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.
Portfolios are a prerequisite for a design role these days. Just like with design exercises, sometimes industry experts also bemoan this point—what if the designer is too busy to make one? What if the portfolio is out of date? It’s rare to get an interview without a portfolio, and even if you might get to a phone screen, you’ll still be expected to present your work during the final interview. But building a portfolio needn’t be a painful process.
You want to build two portfolios:
Your online portfolio. This may be private; you’ll share it as part of your application. Your number one goal with this portfolio is to land the phone screen. It should pique your viewer’s interest without revealing too much info (you’ll talk about that during your on-site).
Your on-site portfolio. When you get to the final interview stage, you’ll need to create another portfolio. This one will be less verbal and more visual. You’ll typically present one or two projects in depth and may have additional slides in an appendix to go over details. The goal of this portfolio is to make a winning impression and get an offer.
In this chapter we’ll cover in detail, step-by-step, how to build your online portfolio—after all, this piece is crucial to kicking off the rest of the interviewing process. If you already have a portfolio built, you might want to check out the Design Portfolio Checklist to ensure you have everything covered. We’ll cover the on-site portfolio in the interviews and presentations chapter, as it deserves its own treatment.
What If You’re Fresh Out of School?
One of the common challenges that new designers face when putting together their portfolio for the first time is the lack of so-called real-world design projects. If you’ve just completed a bootcamp or graduated from an undergrad or graduate program, you may not have a lot of working experience. By all means, if in your school projects you worked with a client—a startup or a large company—be sure to feature that work, including any internships that you’ve done. But if you have none of these?
Hiring managers, especially those without a design background, sometimes don’t give as much weight to candidates who don’t have many real-world projects in their portfolio. Sometimes they see it as a risk to take on an entry-level candidate, thinking that they’ll have to spend a significant amount of time training and developing the employee.
storyIn a recent interview, a founder mentioned to me how he was afraid of hiring junior designers: “Yeah, we’ll get them in, they’ll do exactly what they’re told, and that will be a complete failure. What we need is people who can push back and tell us we’re wrong and come up with a better solution than we would have on our own.” So don’t be afraid to showcase your process and frameworks that you’ve used to push back on problems to come up with better solutions. As designers, redefining problems is our core competency—no matter the seniority.
So if you find yourself in this situation, what can you do? Generally, you can take a couple of approaches, and my recommendation is to experiment with some of these while you’re still applying to your dream role.
Tailor Your Portfolio and Do Your Research
In general, the advice of tailoring your portfolio to the job at hand still applies. You’ll want to show how your projects in school can transfer to the problems your potential employer might be facing. If the company you’re applying to has an experienced design manager on staff, they’ll usually be able to connect the dots quickly.
However, if they don’t have a design manager, you might want to bridge the gap for them by doing a little research and doing some work on the side, showing how in just a few hours of time you were able to take a crack at some of the challenges they’re facing. Yes, this does start to look like a design exercise of sorts, but if the company isn’t doing design exercises per se, a teaser of what you can do for them can work wonders to open up a more productive conversation.
Add Freelancing Side Projects
While you’re applying and looking to get that ideal design job, it’s not a bad idea to look into design contracting or picking up a few side projects along the way. You can bolster your portfolio by attending a hackathon (which can be an intense but brief commitment for a few days). Alternatively, you can reach out to non-profits to do work pro-bono as long as they’re willing to commit the time to communicate and work with you. Another source of work can be a contribution to open-source projects. Many of these are started by eager developers, but few projects have designers, so this could be an excellent way to fill in some gaps.
Consider an Apprenticeship or a Design Internship
If in your schoolwork you weren’t able to do a design internship—this could be another path to consider. There’s no shame in taking an internship after graduation. While usually internships don’t pay much, they do provide a low-risk way for the employer to get to know you while you’re working. Be sure to go above and beyond in this role if you do choose to pursue an internship. Even if things don’t work out or if the employer doesn’t invite you back—they can still be a strong reference for you and potentially might open doors at other places. But, of course, you also want to take matters in your own hands and continue looking while you are pursuing your internship.
