Portfolio 101 & Portfolio Review: Extended Recap

April 1, 2016 | Jessica Spencer

In March, Springfield Creatives launched our first-ever “Portfolio Week” — Portfolio 101 on Wednesday, March 16, followed by Portfolio Review on Saturday the 20th. Members met at the Perch Lounge in the eFactory, and student turnout was strong.

Before the main event, a couple creative movers-and-shakers got up to share community news and updates.

  • Our friends from 1 Million Cups Springfield announced their move to the Springfield Art Museum. Since February 2014, the group has been hosting weekly meetings at the eFactory to connect and educate entrepreneurs. Starting April 6th, 2016, those weekly events will now be happening in the Springfield Art Museum’s large and lovely auditorium! Stop in one Wednesday morning for coffee & conversation at 8:30 a.m.and presentations at 9. And check out this #1MCSGF promo video created by SGFC members Double Jump Media.
  • Jeff Clinkenbeard dropped by to tell the group about SATO48 — an action-packed event that challenges filmmakers from Springfield and the Ozarks (SATO) to create a five-minute film in just 48 hours. The weekend begins when each team is given a secret envelope that describes the criteria for the film. All completed & eligible films will be shown at the Moxie Cinema in downtown Springfield! Founded by Clinkenbeard and his partner Kyaw Tha Hla, SATO48 is now in its 11th year. This year’s event begins on April 8th.
  • Chris Allen delivered an update on the newly formed Advocacy & Outreach Committee. Previously two separate committees, this group is now working together to fulfill two important goals: connecting with fellow creative organizations & nonprofits and building relationships with local political leaders. The Advocacy & Outreach Committee is opening up a survey to all Springfield Creatives members to better determine how to represent the group’s interests and needs to our local community.

Portfolio 101 & Review Recap

Next, SGFC board member and Meetings Committee chair, Jessica Spencer, shared tips and tools of the trade, all geared toward making our members better at getting a job—an initiative that has been a goal of Springfield Creatives since the start. Jessica shared a ton of advice just for creatives, including some dos, don’ts and seriously-please-don’ts for the job search, that were gathered from a locally star-studded panel of creative directors and hiring managers.

Due to limited time, we were only able to show a small portion of the advice we’d gathered from local creative pros, so we’re including all of that information here to show a full variety of perspectives. We’d like to thank Matt Rose, Dan Stewart, Chris Jarratt, Jason Nill, Katie Pollock Estes, Steve Popp and Jarad Johnson for taking the time to share some of their thoughts about portfolios and job applications. You can take a look at their full responses below.

The following Saturday, March 19, we returned to the Perch Lounge for our first annual Portfolio Review, hosted by the SGFC Special Events Committee. We had great attendance and heard that many of the attendees found the portfolio critiques helpful.

If you’re looking for more job-seeking advice, Springfield Creatives will be working on another meeting later this year that will deal with other topics like interviewing, job negotiations, compensation discussions, and other sticky subjects with which many may struggle. Let us know what you’d like to hear more about by emailing meetings@springfieldcreatives.com.


Portfolio 101 Recap Slides

View the Presentation Slides.


Extended Portfolio Responses
from 6 local creative pros on portfolio and hiring creative positions

What kinds of things are you looking for when you review a candidate’s portfolio?

Conceptual thinking and craftsmanship. 5-7 well-rounded examples with multiple components are far stronger than including every project worked on in school.—Matt Rose, Marlin

How far did you push school projects? Hey kids, guess what we see the same kinds of projects year, after year, after year, we don’t hire good enough. We get excited when we see a new take, or an adventurous decision, it takes more than just good execution. That is expected. What work have you done outside of school? We want hustlers. We give our employees a lot of freedom and little oversight, so we want people with a lot of initiative and drive, and outside work demonstrates that for me.—Chris Jarratt, Revel Advertising

For any creative position whether writer, AD or designer, creative problem solving is the primary thing we look for. Secondly talent in their specific area of focus and third is work ethic, but work ethic can sometimes trump what is in their current student portfolio.—Dan Stewart, Deep

First, we’re an interactive agency, so we naturally require a fundamental understanding of digital design and inclusion of websites, applications, and other interactive products. Designers in the interactive industry are largely broken into two groups—user experience designers (UX) and user interface designers (UI). With UX designers, we expect to see and understand how they have solved problems through design to create a product that functions well for users. With UI designers, we expect to see how they have utilized best practices and technologies to build a product that is beautiful and enhances the user experience foundation previously established. Knowing HTML and CSS are plusses and Javascript a great bonus.—Jarad Johnson, Mostly Serious

