How to Prepare for a Portfolio Review

I’ve been to a great many portfolio reviews, both as a reviewee and a reviewer. Having been on both sides of the table, here are some tips I’ve picked up that will make the review process go much smoother for you.

BEFORE THE REVIEW

1) Evaluate your book

Make sure you only have your best work in it: Start with your strongest piece and end with your second strongest. Have different types of work. If you have to, fill out your portfolio by doing some personal projects or making up design briefs for fictitious companies. You want to be able to show your range as a designer. (Here’s some more information on what types of work you should have in your book.) Make sure the presentation of your work is neat. Don’t go overboard making the portfolio itself too fancy – you want your work to stand out and stand on its own. Too many frills are distracting.

2) Think about presentation

Some reviews will have the reviewers rotate; some have the reviewees rotate. Ask ahead of time to find out which one it will be – it will help you decide how you want to display your work. (For example, the AIGA Boston student review has the reviewers rotate, so the reviewees get to stay put.) Do you have 3D pieces? If so, figure out how you want to show them. Do you bring the piece itself or take a photograph? If you bring it, how do you want it to look with the rest of your work? If you’re bringing interactive work or web work, find out if you’ll have access to a power outlet, and if there’s internet access in the space. If not, figure out how you want to display the work (screenshots, etc.). You don’t want to count on things like power and internet, especially if you do mainly digital work. (And don’t forget your power cord! And maybe an extension cord.)

3) Take-Aways

You never know who you’re going to meet, even at a non-job-seeking review. Bring copies of your resume, and perhaps a sample sheet of some of your work. Business cards are also an excellent thing to have, both for during the review and for any pre- and post-review socializing. Make sure you have some sort of presence on the web – it doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should have your basic information (contact info, experience) and samples of your work. Make sure that’s on your resume and business cards. You want to be able to give out something that makes it easy to contact you and easy for the person you give it to to remember you.

4) Plan Ahead

I can say this from years of personal experience: do NOT wait until the night before the review to do all (or even most) of this! You need to sleep, especially if you’re prone to some pre-review nerves. Make sure you have your book, your laptop, your power cord, etc. all set up and ready to go the night before, but put your book together at least a few days prior to that. Get some sleep!

DAY OF THE REVIEW

1) Get there early

This gives you some time to see the space, if you haven’t been there before. (In the case of the AIGA Boston student review, you can use the time to get your nametag, maybe chat with some other reviewers/reviewees, and grab a cookie.)

2) Set up your stuff

3) Take notes

Yes, I know, we all think we can remember stuff, but trust me, it’ll make your life much easier if you take a few notes. Reviewers won’t be offended, and it’ll help you out later if you go back to revise some of your work. Make sure to write down who said what, so you have specific points to follow up on.

4) Ask for contact information from your reviewers

This is more of a post-review activity, but you need to ask for the info while you’re at the review. Ask if they would mind you following up with them after the review, to show them new work or work that you revise afterwards. I’ve never seen a reviewer say no. (If they don’t have business cards on them, just write down their email.)

5) SMILE!

Reviewers don’t bite, we promise!

AFTER THE REVIEW

1) Review your notes

Sometimes I even rewrite mine. You want to be sure you can read whatever you’ve written down during the review. If you wait too long, it’ll just be chicken scratch, so you want to deal with them while everything is still fresh in your mind.

2) Send thank you notes

I always sent a quick email to everyone who reviewed my book to say thank you for taking the time. Reviewers are volunteers, so it’s nice to thank them for it. I also asked if they would mind me sending them work to look at later, after I’d taken some of their suggestions into account and revised my work. However, when I’ve been the reviewER, not one reviewee asked for my email address, and so obviously, no thank you emails. It’s not about playing to the reviewer’s ego, but a matter of common courtesy. Additionally, you may develop connections that are useful later on, either in terms of looking for internships and jobs, or in finding a mentor.

3) Put your portfolio away for a week

Now that you’ve done all of this, give it a rest. Let the comments swim around in the back of your brain for a while. Giving yourself some distance helps you be more objective when you go back: you see your own work more clearly, and it allows you to assess the comments you’ve gotten. Just because you get a critique, it doesn’t mean you have to make those changes, or that you even agree with them, so having time to sort them out lets you decide. You’ve also probably spent a lot of time before the review going over your work, so let it breathe. (Personally, I get review anxiety and decide that I hate everything in my book the night before. So getting through the review is a relief, and then once it’s settled, I can go back objectively.)

4) Go back and revise your work

After you’ve had some down time, and you’ve assessed the notes you’ve gotten, go back and revise the pieces that need it. Do this within a reasonable frame of time (a few weeks), if you’re planning to email your reviewers and ask them to look at new work (which you should be planning to do) – you don’t want to wait so long they don’t remember you.

5) Email your reviewers

Remember those emails you asked for? Now’s the time to use them. Send simple emails, explaining how much you valued their input, and you’ve now had time to revise some of your work, and would they mind taking a second look? It’s also great to add in some detail like “I took into account your comments about the placement of the text in this piece” or similar, to jog their memory about what they might have said. (You can’t count on them remembering EVERYTHING, as they likely reviewed a lot of people that day.) With any luck, you’ll get some emails back, with more comments. This is also a great way to network and build up a relationship, if the reviewer is willing. One can never have too many friends or mentors.

Now go forth and be reviewed! Good luck!