To the Architect or Interior Designer, the portfolio is the expression of their design voice, the visual representation of their past work and a window into their design aesthetic and point of view.  It is also a great way to showcase design work and market design skills to potential employers.

But what do hiring managers want to see in a portfolio?  What grabs their attention and motivates them to call you for a job interview?   This article will give you some ideas you can use to tweak your portfolio into a powerful tool that gets you noticed by the hiring manager.

Hiring managers look at portfolios holistically.

Portfolios tell your story and should have a beginning and an end.  Hiring managers are looking to see if your portfolio tells the story of your professional development.  They are also look for consistency in your presentation.

To tell your story, add quotes from your favorite architect or designer as a way of showcasing your influencers.  It is also appropriate to use quotes from teachers or managers in your portfolio.  A concise and thoughtful quote about your work from a manager can really help you stand out from the crowd.

Another way to make a professional impact and tell an interesting story, and this is the most important, is to be consistent.  Always use the same fonts, boarders and frames throughout your portfolio.   Consistency shows the hiring manager that you are professional, thoughtful and understand how to look at a project holistically.

Hiring managers want to see a range of design skills

When a firm sets out to hire someone they are evaluating how a new employee will work in their organization today and in five years.  To show a hiring manager that you are the right person for the job today and the right person for the firm in five years, you need to show a range of design skills.   Each portfolio should showcase three design elements: hand sketches, design documents and photos of finished projects.

Hand Sketches are important because it shows a hiring manager that you have the ability to quickly draw a concept in the moment.  Often a great hand sketched elevation is what is needed to convince a client that you are the right designer for the job.   It is also a great way to get design concepts across to a client in real time.  Giving the client a glimpse of what a final project might look like could save you from back and forth design changes later.  Even if the majority of your hand sketches are from school or if you want to draw a few concepts for a specific job interview, have hand sketches as part of your portfolio.

Portfolios must also showcase your ability to work with CADD software.  The best way to do this is to have some of your design documents in your portfolio.  I advise against sending complete documents to a hiring manager.  This is information overload and might violate your current company’s proprietary policy.  A more creative way to showcase your skill might be to collage some of your design documents next to pictures of the final projects.

The last thing every portfolio must have is photographs of your finished work.  Most firms have policies that allow architect and designers to request photographs of finished work for portfolios.  Simply check with your manager or Human Resources department to find out how you can acquire photographs for your portfolio.  Most firms will accommodate request even if you are no longer with the firm.  If you do run into difficulties getting photos from your firm simply go and take pictures yourself.

Having photographs of your finished projects show the hiring mangers what your concepts look like in the real world, a key aspect of standing out.

Hiring mangers want to see your personality

Unlike a resume, your portfolio is an expression of your personality as much as it is an expression of your skill set.  This is one of the great advantages of using a portfolio.  One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd and showcase what kind of employee you will be is to let your personality come through your portfolio.

There is really no right or wrong way to personalize your portfolio.  Have fun with it.  Maybe you are influenced by Japanese architecture.  A fun way to infuse your portfolio with your personality might be to draw words that best describe your design in Japanese calligraphy.  Another way might be to hand-draw the boarders of your portfolio or your cover page.  Personalizing your portfolio is only limited by your imagination.

As with anything, these are not hard and fast rules nor are these all that is needed to make a great portfolio.  This is just a small list of things that hiring manager look for as they review portfolios.  The most important thing to remember when developing your portfolio is that it has to excite you.  If you are not happy with your portfolio it is likely that a hiring manager won’t be either.

I would love to hear what designers have in their portfolios that make it stand out.  What other best practices do you hiring managers like to see in a portfolio.  Post your reply here.  Let’s start an interesting discussion.