You’re reading an excerpt of Land Your Dream Design Job, a book by Dan Shilov. Filled with hard-won, personal insights, it is a comprehensive guide to landing a product design role in a startup, agency, or tech company, and covers the entire design interview process from beginning to end, for experienced and aspriring designers. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Building Your Deck

The number one person you’re building this deck for is yourself. You’ll want to create a modular portfolio that you can remix at a moment’s notice if you’re called in for an interview with another company. To help you get there, I recommend you start an assessment of your recent work.

Stacking Your Projects

What were your recent projects that you consider to be your best work that show a variety of skills? Highlight projects that played to your unique identity as a designer—your combination of skills, point of view, and process that led to a result no other designer could have achieved.

One way to put together a project stack is to evaluate each project individually on your craft skills, such as user research, interaction design, visual design, and affected platforms.

Figure: Project 1, Interaction and Research Focus

Interaction and research-heavy project example

An example project with a heavy interaction and research component.

As an example, you might have a project where you were heavily involved with customer interviews, solving a complex interaction problem for a desktop app, but you were operating within an existing design system, so there wasn’t much visual design work.

Figure: Project 2, Visual Design Focus

Project with a visual design focus

An example project with a visual design focus.

Figure: Breadth and Depth of Skills

Combining different projects to show your breadth and depth of skills

Combining different projects to show your breadth and depth of skills.

Combining these projects in your portfolio demonstrates that you have strong skills in many areas. These graphs were inspired by Irene Au’s article, Writing a Job Description for UX People.

You might also consider other project dimensions:

  • Project complexity. Simpler projects can span a few weeks, others might take months or years.

  • Visionary projects. Projects that were in a completely brand-new space without a precedent, going from 0 to

  • Optimization projects. Mature platforms that you were optimizing, going from 1 to 10.

  • Operational projects. Initiatives you worked on to improve a team’s impact—for example, design systems or design process.

When you’re interviewing for multiple roles, I recommend building a deck composed of about six projects. You’ll present two or three projects during your portfolio review and have the other few in your back pocket in case interviewers have additional questions during one-on-ones.

Tailoring Your Projects for the Role

After evaluation, it’s time to tailor the portfolio to the role. You’ll get a good sense of what to include (or exclude), what to show first, and what to put in the appendix based on the job description. Ideally you get a sense of their underlying needs from the phone interview. Not sure what to show? The recruiter (or a dedicated contact at the company) is your best ally in this process. Don’t guess—reach out and ask them to describe their ideal candidate and what work they’d like to see.

Storytelling for Success

To make an impactful presentation, turn it into a story. You’re the hero of your own script. What trials on your path gave way to triumphs? Let’s break this down into three parts: presentation, project, and process.

Figure: Presentation, Projects, and Process

Presentation, projects, and process
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