Talent and Skill. Talent is the demonstration of the ability to think creatively. I believe you are mostly born with it. But you develop it through practice and diligence. Studying history and keeping your finger to the jugular of the zeitgeist. Your book should be true to your brand. There should be a style that holds your work together. Skill shows up in execution. Do you care about details? Do you learn skills to better execute your work or do you alter your ideas to suit the tools you know how to use? It is actually easy to see this in most portfolios. The computer has made templates acceptable, which can be good… if you want to blend in.—Steve Popp, Popp Brand Advertising

For writers: Bright, well-structured writing clips with a strong voice. Copy that’s free of fact errors and light on opinion (unless it’s a review or something else where opinion is the point) that features creative, detail-rich storytelling. For editors: Everything we look for in writers, plus stellar editing skills and an eye for perfection. Editors also need to be creative and curious, always looking for and producing great story pitches and finding interesting ways to package stories. They have to ace the editing test, which combines proofreading, copyediting, critiquing, rewriting and story pitching. For anyone in editorial: Super-organized, super-responsible, amazing at follow-through, kind of anal-retentive about deadlines. And they have to be team players who like to collaborate.—Katie Pollock Estes, 417 Magazine


What are your favorite types of projects to see?

My favorite type of project to see are the kind where there is a singular idea or message communicated across diverse mediums. Students who take initiative beyond the class assignments with, for example, a branding project, always stand out to me. Do more than the logo and packaging, think about the overall brand and opportunities for the target audience to be influenced.—Matt Rose, Marlin

I need to see a strong layout, a great original concept, a project that was 3D or experiential elements (package, signage, etc.), project that was integrated into multiple mediums, and a solid branding project including logo. No more than 10 pieces, with the exception of logos, I can look at great logos all day.—Chris Jarratt, Revel Advertising

Self initiated projects for companies that needed marketing/creative assistance. This demonstrates desire to go beyond the standard curriculum, stand out amongst their peers, and add to their personal portfolio.—Dan Stewart, Deep

One of the best ways for a potential new hire to communicate these skills through a portfolio is to have built a custom application or website. Luckily, this is the type of work that fits perfectly with students as it doesn’t require a client or professor directing the project—simply time. We are also a company that requires a high degree of self motivation and a project outside of instruction, lesson plans, or clients is a fantastic way to display that quality. It’s important to note that, with the tools now available, a designers doesn’t necessarily need to know how to code to create an application or website—and most definitely not to create a prototype.—Jarad Johnson, Mostly Serious

I like to see a mix of  1.) expected–mediums and tactics we all know compromise the majority of our billings and 2.) stuff I have never thought of. You must demonstrate the ability to make advertising, collateral and websites. But you should also show a tradeshow sculpture that would be impossible to build, or a video idea that would intimidate a producer, for instance.—Steve Popp, Popp Brand Advertising

Branding projects that include a logo design, identity set, and a few promotional pieces. It’s helpful to see how a designer can carry out a concept and brand throughout several different pieces. —Jason Nill, Prodigy Pixel

Portfolio_101-7067What do you wish you saw more of?

We love to see problem-solving in pencil form. Logos and identity projects are the best type of project to demonstrate conceptual thinking for design students. Students who can self-asses what are good ideas as they develop the work always have the strongest portfolios.—Matt Rose, Marlin

How projects reflect across the entire brand, or how they may be connected to a larger campaign. And strong logo design.—Chris Jarratt, Revel Advertising

Writers that showcase the power of the visual and AD/Designers that showcase the power of the verbal. Creative solutions that are not just following the current trend.—Dan Stewart, Deep

Creative interactive projects. We often see portfolio websites or a fake company’s website—how about a website that tells a story? An application that makes a statement? A riddle that requires participation to understand? Boring companies want boring portfolios, so kick it up a notch.—Jarad Johnson, Mostly Serious

Polished execution. Books for the last decade or so are made too quickly. Too disposable. Not enough refinement. Lots of first thoughts quickly executed. Slow down, make it shine. Be proud of the piece when you put it in your book. And treat the book as a piece itself. Online or in hard copy, it should be well-designed, well-written and well-produced. If you don’t care, I won’t.—Steve Popp, Popp Brand Advertising

