How to Maintain a Professional Portfolio

Sarah Steimer
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Key Takeaways

What? Marketers should keep their portfolios updated with valuable and organized work samples.

So what? A hiring company wants to see not only your best work, but how it provided value to the organization.

Now what? Update your portfolio as the work samples arise, but keep the collection organized and well-curated.

​Aug. 24, 2016

In the second half of 2016, 13% of advertising and marketing executives surveyed plan to grow their teams, according to marketing and creative staffing agency The Creative Group. 

“We live in a visual world, so what was traditionally thought of as a portfolio for designers or maybe copywriters is now more and more mainstream for marketing professionals,” says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group. She says portfolios may not always be expected or requested, but it is an opportunity to set a candidate apart from other job seekers. 

Show how you provide value

Domeyer points to a 2011 survey by her company that asked advertising and marketing executives what, in their opinion, was the most common mistake creative professionals make when assembling a portfolio. The top answer (32%) was when work samples failed to show the value that was provided to the company.

“Aside from being able to demonstrate visual samples of your work, make sure that it’s written in a way that clearly articulates what role you played, number one, and number two, what impact did that have?” Domeyer says. “What were the results of the campaign, what were the results of the strategy?”

Work samples that demonstrate value can come in a variety of formats. These can include writing samples, an e-mail marketing campaign as it relates to brand strategy, examples of a brand strategy via different advertising channels, social media examples, event photos and blog posts.

Ben Shank, president of Writing Consultants, provided his insights on writing samples that could be included in marketers’ portfolios. Shank will speak at an AMA event on effective marketing writing in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 20 and 21. Click here for more details and to register.

When selecting writing samples for their portfolios, Shank says marketers should include:

  • Samples that are clear, concise and rich in up-to-date, client-focused value propositions.
  • A range of samples, such as a mass e-mail, a press release and a blog.
  • Enough samples (three to six) to show their depth of understanding.

Marketers should not include samples that sound generic and that would likely fail to grab readers' attention. Play it safe: If a sample sounds dull, don't include it.​

Keep the portfolio updated and organized

Marketers should keep their portfolios updated whether they’re seeking a new position or not, rather than waiting for the job hunt before reviewing their samples.

“It’s the same process as on a résumé,” Domeyer says. “I’ve always advised people—and the same goes for the digital portfolio—to not wait until you’re looking for a job to update it. Because then it becomes a seemingly insurmountable amount of work.”

Domeyer says professionals should add projects to their portfolios that have a significant impact to their organization. “Demonstrate an impact to the organization, capture that and update your portfolio and résumé on the spot,” she say, “It makes it much easier if you do that as you go.”

The second-most common answer to The Creative Group’s survey on portfolio missteps was being unorganized (19%). One answer to that is keeping a clean and concise digital portfolio.

“Most of the portfolios we see are digital,” Domeyer says. “When we say digital, that means having either a website, an online portfolio, or many will do a PDF version of something that they may have created in Adobe—or we even in some cases see PowerPoint.” 

Whatever the digital format, Domeyer says the portfolio needs to be easily sent to the hiring company. She noted a recent example of a portfolio website she saw that was clearly categorized into pages with work samples, a résumé or a bio, and even a contribution section, which describes the impact the work had for an organization.

Be detail-oriented

“I would say, much like you do for your résumé, you have to have a high attention to detail for what you include,” Domeyer says. This goes for including writing samples such as blog posts as well, which can be from either a company website or the marketer’s personal blog.

Aside from checking for grammatical and spelling errors in blog posts included in a portfolio, the posts should also be appropriate to the position a marketer is applying for, Domeyer explains. They can be samples of the best posts and those with the greatest reach. She says there is an expectation and understanding of what blog posts are intended to do; they do not receive the same edits or have more casual language. Even then, she explains, marketers should still be very selective on which pieces or which posts to include in a portfolio. 

“In other words, show your best work,” Domeyer says, adding that it is OK to include posts that are less directly related to the job or are an outside project. “It’s definitely, in some cases, favorable to include them because it shows hiring managers that you’re a self-starter. It shows and illustrates your style, your personality and your passions. It gives a more well-rounded view of you as an individual. Not just in terms of your skill set and your strengths, but your passions and your personality as well.”

Domeyer says The Creative Group’s research also suggests that hiring managers expect to look at six to seven samples of work, and they would prefer to consider six to seven great pieces rather than 20 mediocre ones. 

“Be very selective,” she says. “Go deep to illustrate your contributions and the role that you played, but use it as an example to show your best work, as opposed to your full body of work.”


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Author Bio:

Sarah Steimer
Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.
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