As someone who hires creative folks, what advice would you give to someone putting together their first portfolio?
Show less work as opposed to more. The quickest route to the "no"
pile is to show every single thing you've ever created. When I see a portfolio that has twenty mediocre pieces and five solid ones it reads as inconsistency as opposed to progression in ability. Your portfolio is a narrative. What does each additional piece add to that narrative? What's the fewest number of pieces you can show that describes your dream job?
How long do you typically spend looking at a potential candidate’s work?
Five minutes if the portfolio is blowing my mind or thirty seconds if the work is mediocre. I know fairly quickly if I want to send a follow up email.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see over and over?
Getting a job is a long term campaign. Your portfolio isn't meant to get you hired, it's meant to get you a phone interview. The phone interview gets you an 'in person' which in turn gets you the job.
If you get to the in person interview, it's no longer about your skills. If you're sitting in a chair speaking to an employee then enough people have 'okayed' your work that it's not about whether you can handle the job. The question now is if I like you enough to be confined in a space with you for twelve hours a day. Plenty of qualified people have been passed over because they didn't have the right personality.
Be bold, not every company is the right fit for you. I'd rather have a fearless portfolio that disgusts the companies that I wouldn't work for anyway than to create something that caters to everyone.
Avoid making a flashy portfolio site unless you want to be hired to make flashy websites. You want to minimize the distractions an employer might encounter. Especially if the site is overly flashy in a tacky way it might read as a strike against your design sensibilities.
Ask for feedback. Most employers will tell you why they didn't offer you the job.
If your work is mind blowing just ignore everything I've said. I knew this guy whose sketches were so 'tear your eyes out' amazing that when he sat down for an interview, upon seeing the sketch on the cover, the employer said, "I hope you like California."
Do you read about pages and, if so, what do you want to know about someone outside of their work?
I'd like to get a glimpse at the fascinating things we'd chit chat about if we were to get a beer.
What do you think about an applicant creating a custom piece of work to get your attention?
It works if the custom piece is decent.
A couple months ago a designer sent a personalized 8 bit cartoon with their portfolio. The body of work itself was tight but completely not a good fit. On the other hand, this thing that probably took ten minutes to make told me that the designer was malleable to a degree, motivated, and had a genuine passion for our work. Why wouldn't I reply?
You are an 8 bit beluga. What are your favorite spots to check out in the city?
If I were an 8 bit beluga whale, I'd be classy as hell. So with a church warden pipe, diamond monocle, and top hat I'd sit contemplatively in the Museum of Natural History where all of my dead friends reside. Afterwards, I'd get tea in the West Village then I suppose I'd buy myself something rather nice at the MoMa store. To top the evening off, I'd tickle my funny bone (whales have bones) at UCB Theater then retreat to my 8 bit residence at Baby Castles for a nightcap. Just kidding, I'd probably just sit around wishing I had hands.