As a former Walt Disney Imagineer and practicing, licensed Architect I have interviewed and hired many talented individuals and entire design teams over the past two-plus decades. A key part of the interview process is reviewing an individual’s personal portfolio or a design company’s marketing package all showing previous experience, their talents, and skills.
Based on this, and the many questions I receive from readers of this website, I have compiled a list of portfolio tips for individuals seeking jobs in the themed entertainment industry.
Portfolio Tips To Land Your Dream Job
The ultimate goal of your portfolio is to provide a visual description – working in tandem with the information provided on your resume – of your personal skills, prior relative experience, and your creative talents. If a future employer wants to know more about the work presented in your portfolio – and you land an in-person interview with the employer – they will ask you to further explain the work in your portfolio.
Approach the design and layout of your portfolio with this in mind – think of it as a visual ‘elevator pitch’ and marketing brochure for your skills and talents. A portfolio is a medium to entice a future employer who may want to learn more about you, to spark their interest to interview you, and ultimately hire you.
1. Include Your Best Work
Quality is more important than quantity when creating your personal portfolio. It’s better to have five to ten solid examples of your best work, rather than twenty pages of A-level, B-level, and C-level work you’ve created.
Pro Tip: No potential, future employer or your future boss, is going to spend an hour reading and reviewing your portfolio. They are busy individuals who quite honestly will review your portfolio for less than ten minutes. While this may seem harsh, or too much honesty, it’s the reality of real-world business.
2. Less Is More: Learn How To Edit
As creative individuals and designers we often want to write short stories explaining every nuance and detail about the work in our portfolio. Take it from me, no one is going to or has any desire to read pages and pages of 8-point font paragraphs about each project or skillset displayed in your portfolio. Actually, for many future employers this will be turn off.
As with writers of novels and short stories who edit their work many times over prior to publishing, you as the creator of your portfolio should edit the written words and the images you chose to display in your portfolio. Edit the narrative information and visuals to be clear and concise but informative. Remember, the person reviewing your portfolio is most likely only going to spend ten minutes (or honestly even less time) reviewing your portfolio prior to an interview.
Pro Tip: Only include the essential information about each project, art piece, etc. in your portfolio and a brief paragraph with a description of the artwork or project displayed. The information about each piece of art or project should include:
- Who: The client or owner (if an architectural or engineering project)
- What: Your role on the project (job title)
- When: The year or date range your worked on the project or artwork
- Where: The location of the project or where the artwork was/is displayed
- A brief 3 to 4 sentence description of the project or artwork.
3. Present A Clear and Cohesive Presentation
While the design of your portfolio should be an extension of ‘you’ and can be a visual representation of your design or artistic skills, there is a basic ‘rhythm’, if you will, of how the reviewer of your portfolio should be able to easily navigate your portfolio’s pages.
Remember, the reviewer of your portfolio – unlike you the creator – has not been reading your portfolio for days or even months. The reviewer is seeing a glimpse of you and your portfolio for the first time. Creating and designing the layout of your portfolio to make it easy for the reviewer to navigate the information you are providing in your portfolio, will make their job easier and will be a reflection of your skills of creating a story (about you) that is clear and cohesive.
Pro Tip: Provide a layout and design of your portfolio with information and a ‘flow’ similar to a reference book. Make reading and navigating simple with a defined beginning and end of your ‘story’ (a.k.a. your portfolio). Here are sections and sequence to consider:
- Title Page: Simple with your name and a title such as ‘Personal Work’, ‘Works’, ‘Portfolio’, etc.
- Table of Contents: A simple list the information included in your portfolio
- An About Page: dedicate a page with a simple two paragraph description – think an executive summary – of you and your personal goals
- Projects or Artwork Pages: Provide one page per project and/or piece of artwork you are presenting
- Last Page: Provide information similar to your resume: Experience, Previous Jobs/Roles, Years in each role, Employer, List your top talents and skills, and your contact information, i.e. email, phone number, personal website link, and social media account names
✅ Read more about creating a successful portfolio!
4. Know Your Audience: Consider Multiple Portfolio Iterations
Depending on the type of roles or jobs you are seeking, you may need two different iterations of your personal portfolio. As with providing a cover letter and resume that is tailored to a specific employer or a specific position at a company, one can take a similar approach to two different iterations of your portfolio.
