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How to Create a Mini-Portfolio

Cut through the noise and get the attention of hiring managers and others in the creative fields you want.

Learn how to create a job-winning mini-portfolio that cuts through the noise and gets the attention of hiring managers and others in the creative fields you want.

Let's start with a basic question. What is a mini-portfolio?

A mini-portfolio is like a teaser-trailer for your resume and/or portfolio. It's purpose is to be quick, effective, and inexpensive to produce and send out. A mini-portfolio isn't meant to show every project or skill you have; just one or two that spark the interest of the person reading it. It then helps to move the reader down the "funnel" to hopefully get you and interview and the job of your dreams.

Credit: Diogo Ferreira
Credit: Diogo Ferreira

Our Goals for this Article

  1. We are going to learn the purpose of a mini-portfolio why it's a good way to pursue a new creative job.
  2. You'll learn about focusing your mini-portfolio to appeal to your potential new job.
  3. We'll study effective design that communicates your goal
  4. We'll look at examples of other designer's mini-portfolios
  5. You'll create your own mini-portfolio in a final assignment.

A mini-portfolio is like a trailer...

Think of your favorite movie.

Chances are you saw the trailer for this movie months before you ever set foot in the theater to watch the real thing. Maybe you even watched more than one trailer and re-watched it again and again to catch any clues of the plot.

If a portfolio is a trailer for the incredible work you do, then the mini-portfolio is a 15-second teaser trailer. It's almost a trailer for the trailer. It's action packed and its only purpose is to be a quick and engaging hook for you to watch the full trailer and the movie itself.

A mini-portfolio is a teaser trailer as you seek your dream job.

It cuts through the noise and stirs curiosity in the reader to encourage them to reach out to you for more information.

The goal of a mini-portfolio is to whet the appetite of a future employer and encourage them to reach out to you for your resume/portfolio or setup an interview. A mini-portfolio is not a replacement for your actual portfolio, it is simply a focused, perhaps clever, and less expensive version that you can send to important people.

Cora Hillebrand
Credit: Cora Hillebrand

What goes into a mini-portfolio?

1-2 examples of your best work

Show only the best of the best, if you're trying to attract attention,

Your Contact information

This should be obvious. The mini-portfolio should include your name and email at a minimum. You may include other contact points if appropriate: website, phone number, and social media. Don't overwhelm the reader by giving them too many options, make it clear which path you want them to follow by limiting the information.

Awards or Certifications (Optional)

Are you an award winning artist? Do you have a special license? Put this information beneath your name and contact information. Make sure to keep it minimal and realistic.

Mini-portfolio DesignClass

Is that really it?

Yup... Remember, this is about target outreach. You do not need to put your full resume. If you print on two sides, you can put another piece of work or your contact information in larger font.

Reflection Question

  • What is one piece of work I have that can immediately go into my mini-portfolio?

A mini-portfolio is the top of the funnel

A funnel is a marketing term that summarizes the journey from the first interaction to the final goal. In most cases this deals with how to get sales but for our purpose, it describes the steps behind getting an interview. Starting at the top, each person that looks at your mini-portfolio enters the funnel.

The goal is to get that person to the next stage and down to setting up an interview with you. Obviously, people will drop off at each stage but this shouldn't discourage you, it's simply part of the game. As you can see from the graphic below, you may have different steps in your funnel, there is no rule that says you have to do the same thing every time.

Steps to your funnel

  1. Read Mini-Portfolio
    Start with the obvious. You want the reader to understand what they are looking at and what skills you can bring to the team. They also must know how to contact you if they are interested. Don't make them search for this info, put it front and center.
  2. Visit your website
    If you direct them to your website, make sure the aesthetics and focus match the mini-portfolio. You could even direct them to a special landing page if you want to get a specific message across. Also, make sure they can contact you easily.
  3. Email you for more information
    If you want them to email you, make your email easy and obvious! We suggest staying away from Yahoo and Hotmail emails. Use Gmail or better yet, a custom one from your website domain.
  4. Find you on social media
    Directing a potential employer to your social media is risky but can have a huge impact on your getting a job. Make sure your social media is clean and consider checking your privacy settings for who can see what. If you decide to send them to one of your accounts, make sure the work and tone matches your mini-portfolio. A well curated Instagram can act as your portfolio to the world.
    Make sure it is easy to message/contact you on the account.
    Tip 2: Only share one account or share it alongside your website URL.
  5. Call you
    While calling may seem outdated, the reality is that their is still no faster way to get business done. If you have great work and match what they are looking for, they will call you. You can put your cell right on the mini-portfolio if you want to go this direct route.
    Make sure your voicemail is professional and clearly says your name. No college gags.
    Tip 2: You can put your phone number alongside your website URL.