I wish I saw more quality journalism in the portfolios that come through our door. Often I see clips that have the minimal number of sources and reporting, that have clearly been completed by people who  did “just enough” reporting and tried to fill in the rest with great writing. In reality, good writing is an important skill, but it’s not enough to save a story. To create a story that’s memorable and informative and rich in detail you need to do more reporting than what you actually NEED for your word count. It should be an iceberg: The story contains the amount of reporting that fits into the tip of the iceberg. But you’ve actually done enough reporting to fill the whole iceberg, even the part that’s underwater. That extra reporting feeds your overall understanding of the topic and aids your ability to write about it effectively, and it allows you to put only the very best details into the story.—Katie Pollock Estes, 417 Magazine

We tend to see a lot of posters/large-format designs and logos coming from students in the area. It would be beneficial to see a broader range of work, and include some projects for the web as well, such as social media ads, and site designs.—Jason Nill, Prodigy Pixel

Portfolio_101-7064What advice would you give a student who is selecting work to include in their book?

As above, save your sketches. In addition to executional design rationale details, have a clear articulation of the problem and strategy prepared for which the project solves.—Matt Rose, Marlin

Better to show 7 strong pieces than 7 strong and 8 medium. As long as you can cover all the main areas of of concern for the AD or CD, then you are good. And be aware of the kind of work the agency does and include what they will be looking for. —Chris Jarratt, Revel Advertising

Find someone in the creative industry that you trust and have them assist in the selection. Quality over quantity. I typically don’t care if a piece has been printed if it is lacking in idea and craftsmanship.—Dan Stewart, Deep

Do people still call it “their book?” I’ve never used or heard that term outside of universities and a couple old guys. Send me some links I can click on and things to play with. I don’t care about their book.—Jarad Johnson, Mostly Serious

Be selective. You should have a body of work from which to choose a dozen or so good-great pieces. If you don’t, you need to work more. Don’t put in everything you have made. It’s not all great. I can look at your Instagram account if I want to see every image you have shot, pull out the shots you think make people think, or emote, or whatever. Don’t include 10 iterations of the same campaign for me to read your copy, a few pieces will get the idea across.—Steve Popp, Popp Brand Advertising

Show a range of what you are capable of. Show me that you can tackle a big reporting project with a lot of moving parts, that you can be both serious and funny, that you have a great personal voice but can also delve into the nitty gritty stuff, that you can bring as much wit to a short story as you can to a long one.—Katie Pollock Estes, 417 Magazine

Include a wide variety of pieces in your portfolio; logos, business cards, brochures, ads, posters, etc. Also, incorporate at least one project that carries a brand design through several different pieces.—Jason Nill, Prodigy Pixel

Portfolio_101-7056Do you prefer to receive a digital PDF or a link to an online portfolio?

Format agnostic. The portfolio can be a website, PDF or hardbound book, just show that time was taken to curate and organize the best work.—Matt Rose, Marlin

Both, keep the PDF slim, and let me know if there is more on your website.—Chris Jarratt, Revel Advertising

I’m ok with a digital pdf as long as there is something that helps it to stand out from all of the others. It should be accompanied with an e-mail of introduction that is engaging or entertaining to read. This is the first impression I have of this person and it may be their only opportunity to stand out. Now is the time to use their skills to communicate their unique brand and the value they can bring to our agency.—Dan Stewart, Deep

I think I’ve probably already answered that 😉 Links please.—Jarad Johnson, Mostly Serious

I prefer a hard copy. There are so many variables on a screen. But if you are sending me a digital portfolio, it doesn’t matter if you send a PDF or link. But it better work on my device. And if you choose to use a service/space to house your portfolio, make sure there is not a better portfolio in the same space.—Steve Popp, Popp Brand Advertising

Either is fine; both are convenient. I have a slight preference for PDFs because we often print off people’s application materials and look at them together when we’re hiring. It’s easier to do that than huddle around a computer. But I still enjoy seeing an online portfolio, to see how someone is presenting themselves.—Katie Pollock Estes, 417 Magazine

Online portfolios are good to give potential employers because it demonstrates the applicants’ ability to either build their own site, or utilize a web template to showcase their work. It’s also a great option that allows them to update the portfolio, which is beneficial if someone goes back to look at it a few weeks or months later.—Jason Nill, Prodigy Pixel

Portfolio_101-7071What do you look for when going through work in a face-to-face interview?