Consider Your Portfolio Personas
The main goal of your online portfolio is to land the phone screen. It is not to be exhaustive in describing the rigor of your process (save that for the on-site!) but rather to start the initial conversation and continue the momentum from online, to phone screen, to an on-site interview.
Be choosy in what you show here and focus on curating the best representative image of your work. Because you will not present this portfolio, your portfolio must stand on its own when a recruiter or a hiring manager is looking through it.
A recruiter’s job is to source qualified candidates and to present them to the hiring manager. Good recruiters understand the design process, have worked with other designers before, and know what a hiring manager needs. Since their job is to get many qualified leads in the pipeline, they’ll be scanning your portfolio and resume for signs of good work and process.
Source a variety of candidates through multiple channels.
Match the job requirements to the candidate.
Follow-up with promising candidates to see if they’re a good match.
Present top candidates to the hiring manager.
Get feedback from the hiring manager and repeat the process until all positions have been filled.
Remember, the objective of the recruiter is to first and foremost get the right candidate for the client. You are not the client. The hiring manager is. That said, some recruiters go above and beyond to make sure both parties are satisfied.
This is your future manager or potentially your manager’s manager. They (usually) will have a keen eye for design assuming they’ve been a designer themselves but sometimes they might come from another field such as engineering, data science, or product management. In that case they might also ask their fellow designer to evaluate your work.
Hiring Manager Goals:
Get a sense of your level, your seniority in design (based on scope, impact) and make sure your level matches the job requirements.
Understand how you approach design, your strengths and areas of growth and see if you have the right balance of skills for the role.
Watch out for any red flags or gaps in employment.
Get clarity on your overall career objectives and see if they align with what the opportunity and the company overall.
Imagine the manager to be busy and distracted. Their work is already cut out for them, and they’re drowning in responsibilities. They need more designers! Good problem to have, but they’re browsing your portfolio while running from one meeting to the next. They’ll glance over it for 30 seconds. If it looks interesting, they’ll give it two more minutes. If they see good things, they’ll let the recruiter set up a phone call.
Sometimes another designer will be evaluating your portfolio as well. They could be a senior, junior, or a peer to you, and depending on where you’re at in the company’s interviewing process, they might evaluate your portfolio in the beginning or right before your final interview. Just like the hiring manager, they will have a good grasp of design. In addition, if they’re a junior designer, they’ll also be looking for someone they can learn from.
Gather Your Content
Before you begin your portfolio, it helps to have everything all in one place. It’s common industry advice to “build your portfolio before you need it.” But let’s face it, free time can be hard to come by, and spending it on building a portfolio doesn’t feel like it’s time well spent. So my recommendation is to go an easier route and to develop the habit of capturing your work as it unfolds.
important To make portfolios, build the habit of capturing key screenshots or changes in your work throughout the process.
A portfolio project often tells a compelling story of design execution from beginning to end. Having artifacts of the experience will help you substantiate your story and provide the evidence you need to come across as an expert in your craft.
Figure: Collecting Artifacts of Your Process
Capture your design process as you go.
Here’s a list of things to consider capturing. This list isn’t definitive, and you definitely don’t need all of these for a successful portfolio. Rather, treat this as a way to brainstorm assets that you may want to include:
Documentation. Product requirements, design specifications, user research guides, research findings, and so on. You don’t need to share the full documentation, but pointing to specific parts in a research finding or the user guide is helpful.
Photos of artifacts. Whiteboards, a napkin, or more formal sketches—anything that has led to interesting insights.
Video and audio recordings. You could use interesting interviews to pull relevant research findings.
Design mocks. These can be snapshots of your work in progress but also capturing the work that got left behind on the so-called cutting room floor. Showing what you didn’t do and why you didn’t do it is just as important.
Prototypes. Show your work come to life. These could be recorded or live.
