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Making a Stand-Out Student Design Portfolio

In designing your online student portfolio, there is no “one size fits all” approach to success. As a Senior Creative Recruiter at Squarespace, I know firsthand that a smart, strategic, and beautiful portfolio can land the job and kickstart a career for new graduates. Recruiters assess many aspects of what you can offer as an artist and creative thinker—not just the work itself. A portfolio should reflect your personal story, including a holistic narrative of who you are as a design student, and the skills you’ve picked up along the way. 

Creating a portfolio for potential employers can be daunting when you’re in the early stages of your career seeking an entry-level design job. Here are five key considerations in creating a stand-out student portfolio to launch your career.

Remember that less is always more

Your first instinct may be to squeeze every design and every piece of artwork you've created onto a portfolio site. But in the eyes of a recruiter, less is more and context is key. A smaller set of clearly executed and thoughtfully created work can make a bigger impact than a vast collection of projects that may be less polished or less reflective of who you are. After all, when a recruiter lands on your online portfolio, they want to learn more about you. What projects are you most passionate about? What creative and technical skills have you picked up in your academic career? Including a short summary about yourself and your artistic work can help answer these questions.

Recruiters also love to see thoughtful and innovative deliverables for a brand that may be lesser known, rather than less-than-average work for a flashy name. If you don’t have professional experience working at a brand, that’s okay, too. You can start simple:

What’s a hiccup in a product that can be solved through design?

Can you create a campaign or help brand development for a local small business?

Apply design-centered thinking

Use your site as a vehicle of artistic expression. A design-centered approach speaks volumes to a recruiter, so think of your portfolio as a piece of art in and of itself.

When it comes to selecting individual projects, showcase the ones you’re most proud of. Each project should tell a narrative that exemplifies your skillset, experience, and background. The design of your portfolio and project selection should help the viewer easily see your full artistic capacity and the skills you bring to the table.

Show your process, especially if it’s messy

Share the obstacles, roadblocks, and mental hurdles that you overcame on a design project you’re showcasing on your site. This helps the hiring employer understand your unique creative process. As a rule of thumb, visitors to your online portfolio should feel like they’re coming along on a journey, rather than stopping and staring at a destination.

Providing context for your designs strengthens the work and allows recruiters to see how your designed concept may be used by real people. 

Include collaborations

It’s okay to jazz up your portfolio with work that wasn’t a solo project. Collaboration with others shows teamwork and communication, which are important and necessary skills. If you’ve partaken in any internships in your academic career, include those on your site as well. We want to see the breadth and depth of your work.

Share who you are outside of your art

Who are you in the 5-9, not the 9-5? 

It’s always a plus for recruiters to see students who can offer more than just their honed professional skills. Savvy recruiters want to know who you are outside of your work. Your online portfolio is the perfect place for you to exhibit your side hustles and let your individuality shine through. Do you weld stained glass in your free time? Do you design podcast covers? All your creative facets are assets, because at the end of the day, recruiters hire the person—not the design skill.

Read more tips on organizing and showcasing your design work online, and get inspired by the changemakers, innovators, and creators of the Class of 2020.

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