It’s ok to be scared shitless. Be confident in your solutions.—Matt Rose, Marlin

The process you use, and the challenges you had to overcome. This is your chance to impress, a lot of people and design well, not many people are great problem solvers and great designers.—Chris Jarratt, Revel Advertising

The first impression is always appearance. Dress appropriately. A suit and tie is not required, but sweat pants and a t-shirt speaks volumes. I also expect humility, good communication skills, a comfortable conversation, demonstration of passion, strong work ethic/desire to do whatever it takes to prove value, respect for our time and this opportunity.—Dan Stewart, Deep

We don’t review work in a face-to-face interview. Our FTF interviews consist of aptitude and culture questions. We use paid test projects to vet a potential hire’s ability to create work on our level and within our timeframes. I think this is probably unique to our industry and wouldn’t go over so well with more traditional agencies.—Jarad Johnson, Mostly Serious

Chemistry and pupil dilation. I must be able to get along with talent. They must demonstrate the ability to field hard questions. A candidate needs to demonstrate interpersonal skills. Selling your work (to a creative director or client) begins with selling yourself.—Steve Popp, Popp Brand Advertising

The interviewers ability to think on their feet, and communicate well. Talking through their design process of some of the pieces in their portfolio is also helpful in understanding their creative approach, and design level/skill-sets.—Jason Nill, Prodigy Pixel

How much importance do you place on a résumé or cover letter versus a portfolio book?

The courtesy of including resume/cover letter is appreciated. The formality shows you are serious and dedicated. Most importantly, follow up every interview with a personal thank you note. Really, it likely will be remembered more than the resume/cover letter. And send the thank you before sending the LinkedIn request.—Matt Rose, Marlin

As a CD, very little, but I’m not the only one that’s going to be making the hiring decision, so you better have it all on point.—Chris Jarratt, Revel Advertising

Portfolio first. Typically we teach them more in 12 mos than they’ve learned thus far. Unfortunately this is not an arrogant statement, rather a refection of our current state of creative education. The diploma holds very little value as we look for creative thinkers and problem solvers. I’ve hired individuals without degrees that exhibited tremendous talent and potential.—Dan Stewart, Deep

Cover letters matter none, but we do like to review resumes. That said, we ask many questions pre-interview about background, experience, and ambitions that cover everything a resume would—so it’s a nice intro, but it doesn’t carry much weight in the end.—Jarad Johnson, Mostly Serious

I rarely look at resumés. I have never really had one myself. It’s only function for me is to see where you have worked. And that only validates your professional experience. LinkedIn does a good job of that. With apologies to whomever invested in your diploma, I really don’t care where you went to school. The portfolio is everything, the result of mixing your talent with your studies. A lot of pros I have worked with and respect got to where they are with their talent. Most do not have a degree for the field in which they now practice. An exception is if you are a designer or a type geek. A really cool resumé can be a nice book piece.—Steve Popp, Popp Brand Advertising

If a designer doesn’t have a well-written cover letter and resume, it’s definitely a red flag. Being able to communicate on paper is a good litmus test of their aptness to communicate effectively with clients and team members.—Jason Nill, Prodigy Pixel

Do you recall any especially memorable applications or standout techniques an applicant has used in their portfolio or any part of their application?

We have four primary departments in our agency—design, writing, development, and project management. One applicant had branded each department with characters that tied closely into the responsibilities of each. He is now our Sr. Designer and variations of those characters still represent our departments.—Jarad Johnson, Mostly Serious

Years ago I saw a portfolio once that was built out of 3’ x 4’ sheets of 1/8” plexiglass.. The box it came in was custom-built out of wood and aluminum. It weighed a ton and cost hundreds to ship. It was humbling to review. The last time I heard from the designer he was leaving Nike Design to open his own shop. As far as individual pieces there have been many. Most books usually have at least one. Something I wish I had done. An idea, a piece of type, a cool execution trick, a headline a crop on an image, the framing of a shot in a video. There is no real formula.—Steve Popp, Popp Brand Advertising

For writers, it’s really impressive when the applicant has made it clear that they know our product and what we do. Usually cover letters are spent telling me about what skills and experience they have that would apply to this job, but I can glean that from their resume and clips. I got a cover letter recently, however, in which the person talked a lot about a passion for storytelling and connecting people to people with great writing and great stories. It was clear that (a) she was passionate about that and (b) she understood what we are trying to do and had actually read the magazine. She told me about her skills, too, but I felt like the rest of her letter really told me who she was and how she could add to our team.—Katie Pollock Estes, 417 Magazine

A well-presented and organized portfolio book is crucial to bring and walk through with a potential employer. It’s also valuable to have a select few design samples to leave behind, along with the resume and cover letter. One of the more memorable pieces an applicant gave us during an interview was a letterpress business card that was designed as a coaster. Going the extra mile and putting a personal touch on a presentation can go a long way.—Jason Nill, Prodigy Pixel


Photos by Jessica Spencer

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