Shipped product. This could be a series of screenshots or a recording of the live product, where you can reinforce the message of how you uphold design quality throughout the product development cycle.
Workshops and ideation. Capturing photos and recordings, these could be especially great if you can show a link from a fledgling rough idea to a polished concept and connect the dots.
At the end of the day, not all of your projects will follow the same process or have the same deliverables. But rough sketches can be an interesting way to break up your presentation and introduce some variety to your portfolio.
Figure: Rough Design Sketches
Using rough sketches can be an interesting way to break up your presentation and introduce some variety to your portfolio.
Having these raw materials handy puts you in a strong editorial position where you can pick and choose artifacts that can tell your story in a compelling way. Expect to discard 95% or more of these, and you may need to go back and find additional content to make a cohesive story. But having most of this content up-front will help you move much faster compared to trying to start completely from scratch.
Portfolio Formats to Consider
These days, portfolios can take on many different formats. In the past, designers would create a customer site with six thumbnails for each portfolio project. Now there are more options to choose from. Remember, the goal of your online portfolio is to get a phone interview. During that interview you’ll do a light portfolio review with a hiring manager and the recruiter, so you want to show work that you’re proud of and that’s relevant to the job at hand.
Once you’re in the final rounds, you’ll have to create a different portfolio that’s specifically tailored to the company and the presentation format. So don’t spend so much time on building your online portfolio that you don’t submit it anywhere.
Table: Portfolio Format Comparison
Watch out for
Note-taking app (like Notion)
No technical knowledge to get started.
Navigation and organization of your case studies. Don’t get stuck writing a book that has no visuals to tell your story.
None. You’ll need to understand some basic mechanics of linking pages together, but it’s a small time investment.
Deck (like Keynote, Figma, or Google Slides)
A deck helps you optimize for the right balance of content and visual while building interest.
By default, decks aren’t as accessible on smaller devices like phones.
Some learning curve, as you may need to know the ins and outs of deck design and the app to get a good handle on your presentation.
Site building app (like Webflow)
Fastest way to get started with ability to customize and make changes rapidly as you go.
Over-indexing on layout and site design while not having strong case study content.
Some learning curve, but not as difficult as learning front-end development from scratch.
Your own site
Ultimate freedom and control; you can structure your content however you see fit.
Debugging your portfolio. You may also get unfairly judged if your site is broken.
High learning curve if you’re starting out or if you’re brushing up on the latest CSS/HTML.
From a hiring manager perspective, the most important part is the content itself. Creating a good-looking portfolio site is nice, but it’s not as important as the work itself. Hiring managers are interested in seeing that you’ve worked on complex problems and shipped results. You will get bonus points if your portfolio stands out, but that’s extra. The number one priority is to make sure your case studies cover complex design challenges. You’ll want to get that phone call back from them, so make sure your work can stand well on its own.
storyYears ago I found myself on the job market with a portfolio three years out of date. I spent weeks making it look visually stunning. The irony? I never shipped it. In the meantime, while I was agonizing about the portfolio site, I created a keynote deck that I’ve shared with recruiters and hiring managers. In the end, the “site” never made it past Sketch. The deck, however, led to many interviews and several offers.
If you’re having trouble deciding on the format, it’s time to put your product manager hat on. Given your resources—your skill level, time, and commitment, what format can get you to a final portfolio quickly? Optimize for speed over perfection. Getting the job done to a good degree is more important than polishing up a perfect portfolio that you end up not submitting.
To help you with the portfolio, I’ve created folio—it’s free and available on Sketch, Figma, and Keynote.
Figure: Jumpstart Your Portfolio
A folio example.
If this is your first time putting together a portfolio and if you’re struggling with the format, folio is optimized to follow a case study format while allowing you to expand on your process.
Organize Your Portfolio
Design portfolios can feel like never-ending work. Sometimes we avoid the effort altogether in favor of “research.” We go online, we look at other designer portfolios, and maybe even get a little intimidated by some of the work out there. Can my portfolio be just as good?
