People can say “don’t judge a book by its cover” as much as they want, but that phrase will never apply to the job market. Appearance is everything and an interview is essentially a judgement day, so applicants want to be sure their portfolios are as refined as possible. AAF Buffalo hosted a Portfolio Seminar virtual this year, with three speakers to provide insight to college design students on how to best prepare for entering the job market.

Maggie Blaisdell AAF Buffalo 2019 Portfolio Winner and a Graphic Designer at RIT; Noah Herman a Graphic Designer at Gelia; and Dave Riley, Creative Director at The Martin Group sat on the panel for this year’s Seminar. AAF Buffalo’s Board Member Cody Andres, Graphic Designer at The Martin Group hosted the event, sharing his own insight, as well, during the Q&A session.

Maggie Blaisdell, 2019 Portfolio Winner; Graphic Designer at RIT
Blaisdell began the Seminar, focusing on the best formatting of a portfolio and suggesting the best pieces to highlight in an interview, estimating around 6-10 of the applicant’s best examples of work. Adding variety to these pieces is best, selecting examples from different genres to reflect the range of skills.

To further reflect skill level, highlighting just a couple of these pieces to show the timeline and the progression will portray brainstorming and creativity, workflow and the skills in each step; such as illustration and sketching, problem solving, etc. When doing a storytelling approach on a piece, it is important to not show every step, but rather just a few of the checkpoints that reflect key skills. Furthermore, showing the finished product first before going into the steps to reach completion is crucial; that way, the applicant can be sure the interviewer(s) will see the finished product.

Noah Herman, Graphic Designer at Gelia
Herman encourages students to have their work speak for itself. He reminds students to embrace white space and to avoid their designs being influenced by surrounding noise. Their pieces can be a reflection of not only their skill levels, but also their creativity and personality.
“Don’t live on a static definition of yourself,” Herman said during his session.

In order to be as efficient as possible, he recommends students updating their portfolios periodically to avoid it being a bigger task leading up to an interview. For students to truly make a memorable impression, he suggests paying for the domain for their portfolio to avoid the added text in the URL, and to go into each interview with enthusiasm and confidence, as that will shine through in their work, as well.

Dave Riley, Creative Director at The Martin Group
In addition to showcasing a collection of design pieces, Riley says to list two to three references on a resume with their portfolio. He also suggests for a cover letter to reflect as much personality as the design pieces themselves. The letter is an outlet to showcase an individual’s brand.

Students should do interview prep leading up to their appointment time, including a list of questions, printing out copies of the cover letter, resume and pieces of the portfolio. He believes self-promotion pieces are equally as important, as well; showcasing the designer’s creativity, individuality, and complete skill set. Brand is important as an individual when it comes to design work.

Key Takeaways:

  • Include 6-10 pieces in portfolio, with a select few showcasing the design process
  • Add 2-3 professional references in the resume
  • Prioritize the cover letter as much as the portfolio to reflect your brand
  • Buy the domain for chosen portfolio site
  • Be confident, enthusiastic, and most importantly, yourself.

Be sure to check in with AAF Buffalo in the spring for the Portfolio Review, the second part of the design portfolio series.