How to prep for the National Student Show and Conference
March 10, 2020
I know the feeling. Clutching your portfolio tightly as you ride the elevator up to the top floor, wearing your favorite outfit, and only nervous – a lot. Wondering if all the hard work and late nighters you pulled was enough. Wondering if you put the right projects in your portfolio or if you should have left one out. I know the feeling, because I went through this exact process as a student at Sam Houston State University. I’ve had the great opportunity to attend the National Student Show and Conference as both a student and as a professional and it has been such a fun experience being on both sides. This is the fourth year i’ll be reviewing portfolios with Drifting Creatives (come say hi and let me know if you read this!) and i’ve picked up a few things over the years.
Not sure what the National Student Show and Conference in Dallas is? It’s a professionally judged creative competition and three-day conference built for graphic design students and their educators. Attendees come from all over the U.S.
Here are a few tips to help you prepare for the review and job fair and for when you’re finally at the conference; here we go!
Before the review and job fair
Think about what you’re presenting.
Remember that you’re showcasing who you are as a designer. If you plan on coming in and pulling your portfolio up on your phone; you might want to stop and rethink that plan. Trust me, we can tell pretty quickly who put thought into their work and who sort of just threw it together. When thinking about how to show off your work remember that quality is also important. Portfolios in book form are great because we can flip through your projects with ease. If you decide to go this route, just remember that a bad print job can weaken your projects, no matter how amazing they are. Print on high quality paper and if there are photographs, double check that the print is clear and crisp. If you can’t see the details in the print, then neither can we. If you’re planning on bringing a digital portfolio, make sure you are able to navigate easily through your projects and that it is displayed on a screen that is big enough for both you and the reviewer to look at at the same time.
Things to double, and triple check:
- Is everything spelled correctly?
- Are all my images clear, crisp, and not pixelated?
- Do my mock-ups showcase my design work, or hide it?
- Is what I am about to present something I am proud of?
Fine tune the details.
Detail is key when making decisions on how to showcase your work. Everything that you are showing should be enough to see the entire project without you having to explain it. Scale is also a huge factor when using mockups and taking photographs of your work. Try not to cram as many mockups as you can into one spread. Scale up and show off all the design elements you worked so hard on.
Mockups can elevate a project, but they can also break a project. For example, it can be hard to visually see the design of your web project if you only show off one screen from your project. (see above). Try pulling the design out of the mockup so that we can see the entire layout of the page. Showing multiple screens can also help show off your layouts, skills, and showing your project on multiple devices can be a huge bonus! (see below)
Include your process.
We know how much time and effort you put into your projects. We love polished work that looks like it was shined and tied with a pretty bow, but we also want to see what it took to get there. Does part of your project include an awesome logo design? Show us the different iterations through your sketches. Did your packaging project start out one way and then made more sense another way? Show us why you decided to go in a different route. It doesn’t have to be much, but your process shows who you are as a designer just as much as the finished product.
Narrow it down.
The review is fast paced and there isn’t enough time to show off all of your projects. After your portfolio is polished take a second to flip through your projects and choose three that are the most important to you. At the review start with those three and if there is time then you may be able to show off one or two more.
Think about these things while choosing:
- Which projects mean the most to you? Like I mentioned previously, we can tell pretty quickly what projects had a lot of heart put into them and which do not. If you can talk passionately about one project over others, then that should be a front runner.
- Which projects show off your niche? Are you amazing at packaging design, but not so much at web design? Then choose a project that showcases your packaging skills more. Just because you did a web project, does not mean you need to include it.
During the portfolio review/job fair
First and foremost, take a deep breath. I’ve been in your exact position and know how scary it can be to put your work out there in the open for professionals to see. If there is one thing I can promise you though, it is that most of us are not there to tear you down. This is an experience for us just as much as it is for you and we have a lot of fun doing it!
This one is big for me. I give a lot of feedback while looking through portfolios and the biggest way to unintentionally look like you don’t care is by not taking notes. The review is long and fast paced and there is no way you’ll remember every detail from the first chair you sat in if you didn’t take notes. Also, you’re there to get feedback and grow as a designer right? So grab your notebook and jot down key things that are said to you. Not only will it help you, but we appreciate you taking what we say seriously.
Present yourself like you are going into a job interview, but also let that personality of yours shine! We want to see not only what makes you a great designer, but also the type of person you are. Leaving a lasting impression goes beyond just standing out among everyone else in the room. It can land you a job offer and allow you to make a connection with a future mentor.
There are a handful of students that stood out to me last year and all of them were ones that asked me questions. If the agency you’re chatting with does something that you’re interested in, ask them about it! This is a great opportunity for you to make connections and no one is going to turn you away.
Here are a couple of questions that I’ve been asked before:
- What type of qualities do you look for during job interviews?
- What is a typical day for you at the office?
- Any advice for someone who is trying to learn ______?
- You mentioned “xyz” on this project. What would you recommend me to change?
I have even had someone come back to my table towards the end of the review and pull open xd to ask me questions about the software… and I loved it!
The National Student Show and Conference is such an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and make connections, and friendships. Take a deep breath, soak in all of the feedback you receive, and ride the inspiration train for as long as it will run. And last, but certainly not least, have fun and be yourself. You’ll shine more that way!
Gavin and I will be hanging out at the portfolio review and job fair both Friday and Saturday. We’d love to see your work and chat for a little bit! And who knows.. we might have a little something fun to give you as a job well done. Follow our team on instagram @driftcreate