Portfolio Reviews

A portfolio review is a small moment of truth. Embedded in your work samples are your skills, talents, personal vision, and professional direction. This guide will help you make a great impression in your reviews, learn a lot, and add to your network of professionals.

WHEN AM I READY? You’re ready to benefit from reviews with professionals when your work is beginning to reflect intermediate to advanced skill sets and concepts. At Columbia, that means your junior year and beyond.

PORTFOLIO-IN-PROGRESS: It’s perfectly OK to show your portfolio-in-progress to professionals in informational interviews, “Show Offs” and internship interviews. Those professionals aren’t expecting to see completed, polished portfolios. They hope to see a selection of well-organized work samples. Show enough samples to represent your progress in your media but not the exercises you did in foundation level classes. Have everything ready to show when you walk in the door.

FINISHED PORTFOLIO: For job interviews you need to have your portfolio presentation screwed down, buttoned up and ready for prime time. Books should be clean and orderly, DVDs well-produced, websites fully functional. Test your presentations beforehand.

RESEARCH: After making an appointment for a meeting, get on the web and find out everything you can about the individual or company that you’re going to sit down with. It’s helpful to have a sense of the perspective of the reviewer plus you may have questions about what they do and what they want to see in a portfolio.

It would be (REALLY) nice to have a business card. If the review is for an internship or job you should have a resume as well.

Dress like a creative industry professional. That often means nice, clean, and casual. Managers and other business-oriented people may dress a notch nicer.

Introduce yourself and then introduce your work (“Hi I'm Cathy. I’ve got some ad campaigns and a TV spot…”). Be ready to talk about your immediate goals so they have an idea of what you are trying to accomplish with your portfolio (“...looking to get an internship in a recording studio...”).

Thank the professional for their time and their insights. If you’d like to stay in touch, ask them the best way to do that (email, phone, whatever). Send a “thank you note" a day or two afterwards. In the note bring up a helpful comment or suggestion that was made in the review to help bring the conversation to mind. “Thank you notes" are both considerate and professional. (Email is OK. A handwritten note or card is better).




  • Always research the people you are meeting with.  If they have a LinkedIn profile, it’s an easy way to see where they’ve worked & what they’ve worked on.
  • Be ready to talk about your work and explain the concepts that hold your work together. You should have a practiced and concise description that you can comfortably give at any time.
  • When you talk about the work, don’t talk too much.  The conversation should not be entirely about your work. A major complaint from most reviewers is that the artists talk during their entire allotted time.  Balance the time with a few questions that you want to ask each reviewer.  Write them down & keep them with you.  If you do not know who you are meeting with, ask them about themselves.
  • Only present your best work and edit to 15-20 images.  Tightly focused series do much better with most reviewers.  Consider using self-produced photo books (like Blurb, Lulu) to show another series that you are working on. These can also be handy to show if there is time left or share with others.
  • Ask the reviewers what they honestly think. If you get the same (negative...?) feedback from a few people, let go of needing to defend your work and see their point. Their opinion is valuable.  From Leo Nash: “My first time at [one of these] was the most valuable. I wasn’t quite ready, and soaking up the criticism was just what I needed. I learned how certain peers viewed my work (one of those peers is one of my closest friends in the community today). Two years later at another review, I was exactly where I needed to be and had an invigorating experience. The review process is not unlike being a musician: to improve, play with people who are better than you and who are at the level you wish to attain.”
  • Save a minute or two at the end of the review to hand your business card & leave behind & shake hands.  Reviewers get a lot of leave-behinds to take home. The best are distinctive yet easy to carry. There are a variety of options: postcards, tri-fold cards, and accordion booklets. They can be as elaborate or simple as you like. Include all your contact information in addition to the images.
  • Mention that you’ll follow up with them, and actually do follow up! A handwritten thank you note is best, as well as connecting with them on LinkedIn.