6. Layout

Your portfolio should have a consistent layout throughout. Using the same font and margin dimensions creates a well-designed and professional looking portfolio. Once you have created a template, you can then insert your images into any layout composition you like. If you have a stand-alone image which is highly detailed, then that could sit on a page by itself. Or, if you have a sequence of images, arrange them all on one page. Use a variety of layouts to add interest to your portfolio, but be careful not to overcrowd each page, it may look messy and disorganised.

7. Show Your Work in Context

From experience, I’ve found that clients/interviewers like to see work that has been produced in response to a brief or a larger project. Rather than having random images which don’t really have reasoning behind them, showcase work that does. This could be a long term project you’ve been working on, a client brief, or a rebranding and packaging brief. Doing this will allow you to have a lot of context to talk about during your interview. It will also prove that you can follow briefs and work to a vision other than your own.

8. Mock-ups

Creating mock-ups, especially as an illustrator, is a great tool to show your work in context. A mock-up is essentially an image of a product (a T-shirt, mug, poster etc.) that artists can apply their work, too. A mock-up will give you an example of how your work may look on any given object, helping your interviewer to visualise how your work may look on their products, while giving them an idea of whether it would suit their brief. You can download mock-ups for free from the internet, there are thousands to choose from.

This is a useful website for creating mock-ups, and so is this one!

9. Examples of Your Work

Alongside your beautiful portfolio, I’ve found it useful to take examples of my work along to an interview. This could be a book you’ve designed, promotional material/items, posters etc., anything that shows what your work looks like in the ‘flesh’. It also acts as a great talking point, and breaks up just flicking through your portfolio; it provides the interview with a interactive element.

10. Tailor Your Portfolio

If you’re applying for job, you’ve probably – and should have – read the job description so you know what the employer is looking for. Personalise your portfolio to their interests. Take out and add in work which you think is most relevant to the job description. Change the order of your portfolio if you like, just make sure that your work is relevant and that you can talk about it in relevance to the job description and what work/services/products the company supplies.

tips for making a portfolio

We hope that these top 10 tips will help you the next time you come to putting together your portfolio. Just remember that this is an opportunity for you to really ‘show off’ your abilities, so don’t hold back when showcasing your work!

Do you have any extra tips? We’d love to hear from you if you have any questions, tips, or just general comments. Just click here to get in contact with us, and to be featured on our blog!

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Job Searching and your Mental Health

graduation university

Throughout my education, I was repeatedly told that when I graduated, the world would be at my feet. So, naively, I went through school, college and university without a worry. Oh, I’ll just get a job lined up for when I’m finished, I thought. It’ll be fine.

It was only until after I had left university that I realised I still didn’t really know what to do with my life. I didn’t know where to start. Finding employment was A LOT harder than I thought it was.

And it really got to me.

I started feeling down, tired, and drained at the thought of scrolling through lists and lists of vacancies I didn’t really want. I started applying for things that I knew wouldn’t get me anywhere in life, just to feel productive. My days started to merge together, and I lost structure – and not to mention the friends I’d been living close to.

job searching

Job searching is hard. It is time-consuming, and it can have an effect on your mental health.

“The biggest shock for me was trying to find a summer job after university. Having a pending degree on my CV was of no help to me at all. It’s one thing being able to get an interview and discuss the value of your degree, but I can’t even get there. Staying in education is about the only thing my degree has been useful for so far.” – John Pickett, Head of Drama

A lot of companies ask for 3+ years experience in the field you want to get into and so, being a graduate, I discarded them completely as I didn’t feel I was good enough to even be considered. This article explains ‘experience inflation’ well – a scary prospect that the amount of experience employers want is increasing each year.

So what does this mean for us?

Well, despite working hard for the past 3 or even 4 years for a degree, we will more than likely have to go back and work for free, just to gain some experience. (I’ll cover unpaid internships in a future post.) It can feel like you’re starting all the way back at the bottom, just to be able to even think about applying for entry-level jobs.

The best thing you can do when you do come to apply, is to not explicitly state your age or date of birth on your CV or application form. If the employers really want to know, let them work it out. Being younger could suggest that you don’t have much experience yet, even if this is a false stereotype.

“Since leaving university with an English Language degree, I’ve been looking to start my career in marketing and communications. The endless applications proved to be extremely draining, and it certainly took a lot for me to handle the rejections. I’m now doing a three month internship with a marketing company, whilst working at Asda at the weekends. Luckily, the people I work with at both my internship and Asda are unbelievably friendly, making my time at each company enjoyable and worthwhile. Getting back into running everyday has certainly helped me; the muscle pain after each run alleviates the stress and allows me to peacefully climb into bed knowing that my sleep will evade anxiety riddled nightmares.” – Alex James, Social Media Intern.

After hours of filling out application forms, putting together your portfolio, re-writing your CV, your cover letter, and your LinkedIn profile, you then have to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Most of the time, you don’t hear anything back. It’s not because the employer doesn’t like you, or doesn’t care about your application, it probably just means that, this time, you weren’t quite right for the vacancy. But, this rational explanation is not what plays out in your mind after weeks of hearing no response.

“Searching for a job when you studied a degree that didn’t have a guaranteed job at the end is like running into a brick wall. Applying for jobs in itself is a job; I spend hours everyday applying to hundreds of them, only to hear back from at best three. It’s so disheartening; I didn’t study for another three years to get disregarded after just looking at my CV.” – Sian Coakley, Gym Receptionist.

job searching with mental health

Then suddenly – PING! – an email lands in your inbox and your heart flips. It’s from a recruitment agency, about a recent job you applied for. I always panic at this moment – what if they want to call me to interview? What if they want me to send my portfolio? What if they want me to start TOMORROW?! But, as you scan your eyes over the first line of the email, the questions in your head disappear and your heart sinks.

