What have you done?!

Four words that usually indicates that you did something wrong. I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it. It’s not a good question to be asked. But I’m not going to talk about them in that setting. What I want to look at is something I started thinking about when I was looking at doing some more freelance jobs.

Most people want proof. Proof that you are as good as you say you are. It doesn’t help much if your resume is specced out only with degrees left right and centre. Film school, bachelor in storytelling and so on. What can you show for? Do you have a portfolio? And better yet, are you ready to show that portfolio if someone asks for it? (Side note: I am not saying that you don’t need education. As the matter of fact, getting a good education within the area you want to work is key to lay a good foundation that you can build upon. I am just stating that every foundation is there for you to build something great upon).

One thing I am really bad at, is talking myself up. That is, in conversations with people where the topic is my skills and what I’m good at. I really don’t like to “brag”, because I am afraid that people will get a wrong idea of how good I am. What if I create expectations in people, and when it comes to the point I won’t be able to meet them? That is why I really like to have a portfolio to show for. Because with that, I don’t really need to feel like I am talking myself up. I can show my work, and prove that I have the skills required for the job I am asked to do. (Side note: I still need to work on being confident on myself and believing in my skills and talents. A portfolio isn’t something to hide behind, but a proof that what you say is also what the client is going to get).

So how do you build a portfolio? Especially if you don’t have a job that directly relates to your creative area like graphic design, film making etc? Here is a couple of things that comes to my mind:

1. Do volunteer / pro-bono work.
If you have the time and opportunity to do this, it is a great way to get a lot of work experience. It can be volunteering for a church or an organisation or help out a friend to promote his business. Maybe you have friends that work with film making as well. Why don’t to tag along and help out on set? One huge benefit of doing volunteer work is that your level of commitment isn’t bound by you getting paid, so the pressure is lower. I’ve also found that it is easier to find motivation, because you can choose the projects you get involved with.

2. Apply for an internship.
In my second year of high school, I had one day each week where I interned with a local graphic design company. Even though I didn’t get to work on any actual projects that they did, I learned a lot about how to work with customers and how to handle projects from start to finish. They would give me made-up cases to plan, pitch, create and at the end present to them. If you have the opportunity to do so, a day or two at a company that can teach you and give you work experience is a really good opportunity. And who knows, maybe it turns into a paid job?

3. Work on your own projects.
This comes back to the point of just doing it! It doesn’t really matter what you make. It can be a skit, fake commercial, testimony, the list goes on and on. Today, we don’t really have any excuses. We can easily just post our videos on Vimeo or YouTube and share it on Facebook and Twitter.  If you look at some of the big YouTube channels like Julian Smith or Corridor Digital, they just started making skits and movies with their friends and got it out there. They didn’t start with millions of views. They started by posting one video, then another one, and another one, until they got to where they are now. Another example is Christopher Nolan. Before he directed Inception, Interstellar or any of the Batman movies, he shot his first feature film “Following” on weekends with a $6000 budget. Again, the point stands clear: Just do it!

So, what have you done? Or better yet, what are you going to do? I would love to see some portfolios in the comments or hear from you if you have any good stories/thoughts on how you built your portfolio.

– Morten