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Ben Hannam’s new book delivers a ‘guide to creating a killer portfolio’

The associate professor of communications published his new text in an easy-to-read, you-can-do-it tone with one clear objective: helping students land the job they seek.

Ben Hannam knows the look — the exasperated expression on a student’s face when confronted with creating their portfolio.

Associate Professor Ben Hannam

It’s a look the associate professor said he sees often as students enter his Design Strategies and Solutions class, the communication design major’s capstone course. For these upperclassmen, graduation and the real world are lurking, and the perils of the job market await.

To help ease student fears, Hannam has authored a new book, “Oh @#$% I’m Graduating! A Student’s Guide to Creating a Killer Portfolio.” Published by Kendall Hunt, the text is a full-color, 236-page resource filled with useful, actionable advice to help student’s portfolios stand out in the right ways. It provides students with insight on how to brand themselves, develop a personalize narrative for their portfolio, and target a portfolio’s content for a specific audience.

“This book is written for students who are preparing to enter the job market,” Hannam said. “These students understand that their life is about to change, and they want to know how they should prepare. The book features numerous strategies that students can use to put their portfolio together in a focused way to help get the job they want.”

One of the biggest revelations students must have is an understanding that the student’s portfolio isn’t for them, noted Hannam.

“Yes, it’s their content, but they are not the audience,” he said. “It’s about employers and the people doing the hiring. I think a lot of the time students forget that because they are so close to the work.”

Hannam explained that a portfolio is more than just a compilation of a person’s best content. It needs to be tailored to the individual’s professional aspirations. The portfolio needs to be tailored to each individual position — not unlike a résumé.   

“When I graduated years ago, we just threw our best work in a portfolio and went out to find a job. However, the landscape has changed. Employers want to see candidates walk the walk – not just talk the talk. So, if you are going into user experience (UX), interactive design, or print design, you better have a portfolio that backs your claim that you’re passionate about your discipline up. The premise of the book is, how can you do this with the decisions you make about your portfolio?”

The book is designed to get readers to think not like students, but young professionals. To make students aware of the content they include in their portfolios that could categorize them as inexperienced or unqualified. “People don’t want to hire students and train them up. They seem to prefer hiring young professionals with an established set of tools and skills,” Hannam said.

Hannam’s new book, “Oh @#$% I’m Graduating! A Student’s Guide to Creating a Killer Portfolio,” has several Elon connections, including three current students on the cover. Pictured (from left) are Emily Ganzer, Jordan Fox and Sasha Kagan. 

In the text, Hannam utilizes a metaphor that compares a student’s portfolio to a rough-cut diamond. The responsibility lies with the student – or jeweler – to put bevels on the diamond to bounce light around in a way that makes the jewel look brilliant. “That’s what you do with your portfolio,” he said. “Every piece, how you curate it, the flow, the transitions, the backstory, the underlying narrative used to get to know you, all those things – when they are all in line – make you the best possible candidate you can be.”

To provide a well-rounded perspective, Hannam solicited content and insight from fellow communication design professors, including Diane Gibbs, a faculty member at the University of South Alabama, who served a contributing author for two book chapters. In addition to teaching graphic design, Gibbs also hosts “The Design Recharge Show,” a weekly online show devoted to connecting and educating designers.

“I asked designer friends and faculty from all over the United States to submit work and ideas to get the pulse of what’s happening in other design programs,” Hannam said. “It was great to ground this text with other people’s insights and ideas.”

The new book also has several Elon connections, including recent student works and examples. Additionally, Senior Lecturer Randy Piland shot the book’s cover photo, which features Elon students Emily Ganzer, Jordan Fox and Sasha Kagan.

An award-winning designer, Hannam laid out the book himself, noting the importance of its physical appearance. “When you have a book on a design-related topic, its design is evaluated as part of the content,” he said.

Hannam also explained that his new publication is a companion piece to his 2013 release, “A Graphic Design Student’s Guide to Freelance: Practice Makes Perfect.” “They really are meant to complement one another,” he said, alluding to their similar topics, as well as complimentary color schemes and dimensions.

After approximately a year spent writing and designing the book, Hannam is elated with the finished product and the advice it can provide to aspiring designers.

“I really enjoy its you-can-do-it tone,” he said of his book. “I tried to limit the amount of jargon in it. I tried to give helpful tips, providing advice on how students can streamline the portfolio process. I think the book fits into my pedagogical, constructive mentality of teaching. Let’s put a plan in place and build something.”

Tommy Kopetskie,
1/16/2018 9:20 AM