A rejection.

This can be really hard to take, especially as you believe you did everything they asked for and you thought you’d make a really good member of the team. But, unfortunately, that’s life. It’s hard not to start thinking that everyone else is better than you, because you weren’t even shortlisted to interview. You’ve just got to remember that there was probably already someone who worked in the company who applied, or that the successful candidate personally knew the manager. There’re always external circumstances.

“Being someone who didn’t have a job lined up after uni, or a completely clear path in mind, I had to move quickly when I moved back home. This level of pressure has been intensified as I’ve found myself in new company offices every day, with new people, presented with new challenges – none which I have been fully prepared for. I’m proud of myself for putting myself out there and demonstrating my resilience and for getting so many interviews. However, I am my harshest critic and this hasn’t been an easy ride: on the spot criticism, and even crying on my bus journeys home! It is a state of anxiety and sometimes, sadly, a cause of feeling worthless.” – Nicole Walker, Recruitment Trainee

The whole process can be extremely daunting, especially if, like me, you were not prepared for it. Graduate depression is extremely common, and it can often take weeks, if not months to find full-time employment. You can read about this here.

Taking on a job at your local pub or supermarket does not make you any less worthy than people who land their dream jobs. Everyone has to start somewhere. Keep going, as frustrated as you may be, because you never know what might just be around the corner.

“The perseverance, anxiety and sheer admin involved with finding a job is always daunting, even when you’re looking for waitressing work! Despite going through tough times during my degree years, I was unbelievably fortunate to finish university on a high, and so I was in the perfect mindset to pursue a post-grad role. I was distantly aware of the positivity that was emanating out of me in all of my interviews, and positivity came my way in return. Amazingly, I find myself with more job offers than I can manage! Right now, I am focusing more than ever on working on my happiness, and it is making me so excited for the future.” – Charlotte Dover, Communications Officer

Stress is another big factor that can have an impact on your job search. The more time that goes by, the more pressure you may feel for landing a secure job. This feeling of limbo is really quite unsettling, and the longer it is dragged out, the harder it may seem to come out of it.

“Uni hasn’t been an easy ride for me, and coming out of uni hasn’t been easy either. As I was in a situation where I was renting uni accommodation as well as a house with my partner back home, unemployment was made even more of a stressful situation. Having always worked some sort of job since the age of fifteen, this was the first time I hadn’t had a job and, honestly, I felt lost as a person. I didn’t feel like I had a purpose; I was no longer a student but equally I had not yet moved on to the next stage of my life, whatever that would be. I was in limbo. I felt so insecure and anxious about when and what employment would come. Now, I have been given the opportunity to embark on a paid internship with a PR agency. I really feel that this role allows me to combine my writing skills and creative passions. Fingers crossed I will find a permanent position in the field!” – Megan Shaw, PR Intern.

graduate university

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Life After University: Graduate Limbo

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Tackling life after university is hard; it often feels like you’re in limbo. That’s why we’re here, to help you prepare for graduate life.

“Something will come along.” If you are a graduate, you will have heard this phrase over and over again as you search endlessly for a job. Your family and friends mean well, but every time you hear those four little words, you feel like screaming through your gritted smile.

You’ve spent hours, if not days, searching and scrolling through, desperately hoping that something, somewhere, will be right for you. You’ve written and re-written your cover letter and CV, yet every time you submit it, you hear nothing back. Some jobs ask for “a minimum of two years experience”, which you don’t have because you’ve been spending that time working for a qualification you were told was essential, even though, sometimes, the vacancies don’t even ask for a degree at all. It’s exhausting. It’s soul destroying, and, what’s more, you weren’t prepared for it.

You even get rejected from jobs you don’t even want.

Graduate depression is very common. You spend three or four years at university with new friends, a new sense of independence, and a growing understanding of who you are. Then, one day, it sort of just… vanishes. You move back home, and it can feel like your life is starting from the bottom.

So, that’s why we’ve named this blog rather ironically. We are here to help you, the graduate in limbo, to get through this unsettling and strange time, while keeping things lighthearted! Because, eventually, something will come along for you.

So, who are we?

Amy, aged 21, English Language and Creative Writing graduate, University of Gloucestershire. Personal blog:

I’m Amy, and I’m the words. Leaving university was like being thrown into adulthood, and I wasn’t really prepared for the pressure involved in getting a job. You’re taught your whole educational life that “the world is your oyster” and “you can be anyone you want to be”, but when you find yourself in this limbo, it’s easy to think that nobody wants you, and you can’t be anything you want to be, because you don’t know how. I want this blog to help others. I would’ve loved to have been more prepared for tackling the creative industry, so here’s my opportunity to share my journey!

life after university

Eve, aged 21, Illustration graduate, University of Gloucestershire. Website: Eveden Designs

I’m Eve, and I’m the illustrator. For me, post-university has had its highs and lows. I’ve sat scrolling for hours and hours on job sites, finding only a few exciting opportunities. It’s been tricky, really, because I got so close to getting a position, then was let down at the last minute. Being so creative, and doing what I do, finding a job is such a maze – it’s definitely who you know, not what you know. Most of the jobs out there are invisible, and you have to dig around to find the golden opportunity. Being in this industry is not easy, so I want to reassure you, and help others to prepare for life as a creative graduate.

graduate limbo

We hope you enjoy reading our posts, and that you take something away from our experiences. We’ve only just graduated ourselves, so we are by no means experts on post-uni life! Follow us to see our journey, and to find out how we get to where we’re going…

Follow us on Instagram: @somethingwillcomealong

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Follow Amy’s Blog: Amy Louise Writes