Ask Ken: April 2010

Dear Ken,
Do you have any advice for students looking to conduct some informational interviews and portfolio reviews? What do art directors and firm owners look for when looking at work and is there a preferred standardized way to show work? I’ve seen everything from large fancy linen cases to your black book sleeve inserts to a few samples and a CD and was curious as to what is the preferred way to show and present work within a one-on-one context.
Portfolio Jim

Jim, This is easy enough question but the answer is anything but simple. While informational interviews and portfolio reviews are less formal than the actual job seeking versions (for employment), I would tread lightly on treating them different. You need to be very serious about your questions, answers and the presentation of yourself and your work. This may not be a job interview but it could become a future employer some time down the road or if nothing else a network contact if they like what they see. Unlike a employment interview you can be a little more casual and candid (while still professional/respectful) and you can generally expect the same from the firm rep/owner, let’s face it the usual pressure is off. You are seeking help and feedback and they are checking out the up and coming talent and lending a hand to future industry creatives. Before the interview I would think about;

  • What it is you want to do (print, web, interactive, illustration, photography, all of the above, etc.)?
  • Where do you want to work (design firm, agency, marketing firm, in-house, etc.)?
  • What kind of work do you like to do (probably a good direction to start)?
  • Where do you want to eventually get to later in your career (title, firm, type of work, etc.)?

Additionally, if you know in advance who you are interviewing with, study up on who they are so you can ask specific questions based on their experience in the industry. This is beneficial for two reasons. The first reason is so that you don’t ask questions of an interviewer that has little experience/interest in an area. Second, it shows respect and forethought that you took the time to look them up and cater your questions specific to the individual and there history.

Regarding your portfolio review, the best advice anyone gave me was “When in doubt, leave it out”, meaning if you question the piece don’t put it in your portfolio. Generally speaking only your best work should go into your portfolio, and if that means you only have five pieces than you only have five. Portfolio presentation and the delivery vehicle/media, in my opinion, is subjective and open to your style, personality and skill set. Regardless of the media you choose, make it a nice presentation (clean, neat, intelligent). Your presentation skills show almost as much as the pieces themselves, it is our job to pay attention to the details.

On the vehicle/media, the expectation is different depending on what career you are seeking. If you are seeking employment as a print production artist or junior designer than you can probably do OK with a printed portfolio. If you added a web based portfolio to your print (and it was also well done) that would be an added plus. Conversely, if you were trying to get a job as a web designer you may decide that you want a print portfolio as well but you had better have a good web-based portfolio. The same goes for a Flash designer, a 3D artists, etc., employers want to see what you can do and how well you can do it. Lastly, real world samples/pieces are better than school work. Show them real work you have done for real clients. If you haven’t done any real world projects try to find some to get some experience under your belt.

There are lots of good references out there on building your portfolio (,, just to name a few) but experience is always the best teacher. Figure out where you want to go, what you want o do and the rest becomes a whole lot easier to answer.

Also be sure to check out the AIGA Student Portfolio Review coming up this Friday. To learn more and register check out the post here.

Thanks for the question and good luck,


By John Luu
Published April 19, 2010
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