Ask the Pros: What's the Biggest Mistake You See in Portfolios?

Ask the Pros: What's the Biggest Mistake You See in Portfolios? To help prepare you for the real world, we're introducing this Ask the Pros series to help answer some of your most frequently asked questions about interviewing, job-hunting and working in the world of magazine art and photo departments.

Got a question you want answered? Send it to us at and we'll put it to our experts! A varying panel of 5-8 professionals will give you their take, and then it's up to you to put their advice to work. And if you're a working professional yourself, we'd love to hear your opinion too ... don't hesitate to add it in our comments!

Following up on our recent Portfolio Review event, today we're answering a question of utmost importance that you may not even knew to ask...

QUESTION: What's the biggest mistake you often see in recent graduates' and interns' portfolios?

PRO: Stravinski Pierre - Art Director, Esquire
Don't show too much work from an internship if it's not strong. It's good to know someone has experience, but if the work is too basic or boring, it could take away from the portfolio. It's better to make up a magazine, create a design problem and do something that shows your skills.

PRO: Michael Novak - Art Director, Portland Monthly
Editing is the skill most up-and-comers lack. Don't show sub-par work: even if you only have a few exceptional pieces, the mediocre stuff will drag it down.

PRO: Caitlin Choi - freelance art director
Not enough work or the wrong kind of work. Research the company before your interview so you can show relevant work.

PRO: Krystal Atwater - Associate Photo Editor, Men's Fitness
Biggest mistakes that I see in intern/recent graduate portfolios is that they are not catered to the viewer and that they are not edited to the best work and strongest genre. There shouldn't be images of portraits, food, sports, children, etc. all in the same portfolio.

PRO: Ronda Thompson - freelance tablet designer
A few of the biggest mistakes I've seen in new or aspiring designers' portfolios is having random printouts on cheap paper versus crisp finished pieces, or neglecting to have a resume at either the beginning or end of the portfolio, and a lack of personality. A portfolio is more than just a black book with a bunch of random pieces of work in it, it's a package.

PRO: Isabel Abdai - Art Director, Woman's Day
Bad spelling always detracts from an otherwise good portfolio. Spell check is your friend, but you may want to have an actual friend look it over too!

PRO: Anthony Clarke - freelance tablet designer
I think mistakes most graduates make is that they put in portfolio work they are not confident in. Most employers always ask about that piece you never liked. When you have nothing good to say about it, the employer will question your judgement on why you placed it. I also think graduates make the mistake of not showing their work in a 360-degree manner. All their designs should be reflected in print, apps, and websites.

And check out some similar advice from Fast Company's Alice Alves and The New York Times' Gail Bichler from our Grids blog.

If you have some advice to add, please share it in our comments! And if you have questions you want answered, email us at
blog comments powered by Disqus