This doesn’t mean you need to recreate the wheel for each iteration or specific focus of multiple versions of your portfolio. No, what we are conveying is there may be information, experience, projects, artwork, etc. you may want to highlight or showcase in version one of your portfolio that is different than the skills, creative talent, prior experience, etc. that makes more sense to showcase in a second, similar version of your portfolio.
5. Peer Review Your Portfolio Prior To Submission
When you get your portfolio to a meaningful first draft, we highly suggest you ask a trusted, well-informed, and (most important) someone who can provide a constructive peer review of your portfolio. The individual or individuals shall be experienced enough to provide constructive criticism of your portfolio to improve the overall narrative – both visually and in the written form – you are trying to convey to future, potential employers.
We suggest you ask them feedback on the narrative of each project or artwork you are showcasing, the layout and images of each page, have them provide feedback on the ‘flow’ of the portfolio for the reader, and provide insight on the clarity of the story you are sharing about you. Ask them, “does the information in the portfolio truly reflect and showcase your personal skills, talents, experience, etc.?”
Tips To Landing Your Dream Job: Beyond Your Portfolio
1. Network, Network, Network
When you’re done networking, network some more and then consider more networking. I can’t stress this enough. While a solid cover letter, resume, and portfolio are important, it is people that want to work with and hire other people they know and trust. Network with other individuals in your field AND in the role(s) you are seeking to be hired.
Attend industry specific networking events. For the themed entertainment industry there are Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) conferences and local monthly events and the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) conferences are available at various times around the world. Leverage social media such as LinkedIn to network with individuals in your area of the industry or those currently working in (or have worked in) the job position you desire. It is quite possible, over time, as individuals in the industry you network with begin to know you, understand your career goals, and most importantly can trust you, they may help you land your dream job by either connecting you with the person hiring for your dream job or someone working at your dream company.
2. Create Tailored Resumes and Cover Letters
Cover letters for open positions should be tailored to the specific job or role you to which you are applying. Resumes (and portfolios) can be tailored as well to highlight the specific skills and talents that are a match to those the future employer has described in the job description. A targeted cover letter, resume, and portfolio that demonstrates how you meet all, most, or beyond the minimum skills described in a job description will assist you in getting the attention of the hiring manager or recruiter of the company.
3. Become a Job Interview Rock Star
I’ve covered this topic in greater detail in other articles, however I believe it’s important to further highlight your skills and talents during an interview. Some highlights I cover in greater detail are:
- Arrive early to the interview
- Bring a hardcopy of your resume and portfolio (or a digital copy of your portfolio via thumb drive or website link)
- Be courteous to every individual at the company staring with the receptionist
- Do not talk over the interviewer
- Be brief but poignant with your answers
- Answer their questions directly, do not circumvent the question with a word salad
- Bring and convey your (authentic) passion
- Highlight why you believe you would be a good fit for the job and the company
- Be professional: do not mumble, speak with enthusiasm and confidence, and be honest
- Ask targeted questions to show interest, to learn more about the role, more about the company, and potentially learn more about your future, potential boss who may be on the other side of the desk.
4. Market Yourself via Social Media
Your social media accounts can, and quite honestly, should be extensions of your portfolio. They provide additional insight to future, potential employers about you as a person, they can be leveraged as visual extensions of your portfolio, and give you the opportunity to highlight your B-level work, skills, talents, etc. that may not be best included in your portfolio.
5. Become Knowledgeable About Your Dream Job Role
Prior to writing a cover letter, and certainly prior to an interview, research the company and the open position you are applying for. Understand the company’s history, previous work and experience, understand what ‘their’ version of the role you are applying for means to them and what is expected of an individual in that role, learn about who you are interviewing with, their experience, their journey with the company, etc. Knowing even the basic level of information about the company, and the open position you are applying for, will better inform your cover letter and will assist you in your interview questions and job expectations.
About the Author
J. Daniel Jenkins, RA, NCARB, LEED AP is a licensed Architect, a published author, a former Walt Disney Imagineer, and former theme park and themed entertainment design consultant with over twenty four years of Commercial + Themed Entertainment design, design management, and A&E subject matter expertise. Jenkins’ themed entertainment experience includes projects in: the Magic Kingdom Fantasyland Expansion, the Disney’s Hollywood Studios Expansion, and Universal’s new Epic Unvierse theme park. Currently, Jenkins is President | Owner of Holihoon Media LLC, and is also the Founder | Chief Editor of themeparkarchitect.com who’s goal is to teach individuals about theme park architecture, engineering, and design, how to become theme park architects and designers, and discuss themed entertainment centric topics and travel from an insider’s persepctive.