I had just graduated college…with honors, mind you. I had a print portfolio packed with produced work and a reel of commercials that actually ran on TV. Landing my first job as a copywriter at an ad agency would surely be a breeze. I’m not sure how, but I managed to get an interview with the Creative Director of a hot Chicago shop. After a brief introduction and a little small talk, he asked to see my work. He thumbed through my portfolio and then popped in my VHS. About 15 seconds into the first commercial he ejected the tape, turned to me and said, “Your work sucks.”

After I got my jaw off the floor and heart restarted, I felt the need to explain to him that he must be mistaken. I reminded him of my good grades, that my print ran in magazines and that some of my TV spots were probably on the air right now. It was then that he let me in on a little secret no one in any of my classes or internships ever thought to, or knew to mention. He said that your portfolio is the one place where you can showcase your personality, the way you think and how you solve problems. He didn’t give a shit about my grades or if I even went to college. And he certainly didn’t care that my work was produced. Actually, he explained, 99% of produced advertising is crap anyway. Your book needs to be in that 1%. School project? Fine. A spec campaign that never saw the light of day? Cool. An actual produced piece? Only if it was great. He then handed me a One Show Book and told me that only people with work this good get work.

Two years later, I got my first job.

So, how did I do it? Well, I started by picking up on another piece of advice he gave me and that was to look at the products or services I used and try to make up ad campaigns for them. So I did. He also suggested taking bad ads and try making them better. I did that too. The last thing he left me with was to surround myself with great work… Scour the award books, watch award reels and read the writings of industry rock stars. Done, done and done. After about a year of this, my portfolio was getting better. But working in a vacuum free of constructive criticism and professional guidance, I could only go so far. Fortunately it was around then that a flyer for a night course caught my eye. It was the first iteration of the Chicago Portfolio School. And it was the kick in the ass I needed to finish that job winning portfolio.

At the Milwaukee Portfolio School, we run a program that’s more akin to a mini agency than a college classroom. We preach and teach the things that built our books and got us jobs, share insights from being in the business for over 20 years each and give students valuable industry connections. All in the span of just six weeks.

Look, maybe no one has been as blunt about your work as my first interviewer was about mine. But if you haven’t landed that job of your dreams yet, you have to ask yourself…does your portfolio suck?

Learn more about the Milwaukee Portfolio School at mkeportfolioschool.com