Portfolios, the absolute worst part about job hunting in my opinion. As a collection of everything you have ever worked on, they are a true testament to who you are as a person and putting them out for the world to see can be very intimidating.
For me coming straight out of bootcamp was hard on my portfolio. Using the methods my bootcamp did to start its creation made it more UI focused than anything else. Each page had different elements and a different theme, and almost nothing felt finished. Because of this I knew I need a redo and it had to happen first and fast. I ended up taking my portfolio through 3 complete redesigns in about a year and a half before finally landing my current position.
Here are some of the things I learned in that process that hopefully help you in your journey.
There are a multitude of suggestions I can give you about the entirety of your portfolio, but here are the ones I think are the most important.
Show your personality, but keep it work appropriate. I consider this one to be the biggest. People want to know who you are, they want a glimpse of how you might fit into their team. They want an opportunity to connect with you before they even meet you. Heck, some companies even make you fill out a personality test before hiring you because they want to make sure they are hiring the right kind of people. (I say “right” though not to imply that there is a wrong, I simply mean every company has a certain kind of culture they are trying to maintain and it’s important that they foster that culture by hiring like minded individuals.) So show your personality and it guarantees you will be matched with a company that wants you to be there. My only note being keep it work appropriate, this is supposed to be a professional piece that many people working in many cultures will see and you don’t want to offend anyone, especially since connections are so important when job hunting. Culture can also differ within a company, so the hiring managers might have a more formal, professional culture while the design team could have a more relaxed one.
Highlight your interests. This kind of ties into the personality piece but it does deserve a little more spotlight. Show people what you are interested in. In my portfolio I saved a special spot to highlight all the volunteer work I have done, the conferences I have attended, and the presentations I have given. This gives the company a chance to see that you are active in your growth as a person, and designer. Companies hire people to be involved, involved in their process and product as well as in their company and culture. If you show them that you will be involved because you get involved, it can really help your chances. Highlight the interests that show you are actively working on being involved and staying involved, that you are constantly learning and improving your skills, and that you give back to your community. All of which are great characteristics to associate yourself with. This also gives people a chance to connect with you, maybe they have the same interests? Maybe it can be a topic you discuss in small talk with them? You never know when it can help influence a company’s decision.
Have a consistent design. This one can play into the personality piece a little. I learned that the first iteration of my homepage had a similar color scheme and a general layout consistency to the rest of the portfolio but the tone of voice was different. When writing the about me, I was more fun and relaxed but my case studies were very formal and stiff. In my second iteration, I found that the case study’s page designs and layouts differed across the projects. All of this leads me to say that consistency is key. Try to write everything in the same mood, try to keep all the designs and layouts the same. A big thing that helped me was creating a mood board for UI design inspiration and then sketching the layouts of each page at the same time.
Show your skills. A lot of the portfolio’s I have looked at tend to have a category of their skills. Some use charts to make it visually appealing, some just list them out, there are so many ways I have seen this done. If you list out Wireframing and then have a percentage next to it or a “high/low”wording, you might want to reconsider how you are doing this. When I see percentages my first thought is percentage out of what? Are you only 45% good at Wireframing? Does Wireframing take up 45% of your time? It is very confusing, and you end up leaving it up to the interpretation of the user. What if they interpret it the first way? Why would they want to hire someone who is only 45% good at something? You want to show them how good and make sure there is no room for interpretation. I also wouldn’t add a ton of skills here. It is easy to just list out all the skills/tools related to UX because you have done them before. In thinking that if you are good at everything, you are more likely to get a job. However, most experienced designers know what their areas of expertise are and tend to shy away from just listing everything. So be thoughtful, list out just your best areas but most importantly be able to back it up! If you list out design as a skill, your portfolio design needs to be on point.
This also helps give you a slight focus for your case studies. If you want to go into UI design, list out those skills and focus on that in the case studies and the same with research.
There are so many things I could talk about with this subject, but I will try to keep it to just a few tips and suggestions.
Design for recruiters, not designers. The first and most important people who are looking at your portfolio are going to be recruiters. I can almost guarantee that they also won’t spend more than 3–5 seconds on your website, unless you peak their interest. If they do read through it, you need to make sure it is designed for them in mind. Most recruiters aren’t going to know terms like “neumorphism” and are going to probably have the wrong definitions for terms like “design thinking”. By making sure they can understand, you also prove that you understand people (something UX designers should always be thinking about).
Tell a story. When writing up your case studies it help to tell a story. A lot of us break them down into the formats of problem, solution, research, design, testing, etc. But by doing this we can actually miss out on presenting how our brains/processes work. I highly recommend just writing out everything you did as if you were telling a story. Include parts that threw new things at you halfway through, the ones you decided needed to be redesigned, and the ones that made you completely start over. Be sure to include why, what happened that made you alter your focus? Once you are done go back through and figure out where you can add in your artifacts and how you want to section it. By doing this you can give people a better idea of what exactly happened in this project.
Keep it short and sweet. If you find your case study write up is more than a page, I would say chop it down. You want to keep all the relevant details and show your process but you don’t want to write a novel. Most recruiters tend to just scan over the pictures and very few will read the text. This doesn’t mean you don’t need it though, if recruiters are really interested they might sit down and read it. If you make it to the next round, the designers on the team might read it (and they are definitely looking for your process here). However, both the designers and recruiters are also doing this with limited time and you want to make sure they get through all of it without deciding it is too much and tossing it. One thing to keep in mind while chopping though is to include what the user did that changed what you were doing. It’s easy to cut down on why you made decisions and just show how you made decisions. But to UX Designers the user is the most important part and they want to know you are listening to them and then making those decisions.
Always reflect. In most businesses today (but not all), they focus on being Agile and using the scrum method. While that looks different for every company, a lot use retrospectives about the same way. This is when the team gets together after every launch and discusses what went well, what didn’t go well, and how they are going to make changes in the future. To a designer this is basically the process of iterating. What went wrong, how can we fix it, let’s improve the process next time. By including your own reflections after the case study it shows companies that you are reflecting and iterating. My one note for this is not to focus on the bad stuff to hardly, you don’t want people to think you did everything wrong or have no idea what you are doing. Try to word these in a way that sounds positive. Best Case use your constraints here and focus on what you could do differently if you had a wider audience or more time.
Show Variety. I heard this a lot while creating my portfolio and it was hard for me because I didn’t have a lot of variety. Try to get a good mix of individual versus group. If you can focus the projects on what area you want to go into. If you are open to anything, show a variety of projects that cross into different areas. Coming out of a bootcamp I had 5 projects and I really only liked 3 of them, they were all group projects and I had none where I worked individually. If you are in a similar situation here is what I did: I clearly stated what artifacts I worked on individually and what contributions I had made to the team and process in each case study. (All of this is easy to incorporate into that story.) After that I focused on choosing a variety that made a complete process based on what I had contributed to each project. In one, I did a lot of the surveying and the wireframes. In another, I worked on the affinity diagram and the testing. Put those together and I had worked on surveys, wireframes, affinity diagrams and testing. Which shows I did a lot more in the UX process than if I just choose projects where I did the wireframes.
I hope this helps you on your journey. If you have any other tips I would love to hear them, and if you have any further questions/topics you would like answered feel free to leave them in the comments.