redo-your-book-revamp-your-careerIf you’re looking for a position at a better agency and getting nowhere, it is quite likely your portfolio is the reason. Even the most polished portfolios suffer from similitude. You may have very nice solutions that fall into the norm.

If you want a portfolio that can separate you from the crowd, answer these questions and apply what you learn appropriately.

1. Are you letting the real world describe the real you?

If you work at a mediocre agency, chances are the opportunities there are also mediocre. Don’t fool yourself into thinking someone will see your potential from that work and give you a break. Give yourself assignments. Use every free moment to improve your work because the only way to show potential is to prove you have it.

2. Have you asked for a “hard” critique?

Pick a few people whose work you respect. Humbly submit your work for a critical review. You’ll see certain flaws in your work repetitively pointed out if you get enough of these critiques. Kill or overhaul the work in question, and repeat until the book is free of deep flaws.

3. Does your work solve tough problems?

Award-winning work in your portfolio is important. But if it’s all for tattoo parlors and the like, you’re not showing you can do great work in the real world. If you have stellar examples of work for difficult client categories, you will definitely separate yourself from the pack.

4. Are you putting work in your book to show “experience”?

An average entry makes the whole book average. And great agencies don’t hire people with average books. Cut the average work and take your chances. If that means you only have a couple of spots on your reel, so be it. The discriminating agency will appreciate your standards more than seeing your vast — but less than impressive — “experience.”

5. When was the last time you put something new in your book?

I think an aggressive yet doable goal is to replace your portfolio completely every two to three years. Don’t hang onto old “award winners.” Do new award winners. Don’t love your work. Love the work you’re going to do.

6. Did you give up on your dream too soon?

I heard John Boone, co-founder of Boone Oakley and most recently Guns & Kittens, give a talk about the 10 years it took him to land a job at The Martin Agency. He read a stack of rejection letters he had gotten from the agency over those years. In spite of the rejection, John kept trying. Those rejection letters tell a great story. The agency evolved from being pretty uninterested to encouraging and finally urging John to keep trying. In the course of trying to get into The Martin Agency, John created a classic spot for Nissan 300ZX that is deemed one of the best this industry has produced. Remember the Barbie/GI Joe spot? This was before he got hired to the agency of his dreams.

Originally published Jan 22, 2013 12:00:59 AM, updated December 02 2014