Graphic Design Portfolio Tips by Go Media –
Hello Go Media Faithful! Hunting for your dream job? The last two weeks we’ve been discussing the resources you need to submit in order to gain the attention of your dream design firm. If you missed part one and two of this series, please go back and read them before proceeding:
Now that you’re a pro at cover letters and resumes, let’s move on to part three of your submission to the graphic design studio of your dreams – the portfolio.
Here are three graphic design portfolio tips we need you to learn and embrace now (from the boss, Bill Beachy, himself):
Slow down and nail your presentation. Many young designers do good design work… then spend very little effort putting it together into a BEAUTIFUL portfolio post. The project is done, you’re eager to move on – so you throw a few images online for the portfolio. STOP. SLOW DOWN. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF LANDING A JOB – a B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L portfolio. Take the extra time to write about, mock-up and present the work you’ve done in the most flattering way possible. You SHOULD find yourself doing EXTRA design work as you prepare your portfolio post. Once you have a project that’s moving in a pretty direction that you’re happy with – KEEP GOING… don’t stop until you have all the pieces and parts to present a beautiful portfolio post.
Consider this… you may have just spent several weeks designing something. Now… you should spend at least several days preparing it as beautifully as possible to show off.
You must have an online portfolio. This does not mean that you have to be a web developer. You can use SquareSpace, Wix, Coroflot, a WordPress Template – really anything. An employer just needs to know you’re living in the 21st century. If you have the dev skills to build your own website, that would be best – HOWEVER don’t post your beautiful portfolio on an ugly website! If you’re going to post your portfolio onto a website you built – it better be as beautiful as the items IN the portfolio. The last thing you want to do is distract your potential employer by putting good portfolio work onto an ugly website. Make sure wherever you put your portfolio – it’s not distracting. If you want to show off your dev skills, but they’re not portfolio worthy – just do that somewhere else.
Your online portfolio must be a match set to your resume and cover letter – and must be GOOD. I would err on the side of good over self-built. If your web dev skills are not portfolio worthy yet, then don’t rely on them to show off your work.
Show a variety of work types. It’s important that your portfolio demonstrates your ability to do a variety of things. Obviously, you’ll want to show your ability to do the type of work that matches up with the work the firm you’re applying to does. In Go Media’s case, that would be: branding (logo design), print design and web design. I recommend including your 3 best samples of work in each design category. You don’t need to have a huge portfolio, but whatever is in there needs to be your very best work! Err on the side of showing less work of higher quality than having a big portfolio where some of the pieces are only so-so. An employer is going to pick out the worst thing in your portfolio and assume all your work will be that bad. So, it’s kind of like the saying: “A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.” So, if you have doubts about anything in your portfolio, get it out of there.
Side note: If you think you can only show one style of design and tell clients: “take it or leave it…” I’m telling you right now – 99% of clients and employers will leave it. You need to be more adaptable than that. When a client hires you, you need to be making designs that are appropriate to that client, not just designs that you like. When I come across candidates that have extremely homogeneous portfolios I give them two radical jobs: Design branding and promotional materials for Metallica (sponsored by Monster Energy Beverage) and design branding, signage and promotional materials for a cupcake shop that is owned by Hello Kitty. These two hypothetical projects will force a designer to push their style to extreme ends of the style spectrum. You can invent your own projects, the point is to demonstrate a wide range of styles in your portfolio.
Alrighty, so some of you may have a lot of work to do before submitting your cover letter, resume and portfolio to your dream job. These may include things like –
- Researching your dream design firm inside and out, outside and in
- Scratching that Word doc in favor of a beautifully designed resume and cover letter
- Designing your own personal brand
- Improving upon your website (online portfolio), carrying your personal branding over to that
- Thinking strategically about what you need in your portfolio and working toward those goals
- Adding more work to your portfolio
Yes, this may seem overwhelming, but when you take all of these tasks step by step, you’ll be happy you did. And believe us, so will your future employer. Best of luck, everyone!
How to Write the Best Graphic Design Cover Letter
If you want the job at the best graphic design firm ever, you have to submit the best cover letter, resume and portfolio ever. (We’ll leave the bits about being a worthy designer to another post.)
And with no shortage of resources on what makes a great cover letter, resume and portfolio out there, this should be a somewhat simple feat. But here at Go Media, we are disappointed to see the same mistakes made over and over again. It often seems like applicants choose to apply for more jobs – the quantity – over quality (in other words, doing a thorough job of applying to fewer companies). In this three part series, we talk about the elements in cover letters, resumes and portfolios that really make our jaws drop.
To start, we’d like to address cover letters. Above all, there is one element that most good applicants touch upon, but often do not take the time to cover with enough depth and passion. This aspect makes all the difference between a cover letter worth passing by, and one worth paying attention to.
What is this magic element?
A SECTION THAT SERIOUSLY PLAYS TO OUR EGO.
Sounds simple, right? Far from it.
It takes time and a ton of time, which is why we rarely see it. Please read on!
In the cover letter, it’s critical that you communicate to the potential employer: “You are the only company I am applying for, I’ve been following your company for years.” You want to play into the ego of the company. In order to communicate this you need a plausible story. Most importantly, you need more FACTS about the company you’re applying to. So, this means research! Referencing a few portfolio items is a fine start, but anyone can do that in 10 seconds.
If you REALLY want to wow the potential employer, spend several days (even weeks if necessary) reading anything you can get your hands on about them. This may sound like a huge investment, but consider this – you’re about to commit to working there for YEARS. Isn’t a week of research worth getting into the right company?
