Presentation: Spend some money on your portfolio packaging so that the person looking at your portfolio gets excited about what they might find inside. Corban & Blair are the 'go to' people for quality. While vertical flip-over portfolios were the rage with the Diploma students, it takes a lot more physical effort for a person to look through them than with a flat book-style portfolio.
Put your name on it: I am still flabbergasted at the number of portfolios I saw that did not contain the name of the person who put it together. Sometimes it was there, but illegible. If you are going to have typographical fun with your name, make sure that the Average Joe can read it. Don't make people puzzle about whether your 'k' is an 'r' or an 'ry' or a 'k'. One person had a trade name, and an unrelated email address and never provided an actual first name and surname.
Put your contact information in it: I saw plenty of wonderful portfolios with a name emblazoned on the first page and absolutely no contact information anywhere else in the portfolio. This was distressingly not a rare problem; at least 80% of the portfolios lacked any basic contact information at all. Contact information was the first thing I looked for, if it wasn't there, then I didn't do much more than glance through the portfolio. I wanted to know that if I got excited about this person's work, I could get in touch with them. Having your business cards available separately is not enough. What happens if you misplace your portfolio? Don't make it hard for someone to track you down in order to return it to you. The easier you make it for people to contact you, the more contact options you give them, the more likely it is that they will. So provide more than just your website address.
Provide a professional email address: It might have been cool at school to have a nickname based email address, (eg wicked1, gloomyB, terminator3) but it is a turn off for a potential employer. So set up a new email address for your working life, that at minimum contains your surname and start using it.
Put your location in it: Be general eg The Hills District, the Northern Beaches or be specific eg Hornsby Heights, Artarmon - but give the viewer of your portfolio this crucial piece of information. If I want to hire someone to do a brochure or branding work for me, I know that the further away geographically from me they are the more complications the project is going to have. The more exceptional your work is, the more geographical distance I am willing to work with. Everyone seems to love gmail addresses these days, but they don't even give a clue about which country you live in!
Put your photo in it: Often these portfolio exhibitions are accompanied by social interaction. If you put a photo of yourself in your portfolio you increase the likelihood of someone at the event coming up and talking to you about your work. You do want to make personal connections that may lead to jobs and projects in the future, don't you? Having a photograph says that you are proud of your work and builds brand recognition for you. This photo will also help your viewer find the right you on social networking platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc).
Say Hello: Your front page gives context to your work, so tell your portfolio viewer who you are, tell them what you can uniquely do, give them some 'back story'. It is your primary sales page, and it is supposed to get your viewer excited about turning the next page. Sure, a blank page with your name in bold black lettering makes a statement. However, a page with a name, photo, a two paragraph bio and a paragraph about what aspects of graphic design you love most (Are you a typography nerd, a branding queen, a packaging protégé ? tell them!) is far more likely to land you a paid project or an actual job.
Be tech savvy: Just about everyone likely to look at your portfolio is going to have a mobile device with them. Once you've seen more than 2 portfolios it is going to be hard to remember what you really liked in Portfolio number 4 when the event ends, and even less likely 2 weeks later. So you're going to whip out your phone or iPad and take a photo. Then you get home and find out that there is absolutely nothing on the page you photographed to remind you whose portfolio it was. 'Arrghh' for your viewer and a major missed opportunity for you. So make sure you have your name and a piece of contact information on each and every page of your portfolio.
Give your reader some context: Time and time again I saw eye catching portfolio pages that lacked any text whatever. What was this piece for? What part of it should I get excited about? It doesn't have to be much. 2 or 3 sentences that are easy to read from a distance of a metre away (average length between viewer's eyeballs and your portfolio page) and that tell your viewer what the brief was – are all that you need. You do want to wow your viewer with your skill in fulfilling the briefs you have been given, don’t you? A potential employer definitely wants to know you can do that. But go easy on the jargon and explain your work in terms a non-graphic designer can understand.
Show some process: Make sure that you have at least one page or a two page spread that shows a few steps between getting the brief and the final art. They could include an initial thumbnail sketch, a mind map, an early concept, a half completed project, and then the finished work. No one will ever appreciate how much work went into a project unless you actually show them. You can be sure that those who do show some design process are going to get paid more than those who don't. A potential employer also needs to know that the messy thumbnail sketches you show him at the beginning of a project will result in something wow-inducing at the end of the project.
Choose your content: It stands to reason that you put only your very best work into your portfolio. But if one of your projects was designing your own business forms and stationery, do not under any circumstances include it in your portfolio. By all means, show off and business forms and stationery you have done for a client. It is very bad taste to show your own. Why? Firstly it sends the message that you didn't have enough client initiated work to put in your portfolio. Secondly it sends the message that you are too focussed on yourself and not on your clients. Too many of the portfolios I saw made this mistake. Don't do it.
Get a proof reader: You are too close to your own work. Someone with fresh eyes will spot the spelling mistake, the grammatical error, and anything that doesn't visually 'work' much quicker than you can. Should English not be your native language, get two proof readers. I saw a very fine portfolio that was graphically very good, but grammatically very poor – it was enough to make you weep. It had hyphenated text, inconsistent capitalisation, grammar errors and more. Sadly it wasn't the only portfolio with errors like that. Potential employers want to know that you are on top of details like that.
Say Goodbye: A good portfolio has a beginning, a middle and an end. Far too many of the portfolios I saw did not have an end page. No one likes to read a story that doesn't have a conclusion. A good ending leaves you wanting more; a bad ending or a non-ending spoils the impression of the whole portfolio. Obviously you need to re-state, in an interesting way, who you are, how to contact you, and perhaps what your dreams for the future are. This is where you could get creative in showing off your online real estate – with screen shots from YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc; and your ABN number (or equivalent) if you have one.
Yes, I have more tips on Portfolio preparation. But that's enough to chew on for now.
If you ever need an independent proof reader, get in touch with me via the contact page, and then send me via email a compressed PDF of your work-in-progress. I'll send feedback back.