A Quickstart Guide to Creating Your First Portfolio

November 26, 2019

One Google search for “how to make a portfolio” yields 491 million results. Which article should be your guide? You can’t trust just anyone. Even if you met up with every advertising professional in the Twin Cities metro, you’d need to schedule more than 44,000 coffee dates (thank you, LinkedIn). And everyone’s advice would lead you down a different tunnel.

Where most advertising and public relations students (like myself) start to fret on their first foray into the artful and rewarding—albeit overwhelming—universe of portfolios is: how do I even take it on? What’s more, they will ask: how can I make it good?

Even if design isn’t going to be the focus of your career, a confident portfolio can show future employers what you’re capable of, the way you think, and your style. Creating a portfolio is your way in the door for a job, especially out of college. Your portfolio serves as an immersive visual testament to all the great things you’ve done.

Although I don’t have the answers to get you and your portfolio to Cannes, I’ve held two agency internships where I’ve heard my superiors say, “This is what we need,” in reference to my work. So I’ll spare you clicking through millions of articles and sipping thousands of awkward cups of coffee and share my 5 steps to get you on your way to portfolio glory by launching your first website.

1. Keep It Simple

Whether you choose to set up shop on Squarespace, Wordpress, Wix, or on Adobe’s MyPortfolio, simplicity should be at the core of your user experience. All hosting services are comparable, in my opinion, but I chose to host mine on Adobe MyPortfolio since it’s free with an Adobe Creative Cloud Subscription. But you don’t want any viewers of your site to get lost or feel confused about how to navigate about your work at any time. Stick with a template design and go from there.

Most portfolios (mine included) are divided into three main pages accessible via the site’s navigation bar: My Work, About, and Contact.

On the “My Work” page, have tantalizing visuals for each project that are clickable and that lead to a more in-depth case study or visual index.

2. Make It Consistent

Your portfolio is the most exciting part of your application. Keep that energy alive on every asset related to you getting hired. The way you display your name on your portfolio (are you using a specific font or color?) should also translate to your resume, your cover letter header, and your business card for when you’re out shaking hands.

Additionally, the way you talk about your work should follow a similar flow. You should clearly give a brief background for each project, saying which roles you did (e.g., copywriting, photography, project management, or strategy) and what the results were. Where did your work go? Who saw it? How did it impact them?

3. Put Forth Your Best

You don’t need to include every single project that you’ve ever put your fingerprints on. In fact, you shouldn’t. Only share in your portfolio what you’re proud of. Whether that’s a class presentation, something you did at a job or internship, or a project that was just for fun, include it.

Even your personal hobbies can be showcased if they demonstrate your unique abilities. I’ve heard those fun portfolio pieces referred to as a “side hustle.” They are great conversation starters!

4. Explain Why It’s Great

Never apologize for your work. You are sharing it for a reason! Talk it up: why your work clever, and how meaningful is its impact?

5. Showcase with Pride

Purchase a domain name! Take your site to the next level by customizing your URL. It’ll show that you take your work seriously. Besides, domains are both less intimidating and less expensive than you might think. I go through GoDaddy and pay around $10 a year.

Once you feel like you’re in a good place, put your URL everywhere for the world to see.

I’d love to end this article with, “See! It’s that simple.” However, the truth of the matter is that your first portfolio will take a lot of work. But fear not. Seek out portfolios that inspire you to push yourself and remember that the best thing you can do is get one started. Once your work is out living in the world, you can always fine-tune it later.

Interested in checking out my advice in practice? Head over to jacobvanblar.com.