During a recent coaching session, a mentee asked whether her portfolio was “enough” and what could be improved. This is a common asked question by junior designers when preparing for their portfolio and here’s my take.
While every hiring context and expectations of a portfolio differs from people to people, there are three particular things I look out for and feel its important to have:
1. Relevancy of experience and domain understanding
When reviewing portfolios and CV, I tend to look at whether the designer has any relevance in experience previously in the particular domain. While one may say domain understanding is something that can be transferred but we can’t deny that it takes time and aptitude.
If the designer comes from similar industry or have experience in a diverse set of industry, it helps to reduce the time needed to do knowledge transfer or in-depth onboarding before the designer can hit the ground running.
An in-house product designer role may expect the designer to have some familiarity in the industry that the product is in, while a design agency/consultancy may expect the designer to have a diverse experience to serve different type of clients in their portfolio. Ultimately, having a diverse range of experience can help to bring value to the company so it’s always encouraged regardless of roles.
As a junior designer or someone making a career switch, if you can leverage your past experience, that will help to boost your value in the role you are applying for.
2. Level of skills and craft
The next thing a hiring manager may look at is your level of design skills and craft. Your portfolio is a storytelling piece, it tells the story of you as a designer and how you solve problems.
From every text, color choice, imagery use, screenshots and how you present yourself and your work conveys your skills and craft. It doesn’t matter whether you say “Adobe Photoshop: Expert or Figma: Advanced”, what matters is how you present the work in your portfolio.
Some of the things I look out for includes:
- Level of detail-orientedness – are there any typos? Are your elements aligned?
- Flow of content – can I understand what you are trying to convey ? Can I make sense of the flow and patterns in the page?
- Visual aesthetics – what are your typography choices? Do you use a grid?
But what if you are a researcher or just someone who is more focused on “UX” than “UI”?
The same applies. If visual is your weakness, consider using platforms like Notion, Medium or portfolio templates to at least get a baseline standard and focus on the storytelling.
3. Character and personality of the designer
The third thing that comes to mind is whether I can get a sense of who you are as a human. Are you fun? Quirky? What are your values, beliefs? What do you care about?
Giving a short introduction and some snippets of you as a person will help hiring managers get a sense of whether this individual will be a good fit to their team.
One could argue that this creates bias and discrimination, another could debate that relatedness is what makes humans work better together. Whatever that may be, it is important to be authentic and stay true to yourself.
Being authentic about who you are saves time for everyone. As much as a hiring manager is looking for culture fit, you may also want to evaluate the culture fit for yourself. This is especially true during an interview when you get to meet fellow team members. Are they someone whom you can “click” well with? Do they talk about topics that you realise you have no clue of?
Lastly, should my portfolio be on a website or PDF/slide deck?
The answer is both. Ideally, you have a website, Behance or a “link” that people can use. This makes it easier for someone to share your profile around. A hiring manager may not need a UX researcher right now but he may know someone else who do, sending a link is definitely gonna be much easier than sending a 20mb PDF.
Keeping a PDF or slide based format of your portfolio will come in handy when you need to do a presentation during interviews. This is a pretty common ask by hiring managers when they want to evaluate a combination of your craft, personality, communication skills etc. A deck format helps you to go through a more engaging storytelling through your presentation than a website which is more for scanning and reading.
I hope these tips help you to craft a better portfolio and land your dream role!