10 tips for polishing your UX portfolio

So, you are a highly skilled UX designer, looking for a new job. You’ve paid special attention to your CV and application. Great! Several employers have taken interest? Even better! You are asked to send your portfolio? …panic. Why would you even need a portfolio, and what does the company want to see anyway?

Don’t worry! Here are a few tips for making a portfolio that helps you land that job. Take it from us – as active recruiters, we’ve seen it all.

1. Portfolio is the tool to get you an interview

When recruiting, we are looking for relevance – approach, knowledge and skills relevant for the job. We need to evaluate whether you have them or not. By looking at your portfolio, we should be able to get an understanding of the level of your expertise.

It’s the ‘show’ in recruitment show-and-tell.

2. PDF or webpage, it doesn’t really matter

Choose the tool you like best. We really don’t care much about the format of your portfolio as long as we find the necessary information about you and your skills. Google Slides, PDF, or HTML – Weebly, Wix, WordPress, et cetera.

You should be concentrating more on what you want to communicate than through which medium you do it.

3. Present your cases with thought

Visual candy is not the point of a UX portfolio, we know that’s not your main thing. There are other things we want to see.

Interaction design is all about how software and services interact with people. Thus, static images rarely tell a story very well. Spice up your presentation by, for example, showing steps of a real world scenario, something that can be easily demonstrated with a series of images. What does the user do? How does the system respond?

By looking at your portfolio, we want to see if you have truly understood your users. Please, use realistic content and data in your prototypes instead of lorem ipsum. Real(istic) data shows that you have invested time and effort in understanding the context and the users.

List the best stuff first, but in order to leave a good impression, don’t leave the worst for the last. In fact, leave the worst out altogether. We tend to think that you prioritised your content for a reason.

4. Make your cases worth reading

There are some angles that are interesting to the reviewer of your portfolio. No need to cover them all, though – just so you get the idea.

  • Setup: was the project a renewal of something old or designing something completely new?
  • Business case: what did the client want and why?
  • Team: what was your role in the case? The one of a UX designer, UI designer, interaction designer…or did you do the visuals and copywriting too?
  • Research: How did you get to know your audience, your customers, the end-users?
  • Methods: relevant deliverables, surveys, findings. Try to be as concrete as you can. If possible, show a screenshot instead of telling.
  • Target: what was the desired outcome and how did you measure/assess whether or not it was reached? If available, concrete evidence is the best: customer feedback (preferably with quotes) and analytics. It’s also ok to say if the case didn’t go that well, we appreciate honesty. Not every project is a moonshot.
  • Personal angle: did you enjoy the case? Where was your passion, what did you like to do most in this project? What did you learn?

5. Stress quality over quantity

The reviewer has somewhere around 5 to 15 minutes to go through your portfolio. So, it’s not even worth it to show more than 10 cases, stick to 4-6.

Not every case needs to be a deep dive. Pick one or two of your favorite cases to tell more about, the rest can be considered more of an overview. If the design is very outdated because it was done more than six years ago, it’s worth showing only if there was something special about it. Remember to mark the year the case was started or released on, it gives more perspective to the reviewer.

6. Be honest

Be honest with your role and your responsibilities. Sometimes we see a portfolio where the applicant says she did a whole project by herself and we know, via networks and such, that it is not true.

Most of us work in a team, and it’s ok to say that. Talk about your impact and role in the project. Remember, we are not looking for a unicorn. We’re looking for a future team member.

7. Add the thing that makes you different

A personal touch is always a good thing. You never know what connects you with your future interviewer.

Sometimes, free time projects or hobbies can show a hidden skill we need in our team. Like, “oh, she has some marketing skills as well, she has done social media campaigns/video editing for a hobby project!” A skill can be a little out-of-context, and still highly appreciated. (Just keep it short, the basics should all be in your CV already.)

8. Make use of confidential projects

“But all my projects are NDA work…”

That’s ok! The good news is that you can still tell us something about them. Just remove company names and logos, abstract the case, obfuscate the data. There’s still a lot to learn about your methods and process.

9. Junior, utilize school projects

If you are a junior applicant, we are not expecting you to have too many cases in your portfolio.

So, you can include school projects as well. In those cases, it is very important to talk about your role in them and what you learned in the process.

10. Is it ready? Ask a colleague

Sometimes, it is hard to be your own producer. If you are still unsure about your portfolio content, just do what you would normally do: put your portfolio through some usability testing.

What do your colleagues say about your work? Is there something missing, should you emphasize one case over another? Your peers might be able to give some valuable insight.

All finished? Happy hunting!

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