Reflection Question

  1. What funnel process do I want my mini-portfolio to pursue?

Take inventory of your best work and skills

Target Strategy

You may have 3-4 different mini-portfolios geared towards different firms, industries, or even individual people. When you are analyzing the best assets you have, tag which are better for different scenarios.

How do I know what work I should include?

  1. Look at your target's website
    A firm's website will say a lot about the work they are typically hired to do. Some firms focus on competitions and experimental work. Other firms may focus almost exclusively on educational work. For example, sending your design for a skyscraper to a firm that only designs houses may not communicate the most effective message.
  2. Consider their size and location
    Firms have different personalities depending on where they are. Firms in rural areas may not do glossy renderings that often; they may build models or simulate a hand-drawn style. Consider what balance you can strike between fitting into a firm and presenting yourself as a spark of new energy.
  3. Consider their needs
    Everyone wants to put cool renderings or images on the front of their mini-portfolio. But their may be times when this isn't the best approach. They may need people that are excellent at construction details or good at public speaking. If you can communicate some of these important, non-design, skills to a firm in need, than you are ahead of the game.

Reflection Questions

  1. What is one project that demonstrates my best work?
  2. How might I make this project eye catching to my dream job?

Design Tips

Remember your goal

If your goal is to have the reader see your mini-portfolio and visit your website, make sure it has the information they need to do that! Celebrate the work but make sure they know who made it.

Michael William Lester
Credit: Michael William Lester

Make it personal

This is the time to get someone's attention. One way you can do this is by throwing in some personality! Play around with different fonts, colors, perhaps even sizes.

Michael William Lester
Credit: Michael William Lester

Make it quick

Your mini-portfolio should be just that, mini. Don't have it compete with your actual portfolio or your resume. It should spark interest. Michael William Lester took this to the extreme with his "smallest portfolio in the world". While this approach will not work for every creative profession, it does succeed in making you curious about what's inside.

Consider the cost

Keep in mind you may have to send out a dozen or more mini-portfolios to get some responses. Creating a complex, multi-fold design with fancy German paper may sound cool but after you've made 20 of them, you'll most likely find it wasn't worth the cost. Remember the funnel. The mini-portfolio is just designed to spark interest. You can show off your mad crazy craft skills with the real portfolio.

Reflection Questions

  1. What approach might work best for me and the firms I want to work for?
  2. What can I do to make my mini-portfolio stand out?

Let's analyze some examples.

Mikaël Thiolet

Individual cards highlight a specific skill and related work by this designer. This cards can be sent as a package or given individually depending on the circumstance. This approach is minimal and straightforward; it may not grab the attention enough but it really depends on the aesthetic of the person/firm you are sending it too.

Mikaël Thiolet
Credit: Mikaël Thiolet

Credit: Mikaël Thiolet

Rebecca Liggins

An accordion mini-portfolio highlights 4 of her best pieces of work. The design is clever and may catch the attention of the reader. It does seem a little hard to construct and possible expensive to print. However, it may be worth the effort to have a unique design.

Credit: Rebecca Liggins
Credit: Rebecca Liggins

El Bello Indiferente

This unfolding design reveals more of the designer's work slowly and in small doses. Use caution when designing something like this. The format is borderline annoying as the reader may not be sure how to unfold it or refold it again. Also, the small images don't necessarily tell the story behind the work.

Credit: El Bello Indiferente
Credit: El Bello Indiferente
Credit: El Bello Indiferente

Reflection Questions

  1. What other mini-portfolio designs do I find compelling?

Getting your hands dirty

Now that you know what a mini-portfolio is, let's talk about how you will get this into the hands of potential employers. The internet is the best way to reach out future employers quickly and effectively, however, don't underestimate the power of one-on-one connections. Yes, you read that right. The physical work of reaching out to individuals will almost always outperform unsolicited emails or messages to generic job boards.

In the Covid-era, going in person to an office may not be possible. However, the principle of "showing up" still stands. Instead of just sending your resume and website to a job positing, find a specific person in the firm and pursue them. This person should be a decision maker who could be your direct manager in the future. The goal is to have this person become your advocate to the hiring managers, partners, or other decisions makers. Move beyond the email to the firm's general email and go the personal route.

This strategy is especially effective in creative fields because of the importance of good collaboration and synergy between a team. If you can present yourself as an essential and dynamic addition to that person's team, you're ahead of the game.

Strategies for Reaching Out

Prior to the Covid-era, one way to truly set yourself apart was to physically visit the office of the firm in person and hand deliver your mini-portfolio and resume. It took boldness but was one of the fastest ways to be considered for a position. This may still be a good tactic in the near future but for now you can use a blended approach.

