Advice — How to shine in virtual portfolio reviews: 27 tips from industry pros
From team meetings and events to interviews and internships, 2020 has officially become the year of the virtual replacement. And even though this seems like a simple switch, there are lots of new factors to consider – especially when it comes to preparing for a digital portfolio review, or meeting with a potential employer or collaborator over Zoom. To help you make the best impression, we’ve reached out to some incredible industry professionals from the worlds of design, advertising, illustration, photography, animation and film for their tips on how to make your work really shine online.
Jon Cockley, Handsome Frank (Illustration)
Jon Cockley is co-founder of London-based illustration agency, Handsome Frank, who represent 37 illustrators across five continents.
Do your prep!
Before the call, practice a succinct paragraph about yourself: Your background, clients and plans for the future. Then research who you are going to be speaking with and remember their name. This means that your conversation is not just a one-way transaction; try to engage with the person you’re talking to and ask them questions, too.
Check your virtual and physical backgrounds
Consider both your laptop background [if you’ll be sharing your screen] and physical surroundings. Firstly, make sure your computer desktop isn’t cluttered or has any sensitive documents that are for certain clients’ eyes only. Secondly, pick a well-lit area to do the call; if you have a few items on display in the background or around your working space, it gives a more inviting feeling and allows you to inject further personality to the call.
Only show work you’re proud of
Make sure you only show work that you are proud of, and in a style that you would like to be commissioned to create in the future. There’s no point sharing work that isn’t up to standard, just to push the total number of pieces up. If you have different styles, separate the work into different presentations, so that it’s tailored to the potential client you are speaking with.
Share insight into your process
With that in mind, don’t just talk someone through your website or Instagram feed; give them an insight that can’t be had online. You could show unpublished work, or WIP images. Talking openly about your process will make the meeting more memorable, and help the viewer understand the stages of what they would receive, should they commission or recommend you.
Follow up with a PDF
Offer to send a PDF at the end of the call as a reminder of your work, and ask the person if they would mind receiving an updated version when you next have one available.
Caitlin Clancy, Freelance Designer
Caitlin Clancy is a freelance graphic designer and art director based in Portugal. Before going freelance, she worked as a designer on the T Brand Studio team at the New York Times in London.
Choose a small amount of projects, but go big on detail
For online portfolio reviews, show between two and four projects. These could be projects you feel best represent your purpose, or that you learnt the most from. This allows you to describe more nuanced details, or the observations that inspired your idea. This often says more about your diversity of thought and approach than the final project outcome. Talk about how your thinking informed creative decisions like technique, format, typeface, colour, shape or applications.
Prepare for technical errors
Anticipate that there might be technical glitches and interruptions. You can prepare yourself to an extent, by testing screen-sharing, adjusting sound settings and checking meeting links beforehand, but keep the email address and number of the person you are meeting to hand just in case. Only have the app or tabs open that you need during the meeting, and if things do go wrong, just embrace it and don’t let it throw you off.
Surround yourself with things you like
In the past I’ve commissioned and art directed illustrators and photographers for projects who have been based across the world – and I loved getting a peek into their studio space and environment; it gave me a good sense about them. So create an energy and vibe where you feel most comfortable and at ease. Surround yourself with things that make you feel like you – houseplants, art prints, ceramics, incense, books, candles, whatever your thing is.
Wear clothes that give you confidence
I like to wear a favourite vintage shirt with a crazy print; it gives me confidence and often gets funny comments or compliments. It’s important to be able to bring your whole self when meeting someone new, and being in your environment will help while communicating something memorable about who you are.
Miho Aishima, Designer at Superunion
Miho Aishima is a senior designer at London-based brand agency Superunion and co-founder of monthly meet-up event, Rye Here Rye Now.
Know the story you want to tell
Consider how you might present each project in your portfolio. Think about the who, what, when and why of each project. Design is about creative solutions to problems, so it’s good to try and tell a story of what the project brief was and how you solved it. And if you worked with other people, it’s important to make clear what your role was.
Being able to present your work online is a great opportunity to meet people within the industry, and they are there to help, so be sure to ask questions!
Check for typos
Spellcheck is an easy win, as it’s on every program out there, but you might be surprised at how many portfolios that have typos or misspelled words. Doing it right shows attention to detail.
Do your research
If you have a chance to speak to someone from your dream studio, be sure to have a look beforehand at what they do, and ask questions about specific projects. Popular studios may get bombarded with CVs and portfolios, but if you can talk about what it is that really excites you about their work and the studio, that will go a long way in making a connection.
