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First Portfolio


If you are a Vis-Com student with your sights set on a career as a graphic designer, at some point, you’ll need to create a portfolio to showcase your skills to potential employers. In this article, we take a look at some basics to help get things moving in the right direction.

First, let’s get this on the table—creating a portfolio can be challenging. So if you are feeling this way, you are certainly not alone. Aside from the high stakes of ‘getting it right’, this task can be difficult because you are curating your own work. This involves critiquing your work honestly—which isn’t easy. Below is a summary of feedback we’ve received from local industry members on the topic of portfolios. We hope it’s of value and gives you some guidance to go forth with confidence:

Showing student work

When applying for a junior role or internship, employers will expect to see some student work in your portfolio—this is fine (…but refer to point 3 below).

Showing real-world work

If you have real-world projects to show, this will add weight to your portfolio —not simply because they are ‘real’, but also because they demonstrate your understanding of the design process (…but refer to point 3 below).

Your portfolio should be ‘quality over quantity’

Here is a simple truth—a large volume of mediocre work is no substitute for good work. Your portfolio should ONLY include your BEST work, which may mean showing only a few projects—so be it, but make these good. Let go of lesser work.

The devil is in the detail

Closely aligned with the above is attention to detail—particularly spelling and grammar. Getting these wrong will often be interpreted as sloppiness. Use a grammar check (such as whenever you write copy—and get someone else to proofread your work.

Passion projects

These are the type of projects you do—just because you can. This can be almost anything—a design solution to a ‘what if’, or perhaps work you have done for charity/not-for-profit. The benefit of including this type of work is that it shows a genuine interest in design, a curious mind, and provides insight into who you are. So, including this type of work can be beneficial—but refer to point 3—it must be good. Where you show this type of work, clearly label this as a passion project (don’t mislead employers into believing it is commercial work).

Apply focus to your portfolio

As you head towards completing your studies—start researching companies you would like to work for. What type of work do they do? Then, try to curate your portfolio to align with this as much as possible.

Showing process

Employers want to know how you arrived at the final outcome, as this provides insight into the way you think and how well you understand the design process. Think about how you might show this (sketches, notes, screenshots). Do some story-telling (but not pages of this). Also, where you show work created in collaboration with others—say this. No one expects you to be able to do everything, so showing you can work in a team is a valuable skill.


When applying for a position—your technical skill and eye for design are only part of the equation. An equally important consideration is ‘fit’. An employer wants to know that you will fit into their team. This largely comes down to personality, so let a bit show through in the tone of your writing and how you present your work. Be you.

Do critiques

One of the best ways to improve and hone your portfolio is to get someone with more experience to critique it. Industry organisations (such as DINZ, Design Assembly, and AGDA) run portfolio nights. Similarly, many educational institutions will host similar events as part of your studies—get organised and get along to these. Try to take feedback on board—if someone suggests changes or to remove something—it’s not personal and does not mean they dislike you or your work.

Formats & technology

There are many ways to create a portfolio. Online services such as Adobe Portfolio/Behance help simplify the technology side—which is great—and can be integrated into your website. But keep in mind that your portfolio’s purpose is showcasing THE WORK. Don’t let the format or technology take over. Allow the work to do most of the talking. Also, consider how you will present your portfolio in an interview situation. Don’t presume the interviewer will provide wifi access—no one wants to sit around your phone looking at your work or waiting for you to troubleshoot network access problems. A couple of solutions are to create a PDF or an old-school printed portfolio (or both).

Social Media

Lastly, make use of social media, if this is your thing, but make sure it is design-specific and separate from your personal account (no one wants to see photos of your last family vacation).

The team at Portfolio Recruitment, wish you every success in kickstarting your design career. Good luck.

GSM would like to thank Annie McCulloch, Consultant @Portfolio Recruitment for her contribution to this article.

Auckland-based Portfolio Recruitment has been providing specialist recruitment services for the creative sector since 2002. If you are looking for your next full-time, part-time, contract or freelance role—or— if you are an employer seeking talent—head to: //

This article was originally published in GSM20. To read this and other great articles purchase this issue here.