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Guest Times: Portfolios. Or, how to get your foot into the door of an agency

Bodhisatwa Dasgupta, Associate Creative Director, Grey Worldwide, is acknowledged as a rising star in the creative fraternity. He has started writing a weekly column for and this is his third article. Tongue-in-cheek as always, he provides some interesting thumb rules for those aspiring for the their next creative job

November 5, 2012

Bodhisatwa Dasgupta

Times are hard. Or at least that’s what we’re made to believe. Increments are a laughable thing of the past, promotions are few, and jobs are scarce.

That’s one side of the spectrum. On the other side, patiently standing in a never-ending queue, are young creative folk looking for a break in the ‘coolest profession of the world’ – advertising.

The harsh truth is that for every 50-odd people that do apply, there’s only one vacancy. It’s like a bloody IIT entrance test. Thousands of disillusioned hopefuls, all trying for that one seat.

The only difference is there’s no entrance test here. There are no marks and no sports quotas. What will set you apart from the rest is the work that you’ve done. In other words, your portfolio.

Portfolios come in different shapes and sizes and colours. Some are drab and boring, and show off substandard work that the owner of the folio thinks is award winning. Some are boring but interesting in places. Some, believe it or not, are somebody else’s portfolios!

Yes, it happens.

I’ve seen many folios in my time, and I’m probably going to see a lot more, unless of course I get the boot from the advertising community in general. And these are my little tips on how to make a folio that’ll get raised eyebrows.

Tip 01: What are you selling?

You’re in advertising. Or hope to be, anyway. In advertising, we sell things. Creatively. But before you do any of that, you have to sell yourself. Easy you think? Think again, young man or young lady. Look around, you’ll see there are scores of people that show the same kind of work that you show. Similar lines, similar art, all-too-familiar layouts. What sets you apart? Nothing. Nada. Zilch and all that. So, your first step in making a folio is to figure out what it is that you stand for. Give yourself a brand name, a ‘unique selling proposition’. There must be something that you’re good at, surely? Spend some time in identifying that, and then, ruthlessly promote yourself. Seen Go-go dancers? Google ‘em. Be that woman behind the window. Tempt people to come and see the full show.

Tip 02: Tell a story.

Creative Directors love being told stories to. The fact is that so bored they are of doing their regular non-interesting work, they take delight in anything that can distract them from the everyday. So be experimental, don’t just show him your work. Take him on a journey instead. Let the story not be about ads, but it let it be of you. Your trials, your tribulations, your romance with the written word, your heart-warming relationship with the brush. The ads aren’t your plot, they’re just delightful, colourful characters that bring your story alive.

Tip 03: Oversell yourself.

Make extravagant promises. Pretend to be more than what you are. Be cocky. Nobody wants to try a restaurant with a board outside that says, “We’re good, we think”. It raises questions. Hell, if you’re not sure of yourself, why should we be sure of you? People love fake promises. Best Chicken In Town. World’s Greatest Burger. Nobody actually knows for sure, but it’s sure as hell worth trying.

Tip 04: Don’t talk money.

Many will urge you to do just that. And to them, I stick my tongue out. Money’s important, but ending a conversation on a good note is even more important. Not appearing greedy is important as well. So, don’t ask for the sky. In fact, don’t ask for anything at all, till the big man in the chair asks something. And when he does ask, be realistic. Ask for what you deserve, and not a penny more. And if what you deserve happens to be a 200 per cent raise on what you earn now, so be it. If you think you’re good enough for that, you probably are. There’s a price you have to pay for a bottle of Glenfiddich.

Tip 05: Don’t look for a job.

Contradicts pretty much everything I said till now, but that’s me. When you walk into that room, don’t look for a job. Instead, just look forward to a pleasant half an hour with some top suits in an agency. Make friends, talk about the elections, about music, about wines. Be casual, relax. Smile a lot. And if you do all of this, and if you do all that I’ve just said, you don’t have to bother looking for a job – it’ll find its way to you.

(Bodhisatwa Dasgupta, better known in his circles as Bodhi, works as a writer in advertising. Designations aren’t important because he’s realised no matter how up, how low or high middle he is, he just keeps doing the same kind of work. Bodhi has an opinion about almost everything in life, some of which he documents in his blog He also has a charming daughter, and when she’s asleep, he writes at

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