The Secret Handshake is a resource for student designers and young creatives looking for insider insight, honest answers and solid solutions to go pro. We provide year-round advice, local events and one yearly conference to help as many young professionals as possible.
Get a website. Seriously, you need a website! You don’t have to update all 17 social media/portfolio sites, but it doesn’t hurt to be present on several. The majority of my client work comes from the internet. I try to populate & edit each site I use (behance, dribble, working not working, instagram, twitter, Facebook, and my portfolio) with different projects and glimpses of my process. You never know where work will come from. Also, keep that in mind when posting bathroom selfies.
Don’t show shitty work.
Don’t do your own dev unless you really know what you’re doing.
Don’t show only print projects unless you want to be unemployed forever.
Don’t make me go back to the index just to get to the next project.
Don’t upload gigantic images that take forever to load.
Keep it casual. At this point I’m more interested in the person than the work. Keenness, good ideas, great personality. Remember that you’re also bringing something to the table, it’s why they called you in. Don’t forget to ask questions, you’re also there to determine a fit.
Oh, and relax on the compliments! Nobody likes being praised too much.
Keep it simple. No need for lots of color, personal logos, multiple pages, or strange formats. Good typography and a basic template that is easy to read, easy to share and print will suffice. Remember that a lot of non-designers will read and sort your resume first.
Keep it to 1 page.
Keep the page feeling mostly full, students tend to have thin resumes, pad it with true things. Have a lot going on: organizations, design collectives, exhibitions, awards & scholarships, & work history. Focus on the typography and layout.
B&W is preferable, comes across as serious and doesn’t get fucked up by shitty B&W printers.
Print it on the nicest paper you can buy, appropriate weight and color, but it should feel nice. Have a plaintext version for online applications. Save it as a PDF, no other formats are acceptable.
BONUS: Have an html/css online version that’s responsive hosted at your domain.
I’ve seen some amazing and intricate portfolios with crazy die-cut covers or hand-bound edges, but in the end you should try to create a portfolio that makes your work look best.
It’s not always the flashiest one that is best suited for the job.
Don’t include photos where you are holding something with disgusting, dirty, chewed-off fingernails. Photoshop that shit out.
Don’t put it in a weird box or dumb, tricky things. Don’t show anything with bad craft (glue all over it, mocked up poorly…etc.).
Don’t pretend fake work was real work. Just be real about it. Don’t make any excuses like “the budget was small, so that’s why XYZ was poorly produced”. Don’t show anything you are not totally excited about.
Don’t be discouraged if things don’t always go according to plans. Everyone has setbacks, and good things come to those who wait. You have to work hard, but success can also be a little more than that: many of the amazing opportunities I’ve gotten are the result of meeting the right people at the right time.
Be sure to present your work professionally. Appearance is important because that gives the employers an idea of who you are.
Use good photography, use a clean binder with clean sheets. Or speaking digitally, be sure the user can access your body of work easily and navigate swiftly.
People who talk too much and think you have unlimited time to spend.
Having said that, I’m very sympathetic to job seekers. It’s not easy, and a certain amount of pushiness is required. I like folks who are determined, and it’s a good sign when they happen to know something about my studio—it appeals to my vanity.
Anyone who has plucked your name out of a list without having done any research is committing a grave, and common, mistake.
Present only work you’re proud of, you shouldn’t feel the need to make any excuses for the pieces you present. Limit your work (somewhere around 8-15 projects is ok).
Think about your audience, tailor the portfolio by including work you know they’ll be interested in. Show yourself in your portfolio, your passion projects often are the most interesting things in your portfolio.
These projects let your interviewer get a glimpse of who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what you do in your free time. Because let’s face it you spend a lot of time with your coworkers, you’ll need to get along.
We prefer an e-mail with a link to a web site, or sample printed materials. If we like either, we put you on the list of people we will see, so long as you bother to call and follow up. If we are not looking for help, we will try to give a half hour informational interview, followed by referrals.
We are generally honest and straightforward, and will try to help you with the process of finding a first job.
I look at portfolios more quickly than their owners would like. I can usually—almost right away—tell whether or not someone’s work appeals to me. If I’m reviewing in person, I try to say something constructive.
If it’s a drop-off, or something e-mailed to me, I almost always write a note.
Write a cover letter that actually describes how your experience is relevant to the place you’re applying. Be concise but specific. When it comes to setting up an interview, make yourself available, but not too available. It doesn’t hurt to schedule multiple interviews on one day, and to let your interviewers know that (in the most unassuming way). Look like you’re in demand, even if it’s more illusion than reality. During an interview, follow their lead. Don’t launch into a diatribe if they just want to scan your book quietly and then talk about it afterward. This is partly intuited, but you can also just ask what they prefer to do if it’s not apparent. Lastly, post-interview, send an email thanking them for their time and consideration.
Contact the people you want to work with, not just places with job postings.
Personalize your cover letter.
Know shit about the company.
Make sure you thoroughly understand the role: UX is different than UI is different than Communication Design.
Have a personality, be friendly and warm, but not weird.
Follow up once, tops.
Always thank the people for their time and consideration.
Smart companies are foregoing posting jobs altogether and straight up looking for people on portfolio sites like Behance, Dribbble & Coroflot. Be found there.
Use social media as your recruiter. Follow companies you admire, have interest in and terms that are applicable to your job hunt. You can literally wake up to an entire job hunt done for you every morning with no work on your part besides initial setup.
Social media is a gift and a curse. Your personal life and professional blur together. Have a strategy for each individual network and determine whether or not they play a part in your job hunt and how you choose to promote yourself.
Don’t mount your work on sheets of glass, or any other tricky presentation method. Just like your resume treat your portfolio like a design problem… The purpose of your portfolio should be to frame your work. Don’t let it overshadow the work inside.
Present the work simply and well.
Show how you took initiative and did more than you were asked…how you made the project way cooler than the brief required.
Show projects that relate to the real world (or even better the studio you want to work for). It may seem awesome to mock up a blind embossed book with one word on the cover, or a logo that is just a hairline slash across helvetica, but it’s hard to know what to do with that skill in a studio that does real, client-driven work.
Show your work to the person you are presenting to, and not to yourself. Don’t position your work in such a way that you have a clear view of it, but the interviewer has to crane his or her neck to see it.
Unless you are sitting side by side with the person interviewing you, this is disastrous. Your work should be placed directly in front of the viewer, and not sideways. It’s glaringly obvious, but the number of young designers who commit this error is staggering.
I suggest ten to twelve projects, maximum. If projects include multiple components, or fully designed books, eight to ten projects will be enough.
One of the main parameters for a portfolio review is limited time. Presenting the work should take a maximum of thirty to thirty-five minutes.
Many designers show, and say, far too much, leaving little time for an authentic conversation to develop.