Portfolio Recommendations for Recent Graduates

courtesy of Dr. Ashok Jain

You just graduated from school, exhausted by the final rush to complete your last projects.  You survived the final jury and you now stand proudly with your diploma, a graduate in Landscape Architecture.  Now, it is time to get out there…find a lucrative job with the most hip, up-and-coming, design savvy firm in your city and put your pencil to paper in the knowledge that what you design could be built.  Made real.  What a rush, what power!  You are excited, you are on top of the world as you step out into your bright shining future….

until you remember that there is a recession, and that competition is stiffer than ever, and that most likely, you will be  contending for a drafting table with seasoned landscape architects that already have years of experience and nice fat portfolios…

well, in light of this startling brush with reality, we are offering a few helpful guidelines to recent graduates…we want you to succeed just as much as you do… after all, you may be designing our retirement communities and we may be sitting in your parks when we are old and gray and good only for Wii Bowling.

These recommendations were put together by several professionals in the field during a round-table discussion for University of Colorado Denver Students on the “Do’s and Don’ts of Portfolio Development and Interviewing”:

Mike Gasper .  DHM Design

Matt Norcross . DHM Design . Recent graduate of the UCD program

Mark Tabor . City and County of Denver

Kim Douglas .  studio INSITE

Drake Fowler . Design Workshop


  • Do create a great cover letter written specifically to the firm with which you are interviewing.  Make it personal…include your design philosophy, group involvement, a personal hobby, or a great trip that inspired you.
  • Do include projects of different scales,  from large community, city, rural, and/or regional planning to small urban settings.  If applicable, select one beautiful section, sketch detail, grading study, etc. that relates to the project.
  • Do capture the essence of each project in a quick summary paragraph.  Too much text equals no text; it will not get read
  • Do tell me what you do.  In today’s multi-disciplinary office we look at all individuals within all design fields.
  • Do think digital.  If you can get my email, send me a direct link and it doesn’t cost you a penny.  Physical portfolios need to be done well and designing a portfolio that looks nice and is affordable to mass produce is a design problem worth tackling early.
  • Do think about the layout of your portfolio as an art gallery.  Clean, elegant and emphasizing the work.  I have not seen portfolios overlooked because they were too simple.  I have had plenty overlooked because they were too complex and annoying to navigate.
  • Do think your portfolio through.  Do front and back pages.  Do it early and often it will get better with each cycle.  When I go to universities I drop by the computer lab the night before and take note of the people still working on their portfolios; they are always the ones with spelling errors and unfinished content.
  • Do remember your contact information!


  • Don’t over format your portfolio or make it horribly long.  Each page should be your best work, nothing less.
  • Don’t just show the final graphic.  If you do not show process you are not telling us who you are and how you solve problems.
  • Don’t put your picture in your portfolio.  A portfolio should be a neutral ground to display your work, not your tan.
  • Don’t show more than one page of hobbies at the back and if you are into photography show ONE great large image not a collage.
  • Don’t leave it up to us to decide what you did or did not do on group projects, use labels on any exhibit you did not create.  Leaving it ambiguous brings suspicion to the rest of your work.

Final Advice:

There is an area that seems to be missing from many portfolios: a demonstration of the design thought process and the ability to graphically communicate this process.  This applies to the entire process from Programming and Conceptual Design through the development of Construction Documents.  We still accomplish a lot of this with hand drawing and it is applied from the one on one desk critique all the way up to design charrettes with clients and project stakeholders.

It is highly unlikely that you will work in an environment where you don’t have to communicate design intent.  You need to be able to think and communicate graphically in three dimensions.  If all we see is a highly polished digitally rendered final graphic representation of your design it may only tell us that you have mastered that technology.  Most of the design process involves problem solving and story telling.  Don’t forget to include these components in your portfolio:

Bubble Diagrams . Design Programming flow charts . Hand drawn plans and perspective sketches . Grading Studies . Sketch Details

You can show the final product whether it is your graphic rendered design, construction details or grading plans but show us how you got there.

Think graphically as you develop your design solutions.

Don’t throw anything out.


  1. Good Post especially for kids graduating this Spring. I forwarded the link on to one of my professors at CSU.

  2. This is brief and very helpful! Thank you for taking the time to help others.

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