  1. Find your "target" on LinkedIn or other professional/creative platform
  2. Analyze what type of work they do; their projects and focus areas. The goal is to understand their responsibilities.
  3. Spend some time thinking about how you could help them in their work. Remember, they want talented team members. Your job is to figure out how to present your skills as a solution to their need.
  4. Message them on LinkedIn or other platforms. Don't ask for a job right away. Ask them if they would be willing to look at your portfolio. You want them to discover that your work is a perfect fit for their team.
  5. Send them your mini-portfolio. If you decide to mail your mini-portfolio, address it to your specific target person. You want it to land on their desk, not the secretary's.
  6. Call your target directly, your only goal should be to setup a better time to talk with them or ask them if you can send them your portfolio. This will most likely catch them off guard but it will cut through the noise and get you your answer right away.
Cost Signaling Theory

Cost Signaling Theory

In theory, it is possible to send the perfect message in an email. It can be well-written, dynamic, and influential. We also know that sometimes this makes no difference. It can be difficult to signal seriousness via email because the cost of delivery is so negligible. This gets even worse when the message is perceived as generic.

However, by putting yourself through the stomach-wrenching ordeal of walking into an office, or calling someone on the phone, or sending them a personalized video, and daring to being seen as a real person, you can signal that you really care. The person on the other side can make a safe bet that you'll put the same effort into the work they give you.

"The meaning and significance we attach to something is felt in direct proportion to the expense with which it is communicated"

- Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman, Ogilvy Group

Essentially, costliness carries meaning.

  • The handwritten thank you card carries more meaning than a text.
  • A university degree carries more meaning than a Udemy course.
  • Asking someone out on a date face to face carries more meaning than on a dating app.

Reflection Questions

  1. How can I "signal" to my dream job that this means something to me?
  2. What methods can I use to reach out to my target person?
Design Presentation Skills DesignClass

Reaching out is tough

We all need a little help from time-to-time about how to reach out in the proper way. If you do decide to visit offices in person or make direct phone calls, it's best to go in with a plan. This will help you be less nervous and not take rejection personally because you'll be ready for it.

Basic Tips

  • Know something about the firm. You don't want to go in blind. Read their website and become familiar with the projects and clients they have worked with.
  • Try to know who specifically you need to speak with about available jobs. This does not always mean the owners or CEOs of the firm. It usually is project managers, HR professionals, or people you know who work in the firm already.
  • Remember that just because you know someone, does not mean they will refer you. Send them a personalized message inviting them to chat and show them your portfolio first.
  • Dress professionally; whether that's in person or video chat.
  • Always be kind to front-desk staff. They are gatekeepers to decision-makers, plus it's basic human kindness.
  • Practice your speaking skills to sound confident.

Example Scripts

  1. "Hi, my name is _____. I'm here to drop off my portfolio and resume for the office's hiring manager. If possible, I'd also like to schedule a meeting with them"
  2. "Hi, my name is _____. I'm here to drop off my portfolio and resume for _____ in the XYZ department."
  3. "Hi, my name is _____. I'm here to drop off my portfolio and resume for the office's hiring manager.
    -- I'm sorry, we don't accept resumes in person.
    'Not a problem, who might be the best person to connect with about open positions and may I get their contact information?"
  4. "Hi, my name is _____. I'm here to drop off my portfolio and resume for the office's hiring manager.
    -- How did you get in here? Leave.
    'Sorry to bother you, I'm just really interested in your firm. Have a good day."

Reflection Questions

  1. What is the biggest obstacle preventing me from reaching out to my dream job?
  2. What new strategies should I try with people and firms I've already reached out to?

Create your own mini-portfolio

Now we are going to use the principles outlined in this article to create our first mini-portfolios.  Remember to keep it simple and only show 1-2 examples of your best work. Keep the goal in mind, to get the reader excited and have them move down the funnel. Most important, remember the person looking at your mini-portfolio may only do so for 15-30 seconds before making a decision. Be clear about who you are and what you do.

Timeline Suggestion

  1. Spend 1-2 hours researching 5 firms you want to send your mini-portfolio to
  2. Spend 30 minutes finding your best work and copy it into a new folder
  3. Spend 1-2 hours laying out a mini-portfolio design for each firm you want to approach.
  4. Share your work with friends and colleagues to get feedback.
  5. Adjust your design based on feedback.
  6. Start your funnel!

Share your work

Want some quick feedback on your mini-portfolio design? Share it with us on Instagram.

How to Create a Mini-PortfolioHow to Create a Mini-PortfolioHow to Create a Mini-PortfolioHow to Create a Mini-Portfolio
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