If they wrote a book – read it. If they have a blog, read every article you can on the history of the company. About page? Read it. Then, write a concise ‘How I got to know your company’ story… If you can find any gem in your research to reference you can say things like: “I read in your book that you used to lay on the floor drawing with crayons all day as a kid. That’s exactly how I spent my childhood.”
Basically, you need to make sure they know you KNOW them… you did your research. You desperately want to work for them and them only. Sprinkling in a few obscure facts will help communicate this.
As an employer it’s VERY clear to us who’s done their research and who is just throwing out a generic cover letter. Pandering to our ego works. We want to think that the people I’m hiring are HUGE Go Media fans! Of course! We love hearing their stories about how they discovered our company and have been following us for years. When they reference specific tutorials we wrote 8 years ago, we think: “Wow. This is going to be a loyal employee!”
Similarly, continue to blow us out of the water if you’re able to illustrate actionable ways in which you’ve shown your love for the company. Have you volunteered for our design conference, benefit shows, or attended every single one of our open houses? Let us know!
Also, Answer the why
Next, explain WHY you want to work for the company you’re applying to. The reason should be specific. Something like: “Your firm has a background in illustration and I can see that you appreciate art. This is unique compared to the other firms I’ve considered applying to. I love the balance of artistry with design – it’s something I’ve always done. It’s important to me that I’m working in an environment that has that appreciation for the artistic side of design.” Again, you are not only giving the reason why, but you’re reinforcing that you have a deep knowledge of the company you’re applying to. This ties everything together eloquently while making us feel warm and fuzzy.
While you’re at it, here are things to avoid doing in your cover letter:
- Not addressing anyone specifically. Never write “Dear Hiring manager” or “To whom it may concern”. Do your research! Figure out who’s hiring and write to them specifically!
- Sending before having trusted friends and family proofread it again and again. Watch your spelling! Attention to details is critical. One error here can knock you out of the game completely.
- Using your email as the cover letter itself. Design a cover letter that you save along with your resume and attach. It’s ok if what you write in your email is exactly the same as the attached pdf. The point is – I want to see you apply the same branding from your resume onto a cover letter page, and then again on the website. If you don’t attach a designed cover letter you’re losing that opportunity.
- Praising your own design skills, i.e. “I’m a VERY talented designer.” This simply comes across as arrogant. Whether you are talented or not will show up in your portfolio. Saying you’re good ONLY WORKS AGAINST YOU. If you want to praise yourself in any way – it should be: “I work hard, I’m eager to learn and I have a positive attitude.” These are things that cannot be seen in a portfolio. And these ARE traits that a potential employer is looking for – not arrogance or overconfidence.
- Giving your potential employer work. Saying things like: “To download my resume go here…” is very bad. Make hiring you as simple as possible. I recommend attaching a finished designed cover letter (which may contain the same text that you included in the e-mail), your resume and a pdf of your portfolio and or a link to an online portfolio.
- Saying you want this job as a jumping off point for completely different. The last thing we want to hear is that you’re applying to be a Junior Designer, only to turn into a Project Manager in another 6 months. We will support your hopes and dreams, but we are looking to fill the position of a Junior Designer now. If you’re actually looking for a Project Management position, please look elsewhere.
Okay, now that we’ve covered our number one must follow rule and these important don’ts, promise us you’ll dedicate the time your cover letter (and future employer) deserves.
Stay tuned, when next week we’ll be back with our favorite rules about creating the best design resume ever.
Graphic Design Portfolio Tips
An outstanding online portfolio is a must for any creative. Believe us, it’s true. When popping open emails from those applying for graphic design positions here at Cleveland design studio Go Media, we’re often shocked at the number of folks who do not have an online portfolio, or have one that’s outdated or terribly underwhelming. Today, let’s all make a commitment to ourselves. It’s time to up our game because it’s so worth the time and energy. After all, it just may land you the job of your dreams, the promotion you’re deserving of, or the recognition you have been desiring.
Quick Tips: Do’s and Don’ts >
- Illustrate your strengths clearly and cleanly.
- Show versatility if you’re capable.
- Use minimal colors and fonts. Keep it simple!
- Maintain your brand across all platforms.
- When using case studies, start from the beginning and take us through the journey with you.
- Also, give us a healthy dose of successes and an insider’s guide to the decisions you made along the way.
- Tell us how you solved the problem for your client and wrap it up in a pretty bow!
- When using testimonials, place them alongside relevant work (instead of on a separate page).
- On your about page, show your face! We want to see who we’re dealing with!
- Include a working email address on the site. We’ll want to contact you.
- Do consider adding a contact form.
- Keep your portfolio updated with new projects.
- Don’t include any fluff.
- Don’t stretch the truth. Instead, show us only where you really shine.
- Don’t allow your site design to distract from your work.
- When using case studies, don’t hesitate to give insights to challenges along the way.
- On your about page, don’t be afraid to be a little quirky. (If you’re quirky…)
- Don’t write a novel on your about page.
- Don’t just throw a bunch of testimonials on a testimonials page.
- Don’t forget to regularly check all of your links.
- Go Media
- Andy J. Miller
- Jean Jullien
- Jack Hughes Illustration
- Owen Gildersleeve
- Rose Blake
- Janine Rewell
- Olly Moss
- Kyle Platts
- Matt Luckhurst
- Yeni Kim
- Timothy Goodman
- James Victore
- Jessica Hische
- Colin Tierney
- Becca Clason
- Andrew Colin Beck
- Danielle Evans
- Jon Contino
- Justin Mezzell
- Ryan Hamrick
- Promise Tangeman
- Dan Cassaro
- Daniel Mackey
- Simon Pan
- Sam Dallyn
- Charlotte Tang
- Ian Barnard