Prototype Your Portfolio



Updated October 11, 2023
Land Your Dream Design Job

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.

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

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