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Get Hired With The Perfect Online Student Portfolio

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If you are pursuing a degree in any digital or creative field, it is no longer optional that you have a personal website to show off your best work to potential employers. Thanks to many of the latest advancements in web technology, it’s easy for anyone to make one.

Websites like Behance, Dribbble, Cargo Collective, Carbonmade, and Coroflot let you easily display your work online for free. Instead, the challenge has now become making your website stand out among thousands of others competing for the job you want.

The most crucial (and often overlooked) component of an online student portfolio is the understanding that it exists solely to convince a potential employer that you are the right person for the job and get them to contact you.

This mentality and approach often results in a 1-3 page website where the landing page features your best work in a long, scrollable list or grid. Secondary to that, you’ll often find a supporting about page and contact information.

The New Media Design students over at R.I.T. do a great job at this every year, which has actually resulted in some of the most coveted design agencies seeking them out.

What Potential Employers Look For:

•  Your name
•  What you do
•  The quality of your work (quantity is less important)
•  Who you are (personality, interests, etc)
•  Your process
•  The effectiveness of your solutions
•  Why hiring you will benefit them

This is what ultimately makes for a good online student portfolio because it gives your target audience what they want and that’s all that really matters. However, if you have stiff competition like I did when I attended R.I.T., you might need to get creative with the way you present your work and implement a memorable design to capture the attention of an employer. That said, here are a few more things you can do to get hired with the perfect online student portfolio:

Only Show a Few of Your Best Projects

It’s important that you only show a limited number of your best projects because the people reviewing your work are often very busy and will review many portfolios before finally adding a new member to their team.

The first thing they will do is scan your landing page. If what they see in the first few scrolls/clicks impresses them, they might continue on to review one or two of your projects in more detail, but they probably won’t explore much beyond that unless they are serious about contacting you.

Therefore, design your website in a way that is easy for employers to scan your absolute best work and learn about you as quickly as possible.

Finally, your portfolio is usually only as good as your worst project. People tend to remember the worst project just as much as the best project, so take a step back and choose the work you show wisely. It’s better to show a few great projects than a few great ones and a few mediocre ones, just for the sake of quantity.

Build a Custom Website (If You Can)

It’s becoming less important for students to have their own custom-coded and hosted website because that requires skills many designers and artists don’t have (and aren’t expected to have).

However, if you do have the skills to execute it well, a totally custom website is going to put you a cut above the rest and make you a more desirable candidate.

If you choose to design and code your website yourself, make sure it is just as good or better than a pre-made hosted solution. You only want to build it yourself if you can execute it really well.

Show Your Personality

It’s sometimes difficult to stand out based on your work alone. Not everyone can be the best candidate for the job. Thankfully, employers tend to hire students based on more than just their skills and portfolio.

What’s even better is that most students totally forget about this. An effective way to make a potential employer remember you is by showing off your personality both in your website and in the work you do.

Pick a few companies you would like to work for and research the types of people they hire and the work they do. Then, cater your website towards them as much as possible to let them know that you will fit in with their team. Showing your personality is important because businesses hire people, not their work it is imperative that you be a good fit for their team.

Show How You Think

Another effective way to stand out is to show your process work. This reveals the methodology and thinking that went into the final result. Employers want to know how you got to the solution and will often value this more highly than the final result. If your process work reveals that you can solve problems efficiently and effectively, you’ll have a better chance at getting the job.

Include Personal Projects (If Possible)

Sometimes, you might not be totally happy with all your student work. Sometimes your student work is too similar to your peers and causes you to blend into a sea of forgettable assignments.

As long as the quality is comparable and and the content is relevant, including some personal work in your portfolio can actually be a huge benefit as it will cause you to differentiate yourself from the competition and show that you have initiative outside of the classroom.

Common Mistakes

One of the most common oversights I see in student portfolios is that they focus entirely on the work and not the person who did the work (that’s you). Showing off your work is priority, but don’t neglect to tell them about yourself. After all, they are hiring you and not your work.

Skills can be taught, tweaked, and refined, but personalities and character traits are beyond the control of your employer. If you have great work and a desirable personality, you will usually win out over someone who just has the skills.

Remember that ultimately, your employer will be hiring you to benefit them. If you really want to be memorable and stand out, try showing them why hiring you is going to be good for their business by revealing how you think, how you communicate, and how well you will fit into their culture.

Last updated on April 15th, 2020

About Matt Olpinski
I've been freelancing since 2009 and have worked with over 100+ clients including some of the biggest brands in the world. I later started my own company Matthew’s Design Co. and now teaches 50,000+ freelancers each year how to succeed through his personal blog, newsletter, and community for freelancers.