How to craft a portfolio that will get you hired.


For those of you who know me, one of my favourite and most rewarding things to do, is help out other students, designers and freelancers. I've been working in the art & design industry for over 20 years and I've learned a huge amount during that time. If I've discovered something that worked for me, I want to share that experience with others.

Around this time of the year, I get loads of emails asking for help getting jobs.  Many are graduating from University, looking to move jobs and make the jump from part-time hobby to full-time career. None of these things are easy, but there are recurring themes regarding how to go about it if you want to be successful.

I wanted to share an email I recently received along with my response as I believe it will help more than the person it was intended for.

I'd love to know what you think and hope you find it helpful.


"Hey Thad,

Hope your summer is finding itself full of fun and great opportunities.

Writing to ask for some follow-up review on my portfolio. I was lucky enough to have you review my portfolio about a year ago and we also did a Skype call. Well, I have updated my site and looks like I have solved my navigational issues but perhaps not my branding issues.

I have been turned down by another agency that I was able to get my foot in the door with. They did say it was because they had no openings at this time, and when I asked if they could offer any advice on my work, they mentioned that they couldn't decipher what I wanted to do by looking at my port. Designer? Writer? Art Director?

The fact is, I can do it all, including illustration, along with some animation. I'm writing because I'd like you to review my updated site and see if you agree. My argument is that if I position myself with one type of discipline, then I lose out on other opportunities that I could also fulfil.

Also, limiting myself to one discipline will pay less than my multitasking, branding, directing, client-managing skills. Wondering if I should rebrand myself in some
way... ?

Also in consideration, are your many posts about "specialising" or proclaiming your expertise in one area. I did have the word "expert" on my site at one point. I used it on my intro page by saying "Everyone has a story to tell. I just happen to be the "expert" that can tell yours." Hmmm. Expert storyteller has a nice ring to it and positions me differently from the rest of the crowd. Somewhere along the line, I must have felt like I was bragging or sounding arrogant.

If you can, take a look at the other work as well, and see if it confuses you. I am half tempted to gut the whole thing and post only typography and illustration samples ( passion ). However, my skills are good but I may not be able to consider myself an expert in these disciplines just yet. ( I can do it, but will take lots of time to develop ).

Thanks for your input Thad."


Firstly, you have improved your portfolio hugely. It’s really come a long way since we first talked and I am concerned that you will be tempted to spend all of your time redoing it, instead of creating new projects to improve it further.

The question is more “What do you want to get hired for?” as with a variety of skills on show, any agency will struggle to hire you. They will often have a very specific ‘copywriter’ or ‘web designer’ or ‘graphic designer’ shaped hole open up on their roster and they will look to fill it with someone who fits that role.

When I was looking for work in Advertising Agencies, I settled on Art Director even though I could do web design, print design, write copy etc, because I wanted to be hired for that role. I figured that once I was in, I would have an opportunity to showcase my other skills if the right project came along.

The other issue to consider is timing.

Not all places will have openings and the whole process is complicated with promises, nepotism and office politics. The key is to make a great impact and then stay on their radar so when they job opportunity pops up, they think of you first, before they place a job ad.

To do this you will need to choose a role (copywriter, designer, director) and then streamline your portfolio to show only this type of work so they agency can remember what you do and match it to a vacancy.

Then, make excuses to get back in touch. Initially, this may mean holding back a couple of projects for follow up meetings, but really should mean that you are creating new work regularly and want to show them what you’ve been up to.

The more targeted, the better.

Pick a place you would love to work and create new designs that suit them - for their current clients or in a similar style to what discipline they specialise in (websites, editorial, packaging etc). If they love what you are doing and it is solving problems within their business, all the better.

If there are genuinely no opportunities, you can always ask for referrals and recommendations too, but I would suggest streamlining what you offer simply to help them pigeonhole you and then expand your offering once you’re hired.

Also, don’t worry about claiming to be an expert, just focus on making sure your work speaks for you instead.

Best of luck!


I hope you found this helpful. It's not easy getting hired as there are so many things out of your control, but if you do a few things that you can control well, then you will increase your chances tenfold.

If you're struggling or would like a objective sounding board, please feel free to reach out to me in my Facebook Group - Thaducation. I created it to help others along their creative journey through Q&A, articles and resources. I hope you join, there are some amazing people in there.

Thad Cox2 Comments