Other times we dive right into design, skipping the important writing process altogether. Or we agonize about the content so much that we write a book, only to discover nobody wants to read it online.
A solid portfolio can be hard to pull off. We’ll take a look at what a hiring manager looks for in a portfolio and note how to avoid mistakes. I’ll use a deck format (via folio—a free portfolio template deck that I’ve created) to illustrate these examples, but rest assured you can adapt and use any portfolio format as long as it communicates these key ideas.
You’ll want to address these things in your portfolio:
Experience. Based on your prior work, managers want to get a sense of your level and evaluate your projects accordingly. I look at the size and scope of projects. Did you initiate projects or were you mostly an order taker? Did you ship major projects across multiple quarters and teams? Let your resume and portfolio complement each other and tell a consistent story.
Expertise and strengths. No product designer is the same—everyone has different strengths and areas of interest when it comes to the design process. What are your strengths? Where do you shine? This is your competitive advantage that sets you apart.
Craft and output. To get the phone interview, your online portfolio must do the talking for you. Feature your best (likely recent) projects that show a breadth and depth of your skills. Show work that you’re proud of—cut out projects that don’t do justice to what you’re capable of doing now.
Process. Hiring managers are interested in your problem-solving skills. How do you approach your work? Do you have a process in place? Do you follow it too rigidly? What part of the process comes easy and which part is exciting? Hiring managers are looking for designers who can break problems down and sequence the work in a way that drives customer value while reducing engineering scope.
By the way, if you already have a portfolio and are looking to make small adjustments or if you’re starting from scratch take a peek at the Design Portfolio Checklist worksheet that comes with the book. It’s a handy reference to ensure your portfolio covers all the basics that hiring managers are looking for.
Portfolio Writing Principles
When it comes to writing your portfolio case study—imagine writing a magazine article. Your reader finds herself in a busy airport browsing through the newsstand. An interesting cover catches her attention, she quickly flips through the magazine pages. She finds an appealing story, and when she pauses to read it in detail she discovers the content to be well written and informative, thus making the overall experience rewarding.
Optimize for scanning. Tweak the hierarchy to make your portfolio content easy to consume while enticing the reader to dig for more.
Support with a compelling story. As the readers dive into the content, tell the story—give a narrative highlighting key facts that led to unexpected outcomes.
Your portfolio is an opportunity to present your version of the story. Remember your portfolio personas—they’re in a rush, so they’ll spend less than a minute scanning through your portfolio to see if there’s some enticing content in there to dive deep into. It’s your job as a designer to capture their attention, stop them in their tracks, and make them want you.
At a high level your portfolio should follow this structure:
Intro. Your name, date of your portfolio.
Experience. A short summary of your story, how you came to design, experiences you’ve had, and what makes you a strong designer.
Projects. Ideally, a couple of recent projects that show the breadth and depth of your thinking and doing and that highlight your strengths as a designer.
Thank you. Closing slide (or page) with your contact information such as your email, relevant professional social networks, and phone number.
The projects are the meat of your portfolio, but don’t forget the context. Even little things such as having a portfolio title with your name and giving a little personal background are helpful. Context makes you stand out as a designer, a person—not just a nameless portfolio deck in a stack of applicants. Don’t miss this chance to make a good impression.
About You: Set Context with Experience
In design, context is everything. For a portfolio to be successful, you’ll have to set context, starting with yourself. What’s your background? Who are you? What’s your superpower? This is an opportunity to highlight role-relevant skills and any transferable expertise.
Think of your portfolio as an extension of your resume (or your LinkedIn profile). I’d like to understand your career path—where have you been and where are you going? The reality is that there are no clear paths or linear progressions. Circumstances change, companies go under, we get laid off. It happens.
Don’t lose this opportunity to tell your side of the story. How did you end up where you’re at currently? Why would you be a great addition to the team? Everyone has a unique story to tell.
