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Your portfolio is stopping you from getting that job

Your portfolio is stopping you from getting that job


There seems to be a toxic trend that’s recently picked up in the design ecosystem. The master-of-all, young designer.

Apparently, in the last 3–4 years, all new talent are well-versed in all domains and cuts of product design. Illustrations, wireframes, user interviews, user testing, information architecture, visual design, graphic design, interaction design, motion design, etc.

There are at least 5–6 skills mentioned in most application resumes with portfolios that seem to follow the following formula:

  • One food delivery app design (with a made-up use case) with 50 pages of the walkthrough (starting from how it’s a huge problem that no one seems to care about). It has user interviews, affinity maps (picture of folks huddling around a whiteboard with post-its is a must), personas (of course), IA & wireframes, and final designs.

  • There are three to four small animations — there’s always one where a button turns into a tick!

  • Three to four illustrations — a reverse lookup always results in a Shutterstock page result.

  • A packaging design project with a serif font along with some nice looking mockups

  • A list of books they’ve read. Typically the trending best sellers.

Look, I don’t mean to ridicule you. In fact, I’m here to help you get that job!

Here are some tactical tips:

If you’re applying for content writing:

  • Show your writing work samples (long-form samples if you’re applying for marketing roles, short-form if you’re applying for product, design roles)

  • Don’t show your graphic design, illustration skills if they’re not at parwith the quality the team operates at. If they’re not at par, it’ll put your taste to question. Show them if they are aiding in some purpose to your writing.

If you’re applying for graphic design:

  • Show your composition, typography, and layout skills. How you design your resume is the first indicator.

  • Show your photo manipulation skills. How good you really are at Photoshop.

  • Anyone today can put together a fictitious branding/ packaging project together. Recruiters see those multiple times every day. Make us look at your specific skills.

  • Good at making illustrations? Show just illustrations — not any random set of objects, but how do you take complex concepts into easy metaphors.

  • Remove every other kind of project from your application or call them out as secondary explicitly (E.g. UI/UX/Research/Testing/Art)

If you’re applying for product design:

  • If your core is solving business problem statements, call it out and show. (E.g. funnel improvement, conversion or attach improvements)

  • If your core is solving usability problem statements, call it out and show. (E.g. comprehension improvement, engagement improvements, CTRs improvements, discovery improvements)… and such.

  • Show taste over skills. Taste is acquirable but hard. Skills are acquirable but easy.

Here’s a twitter thread that summarised some of these.

Hope this helps you trim the fat from your portfolio and application letters. All the best.

Bonus: Quick timeline of my own portfolio over the years.

Most don't apply now, and time has changed. But principally, the theme hasn’t.

  • 2010 portfolio:
    Sent .zip with separate config files, HTML files, design files in .PSD. I used to code, design crappy stuff and build websites and visual basic apps. One company gave me the job. They needed a PHP developer.

  • 2012 portfolio:
    Sent the website (Kria Interactive) with all the stuff I and the team worked on. I designed TV apps, Graphic design, Apps, Games — all real clients — everything to production, live! Got the job of a UX designer (code what you design :D).

  • 2014 portfolio:
    I re-designed Goodreads website. I was a genuine regular user of Goodreads and painted my own, real pains there and attempted a redesign. My next recruiter just saw that + a verbal conversation about my curiosity in data viz.

  • 2015 portfolio:
    Medium and person website blogs on how I was working as a new design lead.

  • 2016 portfolio:
    URLs of specific parts of a real website/ parts I built, helped guide, or just review.

  • 2018 portfolio:
    A truth-table and flowchart on how a bot would work + a document on best practices to use line chart.

© Copyright 2023, I guess.

© Copyright 2023, I guess.