What You Need to Know About Building a Portfolio: Advice From Missouri State University Associate Professor Colby Jennings

The creation of a portfolio is an important part of a student creator’s preparation for the professional world. A portfolio is a collection of one’s best work that is used to showcase one’s projects, skills, and abilities to prospective employers. One can separate themselves from other applicants by their portfolio and the quality of work it contains.

Colby Jennings, associate professor in the Art Design Department, Animation Program coordinator, co-coordinator of the Electronic Arts Program, and instructor of principle courses in the New Media program at Missouri State University, offered his advice about building a portfolio.

Choose an Appropriate Platform

According to Jennings, many students create their own personal websites, create a YouTube channel, use Vimeo, use Instagram, or use Adobe’s Behance to create and share their portfolios. There are pros and cons to each platform. The platform that works best for you will depend on the type of content and files you are needing to share and what reflects your style best. “The recommendation,” says Jennings, “ would be…to use a platform that’s going to be capable of streaming video quality footage. You don’t want the website that you are using to degrade the footage that you are trying to show somebody because that doesn’t really do a good job of showcasing the work.”

Include Projects You Work on Outside of Classes

Your portfolio can include work from class projects, but it should also include some of your self-driven work. “The class project stuff is meant to build foundations,” remarks Jennings. “It is meant to build fundamentals…but it’s not necessarily meant to always express your unique and individual approach to storytelling or to content creation.” By including works from outside class, you will provide employers with a glimpse into your own individual style and approach.

Include Your Best Work

How do you decide which works to include and which to leave out? It is best to include works that pertain to the specific job you are applying for and that demonstrate your best work. Jennings suggests having a trusted community who will give you honest feedback. He explains that oftentimes when “you spend a lot of time close to a project, it’s sometimes really hard to discern what’s really working and what’s not.” At these times, getting an outside opinion can be helpful in identifying which projects to include in a portfolio.

Example portfolio work by Margaux Stewart.
Example portfolio work by Margaux Stewart.

Provide Context

Jennings suggests including a playlist, or a short description of each work, with your portfolio. The playlist will provide context for the material. Jennings recommends including what you did, if/who you collaborated with, and when in your career or education you created the piece of work, in the description.

Do Research

While building a portfolio, Jennings encourages individuals to conduct research into what other people in the industry are doing. There are many different job opportunities in digital arts and creation, and each job may require slight variations in portfolio contents. Looking at successful portfolios from people with the titles you want can provide you some guidance in how to build your own portfolio.

Also Have a Resume

In addition to having a good portfolio, it is also important to have a resume with your application. Jennings explains that resumes are essential because oftentimes it is the resume that will lead an employer to viewing an applicant’s portfolio. “Especially in the age of LinkedIn, and a lot of applications being done with algorithms now, your resume kind of has to hit certain highlights and certain points to even get past the hiring manager,” explains Jennings. “The portfolio is going to be what gets you the work, [but] the resume sometimes will get you to the point where they’ll view the portfolio.”

What advice can you offer about portfolios? Leave your suggestions in the comments below?

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