Ed Barrett and Mike Davies, Animade (Animation)
Ed Barrett and Mike Davies are creative directors at London-based, award-winning animation studio, Animade.
Organise your thoughts in a deck
As working remotely becomes a bigger part of our new normal, practising how to present your work online will become a useful skill for real-life job situations with clients. Before a call, prepare a deck in Google slides, Keynote or similar to help organise your thoughts, and try to keep your presentation under 10 minutes.
Avoid poor frame-rate and send a deck in advance
Showing moving image work over video calls is always problematic – connection speeds can degrade the image and you’ll never get a full frame-rate when you play animation (an issue we encounter daily). Our advice is cover all bases.
With some clients, we send a deck before the call so they have it on-hand while we talk through it. This is down to personal preference, though, as it can be tempting for the client to skip ahead and look at the work before you get a chance to talk through it.
Otherwise, you can use the video call to run through the deck, talk through the work, and your reasoning behind the approach. Make sure you mention at the start that you’ll send through the work for them to look at after the meeting so they can see it in its full glory.
Small talk can make a big difference
When trying to make a good impression, it helps to remember that we’re all in the same situation. It’s likely the person you’re talking to is feeling equally as nervous and awkward about the prospect of an online video call that could freeze at any moment. Kick the call off with a little chat about how everyone’s doing and maybe offer an apology in advance if the connection isn’t so great.
Don’t eat on a call!
Being relaxed is a good thing, but remember to maintain a professional attitude. Most of all, do not eat on a video call! Chewing and smacking will not make a good impression. However, a cup of tea sipped from time to time is passable...
Leila Fataar, Platform 13 (Marketing and Advertising)
With over 20 years of experience in the creative industry, London-based Leila Fataar is the founder of independent multidisciplinary company, Platform13.
Make it creative and memorable
In a post Covid-19 world, competition will be tougher than ever. Remember the people you are chatting to might have been on back-to-back video conferences and calls, so find ways to make your interaction with them memorable. It says a lot for the type of thinker you are and how you can flex to the audience you are trying to reach.
Tailor your portfolio to the situation
Personalise your portfolio to suit the company, brand or potential job. Keep it short and sharp. I always look for original thought with a simple comprehensive message, packaged in creativity and cultural relevance.
Bring your POV to the table
The rise and acceptance of remote working means that the talent pool has drastically widened location-wise, and opened up long-needed opportunities and access for creatives across gender, disability, sexuality, ethnicity, age and disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, too.
In this transformational time, work that shows awareness of global issues will resonate. Create campaigns or work you would like to see in the world. Bring your POV to the table.
Iain Tait, Wieden+Kennedy (Advertising)
Executive Creative Director Iain Tait has spent the last five years at London-based office of advertising agency, Wieden+Kennedy.
Give a window into your thought process
When interviewing someone, the most important thing for me is understanding how that person thinks. How do they come up with ideas and solve problems? What really motivates them? Don’t be afraid to share your process and thinking (everyone can already see the work itself), and be proud of things that weren’t runaway successes just explain what you’d do better next time.
Don’t worry if the chat goes off-topic
Often the way that you uncover this stuff is simply through a good old fashioned chat. But this can be challenging when faced with Zoom (or whatever), as conversations tend to become a lot more ‘transactional’. But often, it’s when you wander off-topic that the most interesting stuff comes out.
Show that you’re excited to learn
None of us are the finished article, so find a balance between demonstrating your potential, and showing that you’re excited to continue to grow, learn and evolve.
Derrick Kakembo, Reform The Funk (Film and Photography)
Derrick Kakembo is a filmmaker, photographer and head of content at independent cultural platform, Reform The Funk.
Make a list of questions in advance
Research the person or company you’re having meeting with, including getting an understanding of their values and mission if possible. This shows that you’re invested in and have knowledge of the type of work they do.
Remember to be professional and dress appropriately. If you can, choose a background without too many distractions. Make sure the place is quiet, put your phone on silent, and tell family members or friends not to interrupt your meeting.
Share a bio and show your strongest work
If you can, before the call, send over a written bio or profile, detailing your interests and experience. Then when it comes to your work, be selective in the images or video links you share. People don’t always have time to watch hours of videos, so send your strongest work that best represents your ideas and personality.
Keep your files light and organised
Provide a brief description of the projects and films you’ll be sharing, and avoid sending [or showing] big, heavy portfolio files. If you’re sending images, use an easy-to-view web link, and when sending over a link with different folders, name them clearly to make it easy to navigate.