If you can—add a personal touch. In a sea of applications, it’s inadvertently easy to become just another designer. Feel free to “bring your whole self” and highlight relevant hobbies and fun facts that make you look at design differently. Play to your strengths and include things that might make you stand out as a candidate. If you’ve worked in smaller companies or in small and barely existing design teams—own that. If you were the only designer there, tell the story of how you stepped up to the role and went above and beyond.
Setting up Your Work
Setting up work properly can make or break a portfolio. Think of using progressive disclosure to gradually reveal information, starting with the company, to your role, to the project, to project details.
Figure: Establish Company Context
Company or Team
If you worked at a small company, it helps to describe what the company did. Oftentimes smaller companies don’t have the luxury of brand recognition, but that’s OK. Summarizing what the company did in a few sentences is all it takes. Alternatively, if you did work at a larger company (like Facebook) you can specify your department or team and their area of expertise.
Figure: What Roles Did You Play?
What roles did you play at this company (or team)?
Your Role and Responsibilities
What were you hired to do? Mention the roles you played, especially if you went above and beyond the call of duty (for example, you were hired to do product design but ended up doing that plus marketing).
Which Projects Should I Pick?
Remember this is your high-level portfolio, so feel free to pick a couple of projects that do justice in representing your skills. Ideally this is your most recent, best work, but it’s OK to include projects that aren’t the latest as long as it’s still work you’re proud to show. If you’re not proud of it, don’t show it—a portfolio is meant to be a curated collection of work not an exhaustive set.
A successful project is one that has been able to meet or exceed a goal based on measured outcomes with least amount of effort.
Figure: Showing a Successful Project
Project cover slide for a concept.
Your cover slide should include:
Summary. Project title, quick summary, platform, your role, project timespan, screenshots of key changes that capture the essence of a project.
Process. How did you approach the problem? Pull out a couple of methods that you used and explain how you used them to inform your decision-making. Use this to highlight your expertise, but don’t be formulaic—show where you’ve bent the process to achieve outcomes.
Outcomes. What was the end result? Sometimes it makes sense to put this section at the end, but you can also put it ahead of process to entice the reader to dive in. You can highlight the metrics that were moved, the before and after, and the outcomes that were achieved.
That’s it! The basic format should carry you through, but be sure to make it your own. Not providing enough project context is a common mistake that I see in portfolios. If someone who’s coming into your work cold, it’s highly likely they won’t be familiar with your industry or product.
Design is context specific: include your project’s platforms, type of work (visual design, research, or some other), team composition (you were a design lead, for instance), timelines, and so on. Think of this as building a strong foundation for the content that follows, ensuring the viewer is invested in the story. This also allows the viewer to quickly glean enough information so they can choose to either continue to read through this project or skip ahead to the next one.
Finally, include the results of your work up front—for example, “the new design led to a 20% conversion in the checkout flow.” Back to the magazine example, use the inverted pyramid style of writing by revealing the punchline.
When structuring your process, be sure to highlight specific activities or things you’ve done that led to new insight. Sometimes I see two extremes:
Not enough process. Your work is purely visual and there’s no explanation of how you arrived at your final outcome. You might be methodical in your approach, but if you don’t show work that led up to your final deliverable, it’s hard to tell.
Too much process. At the opposite end is when a designer writes out in excruciating detail all of the things they’ve done. It’s good to see that you have a solid approach in place—but save the details for the in-person portfolio interview.
Strike the right balance of using process to advance your story, pulling out unexpected and thought-provoking insights that informed your work, leading to a higher quality result. Feel free to mix and match different templates to show how your approach led to insight.
Figure: Example Process Slide
Feel free to mix and match different templates to show how your approach led to insight.
Show mocks or prototypes that you’ve designed to test out your ideas. If you’re promoting yourself as a prototype expert, you can highlight some of the nuances of your prototypes and how you were able to simulate the real thing to get the right results from your customers. Before and after shots can prove useful.
Figure: Project Output Slides
Include representative mocks or prototypes. Before and after shots can prove useful.
Projects usually aren’t cut-and-dry moving from process, to prototype, to result—usually a couple rounds of iteration are involved. You’ll need to shape your story and presentation accordingly to show how the work evolved.
