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.

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.

Recruiter

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.

Recruiter Goals:

  1. Source a variety of candidates through multiple channels.

  2. Match the job requirements to the candidate.

  3. Follow-up with promising candidates to see if they’re a good match.

  4. Present top candidates to the hiring manager.

  5. 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.

Hiring Manager

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:

  1. Get a sense of your level, your seniority in design (based on scope, impact) and make sure your level matches the job requirements.

  2. Understand how you approach design, your strengths and areas of growth and see if you have the right balance of skills for the role.

  3. Watch out for any red flags or gaps in employment.

  4. 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.

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