Today's job seekers submit applications online. Your resume, cover letter, and work samples are all sent digitally. But, should you always follow suit?
On one hand, this is extremely convenient. You click once, and your file lands right in the hiring manager's inbox. The problem is, it's landing there alongside all the files from the dozens of other candidates who are applying for the exact same position as you.
The job market is as competitive as ever; you have to stand out from the long line of candidates if you want a shot at your dream job. Instead of getting shuffled to the back of the pack, you can cut to the front of the line with one simple move: mail a physical copy of your portfolio to the hiring manager.
1. Think of the risks and rewards
Before submitting your portfolio, understand the pros and cons of doing so. Designing a professional portfolio takes a lot of time and can be expensive to print since it requires thick paper as well as stock and colour ink. If you're going to put in all that work, you should know what you stand to gain from it.
One benefit is that a portfolio is tangible. It provides physical proof of your skills and gives the interviewer a real life reminder of you. Although some hiring managers may perceive this as too forward, most will appreciate your initiative and confidence.
Having a printed portfolio also helps them prepare specific interview questions about your work. Since you have intimate knowledge of your portfolio, this gives you a significant advantage in steering the interview.
You can even use your hard copy portfolio to complement an online version. A portfolio website provides an interactive element, while the printed one showcases pieces you didn't put online. This lets you retain some privacy in your work, and it makes the interviewer feel like the printed portfolio is exclusive—like you created it just for them.
2. Consider important factors
Before you decide to mail a printed portfolio, you should weigh more than just the pros and cons. You'll also want to think of what's best in your specific circumstances because every job interview is different. Here are 5 things to think about:
Know the industry standards
Although a company uses an online job application, its industry may still prefer paper. Creative industries—such as advertising, illustration, or graphic design—especially love printed portfolios. But portfolios aren't just for creatives. They also work well if you rely on charts, graphs, spreadsheets, blueprints, or other diagrams at work.
Know the hiring manager
The majority of jobs are landed through networking, so there's a good chance you know someone at the company you're applying to. You may even know the hiring manager directly. If so, learn as much as you can about what the company prefers. Talk to your contact, so you can cater your portfolio to the position you're applying for.
Know the interview space
You may expect to present an online portfolio, only to find yourself in an interview room with no internet access or computer. With a hard copy, you don't have to worry about technical difficulties. You can even adjust your presentation based on the space you're in. A larger room may allow you to set up an easel, while a small one creates a cosier environment.
Know your work
How you showcase your work depends on your career. If you're a print designer, then, of course, a printed portfolio is the best way to go. But even if your job is more web-related, you can still incorporate a printed portfolio. Showcase most of your work online, then print out a slimmed down portfolio to accentuate the most important parts.
Know the interview process
Some career sites will tell you how many other people have applied for a job, so you can get a feel for what you're up against. Going the extra mile to send a hard copy portfolio is a great idea if the interview situation is extremely competitive.
3. Choose what to include
Portfolios are complex creatures; they have a lot of parts that need to work together to create a consistent product. It's easy to get frustrated trying to pick the perfect pieces. The good news is, you can easily structure your portfolio by sorting its contents into manageable categories. Then, just use a checklist to make everything's present. Here's a basic rundown of what to include in your portfolio:
Your portfolio should help the interviewer get to know both your work and your personality. Take your time to come up with a design that balances your personal tastes and professionalism. Consider including a personal logo or tagline to set yourself apart. You can even add a short bio and photo.
Title page and table of contents
Portfolios can be pretty large, so give the hiring manager some guidance as to how you've organised your work. The title page is also a good place to include current contact information so that the hiring manager can reach you before or after the interview.
Special skills, certifications and awards
Let's say you're applying for a graphic design position. Your college sports championship probably doesn't matter, but the time you won a design contest is definitely something to mention. The key is to choose information that's relevant to the job.
Your resume acts as a brief introduction to your samples. It's a great way to give the hiring manager an overview of the roles you've held before they actually start seeing what you accomplished while in those positions.
This is where you get into the nitty gritty of your portfolio. You'll want to include a variety of projects to showcase different skills. Then, provide some context for each project. That can be a paragraph summary, or you can keep it simple with just the date and the name of the company for which you did the work. If you don't write a full explanation of the project, be prepared to verbally explain your processes when you present your portfolio.
Your education plays a huge role in landing a job, so telling the interviewer a little about your degree and educational background is a good idea. You should point out specific classes or credentials that are especially relevant to the job. Continuing education is also a huge perk, so mention courses you've taken recently even if you haven't earned a degree in them.
Volunteer and personal interests
This information helps the interviewer get to know who you are outside of work. It shows that you're active in the community and a well-rounded individual. That said, don't talk about mundane hobbies or old volunteer experiences. Choose something that's interesting and current.
4. Organise your portfolio
You've gathered everything you need to include. Now you need to know how to organise your portfolio. There are a few things you'll want to take into consideration when you start sorting through all the various pieces.
Stapling a bunch of pages together doesn't count as a portfolio. To look truly professional, put your samples in a three-ring binder with categorised tabs so you can sort through your work quickly. Custom portfolio envelopes are another great option. They're specially designed to accommodate varying portfolio sizes, and they secure your portfolio contents without punching holes in them like binder rings do.
While it's tempting to include every project you've worked on, you're not out to write the next great novel. Besides, you don't want to pay for shipping on a portfolio that weighs ten pounds. Limit yourself to 10 or 15 pages. This gives you plenty of space to showcase your work, without overwhelming the interviewer.
It's okay to personalise with design and colour, but that doesn't mean you can let your writing run amok. Your portfolio should use a recognised writing and formatting style to demonstrate that you're a professional, detail-oriented person. While you're at it, check for spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and typos.
You'll typically put the title page, table of contents, and resume at the beginning to introduce the rest of your work. But then what? The order of a portfolio varies between industries, so research the standards for your career. A few common ways to organize your samples are:
- Chronological – This ordering from earliest to latest lets the hiring manager see the progression of your work over a period of time.
- Type – Sorting projects by type will showcase your skills in specific areas.
- Quality – You may order projects based on which ones you think are best, which opens the door for a conversation about how you evaluate your own work.
- Company preference – Some companies do provide guidelines for submitting a portfolio, so make sure you've adhered to their rules.
With job interviews growing increasingly competitive, it's important to go the extra mile to stand out from other candidates. Mailing a printed copy of your portfolio is a great way to take initiative, showcase your work, and give the interviewer tangible proof of your skills. With a properly organised portfolio, you'll be well on your way to landing your dream job.
Have you ever used a printed portfolio to land a job? Was it effective? Let us know in the comments section below...