Here, we come back to the beginning—the problem statement. How did your hard work solve the problem at hand? How did you measure your impact?
You can look at it through two lenses:
Qualitative. How did customers react? Were they delighted by the change? Can you share their testimonials or other forms of feedback? Qualitative feedback can tell a powerful story but, remember, it’s anecdotal; so ideally you can supplement it with quant insights to complete the story.
Quantitative. What was the impact to the metrics you were originally measuring? Were there any positive surprises? Having numbers on your side and drawing a direct link from problem, to solution, to result will help you form a stronger argument for your work.
Figure: Bolster Your Results with Metrics
If you can get metrics, great—if not, look at other ways to show how your work led to an improvement.
Sometimes it’s hard to get metrics. Even in data-driven companies it takes time to get the numbers. Or you might not even have access to this data anymore. If you can’t get it, consider other ways to provide evidence showing that your project led to improvement. For example, maybe your work helped standardize components, allowing the engineering team to move faster.
Close with a Call to Action
Lastly, don’t forget the most important piece—your contact info. Include a clear call to action and double-check that phone number.
There are no shortcuts. The quality of your work and your thinking is what sets you apart. So don’t let the hard work go to waste. Structuring your case studies in the best possible light can make a big difference in getting that first interview. Good luck—you got this!
Prototype Your Portfolio
If you really want to maximize your chances, prototype your portfolio before submitting. You only get one shot when it comes to making a first impression, so make it your best one.
Playing Hiring Manager
Is there a dream job you have in mind? Print out the job description, then hand it to your friend and let them play the role of the hiring manager. As they go through your work, ask them to speak out loud. Seeing their gut reaction to your portfolio in person, as they’re voicing what they see, is powerful.
If you have industry contacts, reach out to designers or design managers and get their feedback. Managers usually look at portfolios regularly, and designers, too, may sit on interviews, so they know what to expect.
storyWhen I was creating my portfolio I talked with one recruiter, three senior designers, and two design managers at different companies. The diversity of feedback allowed me to improve the portfolio in more ways than one and ensured I addressed all concerns. By the time I brought it to a portfolio review night, I didn’t get as much feedback, and one of the portfolio mentors was interested in interviewing me for an open role.
Don’t forget—you have your own circle of friends that you might fall back on now and then. Some may be looking for jobs, others have gone through this process themselves; all can give valuable feedback, provided you give them the right frame. These friends don’t have to be designers either. In fact presenting your work to somebody from a non-technical background can be helpful in ensuring your content is accessible.
Sifting Through Feedback
Even as you’re testing your portfolio, you may get strong but sometimes conflicting feedback. One designer may say you should do X but another may think you’re really better off with Y. Just like a regular design critique, it’s up to you to reconcile it in the end. But when you are going through your portfolio with another designer, be sure to ask why, to get a better understanding of their feedback.
Even designers sometimes make the mistake of giving directional feedback without fully articulating their reasoning behind it. It’s up to you to facilitate, to probe, to understand where they’re coming from, and then either take their suggestion or leave it. Sometimes it also helps to clarify the underlying reason for why you have pursued a certain direction in order to get the most relevant feedback.
At the end of the day, though, it will be up to you to make the final decision. Remember, all the critique is advice that you may or may not follow. Some advice might not be relevant—you may purposefully try to break the rules or you may have more context on the problem than your critique giver—so don’t be afraid to leave certain feedback out if you think it will not make for a stronger end product.
Promote Your Portfolio
As we talked about earlier, generally it helps to be very tailored and specific with your job search and your portfolio as well. But if you’ve already done the work, if you’ve created and organized your case studies, then you should also consider promoting your work in other places. Think about your online site as a landing hub—a place where you have fine control over what to show. Within this hub you have content about yourself, your curated work in the form of a portfolio, as well as any other side projects you’re working on that make you stand out.
Figure: Your Online Portfolio Is a Hub
Your online portfolio as a landing hub.
