How to Survive a Portfolio Review

I’ve had several clients reach out to me this month for advice on preparing for portfolio reviews. Here are a few tips:

1. Set an intention for how you want to feel during and after your review rather than setting a specific expectation or tangible outcome. I.E.I am going to make a great connection with this reviewer and will receive some valuable feedback that will help me with my business.” Rather than: ”This person is going to love my work and hire me for a job next week.”

2. Do your research. Find out as much as you can about the person or company who is reviewing your work. This will help you edit the work you choose to show and it will help you prepare great questions to ask.

3. Only show your best work. Make sure your book or tablet is clean and your pages are not dented or scratched. I like to see about 40-50 images in a portfolio. It’s ok to have more if the work is strong. If you have multiple genres of work, separate them unless you can create a solid flow in your style or by color. It’s great to bring commercial work as well as a separate portfolio of personal work if you have some.

3. Ask a lot of questions. Come prepared with questions for your reviewer based on their experience/industry. Here are some good general questions:

Based on my portfolio, what would you recommend I do more or less of?” 

“What brands/magazines/clients come to mind when you are looking at my work?” 

“What is the most important thing about working with a photographer/illustrator/stylist that you consider when hiring?

And I always like to ask where people prefer to find new talent, you might discover a new place to get listed or create a profile. Avoid general questions like, “What do you think about my work?” 

When I’m visiting ad agencies I like to ask people what their favorite project has been to work on or who their favorite client is and why.

5. Listen more than talking about yourself. Don’t launch in to a sales pitch, but also, don’t be a deer in the headlights. Again, ask lots of questions. Ask about their background/experience, be present, really listen with intention. Reviewers are not always interested in hearing the specifics or back story of each image you shot. Rather than filling in what might feel like awkward silence with details about your photos, allow the reviewer to flip through quietly, or start asking your prepared questions.

6. Be aware of your energy. I like to meditate before reviews or any kind of networking event. If your energy is a hot mess, you’re not likely to get a call back. Relax, imagine your reviewer is an old friend who only wants the best for you. (Read more about Networking for Introverts.)

7. Dress nice. This one should be obvious but, put some effort in to how you present yourself. You probably don’t need to wear a business suit, but also don’t be afraid to stand out a little bit. An interesting detail in how you present yourself might be how they remember you in the future and can also be a fun conversation starter.

I know it’s natural to be nervous going in to portfolio reviews, but try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Some people will love your work, some people won’t, opinions are mostly arbitrary and personal. Celebrate the positive feedback and have gratitude for the negative feedback, it may shed some valuable light on your path. 

Don’t forget to nurture those relationships after you leave. Sent thank you notes and keep in touch. It might take a few months or even a few years for a review to pay off. The ”rule of seven” is now the rule of 21.

Got a review coming up? Need help editing your portfolio or brainstorming some clever questions? Shoot me an email or get on my calendar for a free 15 minute call.

Hey, I’m rooting for you!

P.S.  I’m heading to Palm Springs next month to be a reviewer for the Palm Springs Photo Festival. Are you going? Let me know!


Interested in hiring a business coach? Need someone to map out and hold you accountable for your goals this year? Shoot me an email or click here to schedule a free 15-minute call. Let’s chat and find out if we’re a good fit.

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