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Building The Perfect Instagram Portfolio

Ignore Instagram at your peril: some employers say it’s crucial to their hiring process. Here’s the recipe for curating a career-boosting social-media portfolio.

Douglas Friedman walked into a meeting at a major, well-respected advertising agency in Los Angeles, carrying a large portfolio of his work. There was wine, and a cheese platter–and 30 or so art directors waiting to grill him. “I was all nervous,” he said.

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But before Friedman, an accomplished photographer, could show off his physical book, which includes celebrity portraits for the likes of Harper’s Bazaar alongside beautiful photos of rooms for Architectural Digest, his judges asked him about a trip he took last Christmas. “They all followed my Instagram, and that’s all they wanted to talk about,” he told Fast Company. “And it’s what landed me a big advertising campaign.”

A self-portrait from photographer Douglas Friedman’s Instagram acccount

In creative fields, having an impressive portfolio of work to show off at interviews or to HR managers is no longer necessarily the key to landing a job. Instagram and, in some fields, Pinterest, have become an important marker of taste and talent alike. “You don’t need a portfolio anymore. You have an Instagram feed,” Bradford Shellhammer, the Fab cofounder and BackCountry creative director told Fast Company. “You don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands producing this work; it’s all in your hand.”

Shellhammer, in fact, hired Hannah Perinne Mode, who works with him as a creative manager and design lead at the consultancy Shellhammer.co, because of her Instagram feed. Mode, who also previously worked at Fab, uses the platform to showcase daily illustrations, as well as her other artistic endeavors and unrelated life moments.

Unlike the traditional portfolio, the most successful Instagram portfolios aren’t all business. Mode posts pictures of her beach vacations next to unfinished paintings. Friedman slips his work in between selfies and pictures of his inspirations. Hiring managers use it as a gauge of taste and personality as much as a way to find talent. If you look fun and cool, you’re probably fun and cool to work with.

“Bradford hired me I think very much based on being able to see that I have a creative eye in general, and that I am a multifaceted person for art and design, which I think is represented pretty well through my Instagram,” Mode told Fast Company. Mode, who also freelances, says her online presence has attracted clients based on seeing her creative process unfold (a technique championed by Show Your Work author Austin Kleon), something that isn’t visible on her traditional website, which only showcases finished works.

At Factory PR, when hiring for creative positions, after vetting resumes for relevant experience, the HR manager next goes to Instagram and Pinterest, according to partner and cofounder Mark Silver. Shellhammer says when making other hiring decisions, the first thing he asks for is Instagram, not a book. Candidates often submit traditional portfolios, but Silver says his firm often doesn’t request them. “I think Pinterest is the replacement for portfolios,” he told Fast Company. “Instagram has become the replacement for taste level.”

On Instagram, Silver looks for consistently interesting photography that shows an eye for fashion in a person’s day-to-day life. (Factory PR works with a lot of fashion clients, such as Betsy Johnson and Macy’s.) If the potential employee also peppers her profile with some examples of work, that’s a “big plus.” “I look for someone who edits properly and is savvy enough to mix a little bit of their look with some their inspiration and some of their life,” Silver explained. “That can tell a very clear story. It can be a captivating story.”

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“Mitosis”Image courtesy of Hannah Perinne Mode

Passing that test, however, is only the first step. After that, Silver will head to Pinterest for a more curated look at a person’s abilities. Often, he says, applicants will have a pinboard of “My Best Work,” which acts like a virtual portfolio. By the time potential candidates send along a portfolio or additional materials, his firm has typically already made up its mind about the applicant.

Not all firms hiring in creative fields rely on Instagram and Pinterest as heavily as Silver, nor will having a well-curated online presence sans a portfolio always be enough to land a job. But at the very least, Instagram allows people in creative fields to maintain visibility in a cheap and easy way. Friedman used to, for example, send out mailers of his work to editors and art buyers to keep his photography on their minds. He doesn’t do that anymore. Instagram reaches more people with less effort and fewer resources.

The lesson: Instagram should not be an afterthought. “We think it’s a deal breaker,” said Silver. “It shows organization, inspiration, and being of the moment.” Sure, not all people in hiring positions might feel that way. But, do you want to take that chance?

About the author

Rebecca Greenfield is a former Fast Company staff writer. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Wire, where she focused on technology news.

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