To get visitors in, there are many channels that exist to promote online portfolios—Dribbble, Behance, Squarespace, LinkedIn. Consider using all of them. In the next chapter we’ll talk about how you can use passive and active strategies to entice recruiters and put part of the job search on autopilot.
important If you build it, they won’t (necessarily) come. That’s why promoting your work is so important. Once you’ve created your site and put your portfolio together, it’s time to capitalize on your effort by showing it on other online platforms.
Bestfolios curates top portfolios from recent grads and seasoned pros working at major tech companies. Oftentimes recruiters look through Bestfolios searching for talent, and I’ve heard a few of my friends find success with it. If you have a site that’s visually compelling, submit it. If you’re looking for portfolio inspiration, it’s a good place to visit.
The disadvantage of Bestfolios (and other gallery sites in general) is that you’ll be competing against many other qualified designers. But since this site is highly curated and generally not every portfolio gets through, it’s still a good way to go, especially if it’s one of many channels to feature your work.
Dribbble and Behance
People have been talking about how Dribbble and Behance promote a culture of posting visually stunning work without context, eliciting comments like “So cool bro!” And it’s true, there’s some of that. Designers view Dribbble as an exclusive club to get in, but once you’re there the excitement stops. Recruiters who are looking for interaction designers, UX designers, or product designers find both platforms insufficient.
My advice is to think of these platforms as a teaser. Let recruiters get an idea of your work based on your snapshots, then substantiate these with a detailed case study on your personal site. Both platforms receive a significant amount of traffic. If you’ve already put your portfolio together, take advantage of this—promote it.
In 2020, Dribbble launched new offerings for designers, allowing them to customize their landing page and giving advanced posting capabilities like sharing videos. While this doesn’t replace a portfolio, it’s a nice supplement.
If you’re in a hurry and need to put together a portfolio, Medium can be used as a quick way to get started. However, avoid making your portfolio look like an example from the case study factory. Similar to Dribbble, Medium can be used as a teaser, it’s an opportunity to also promote your profile and your work without getting into the nitty-gritty of the process—save that for your personal site.
It might come as a surprise to see Instagram listed as one of the tools to promote your portfolio, but there have been stories of recruiters going through designers’ Instagram accounts and getting an interview out of that. If you do choose to include an Instagram account on your profile, make sure you keep it professional. Some designers have a dedicated Instagram, focused specifically on design, where they share snapshots of their work a la Dribbble; but this may prove cumbersome, especially if you’re not sharing actively. Either way, this could be yet another channel to drive portfolio traffic.
Figure: Instagram Your Portfolio
Dan Petty’s Instagram feed features shots of his personal life as well as recent projects he’s worked on.
Staying active on Twitter can be a great way to engage with the community. Blatantly promoting your portfolio or case studies is frowned upon, but engaging with other designers, and recruiters, you can become an active member of the community. Beyond engagement, you can also follow UX jobs accounts and hashtags to get the latest job postings.
Think of LinkedIn as an up-to-date version of one’s resume. In addition to listing out your experience, you want to also tell your side of the story. Once you have your pitch created, you can reuse part of it in your title and your profile description. You can also attach files—these could be either individual case studies or links to your full portfolio (which can be especially handy should you choose to make a portfolio deck).
What’s the one unfair secret way of getting your foot in the door when applying to jobs? Easy. Connect with people first. The best strategy is not to cast a wide net by applying everywhere but to be focused on the few opportunities where you can make an outsize impact. Your future employer appreciates this effort too—they’d rather hire someone with the necessary skills, with a passion for the company’s mission, and who has done their homework over someone who’s just looking for whatever they can get.
When you are applying, your best bet is to use a variety of channels, from reaching out to alumni to promoting your portfolio in other channels. All of these will help you raise visibility and increase your chances. However, these tactics won’t be as effective if you haven’t figured out the strategy first—understanding how your skills fit with the types of jobs you’re looking for.
Two Strategies for Applying
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