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Tips for crafting a striking job-ready portfolio

You don’t need to tear out your hair to craft a portfolio that can get you the job you’ve been eyeing

UX/UI Design
3 minute read 

A job-ready portfolio. That phrase can often feel oxymoronic to a designer. It’s even been made into a meme. Designers seem to hate working on their folios because it never feels like it’s good enough. And while it’s true that there’s always room for improvement, you don’t need to tear out your hair to craft a portfolio that can get you the job you’ve been eyeing.

Let’s see how we can get there.

The medium

This is where so many start and end their journey with exhaustion because the choices have never been so many. A website? A PDF? Webflow? Notion? Wix? Framer? The good news is, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think.

While each medium has its strengths and weaknesses, what matters more is presenting your work in a way that is easily digestible and can be distributed easily to your target audience; recruiters and hiring managers. I landed my first full-time design job through a Medium draft. It was a case study of rather extensive work that I did for a startup. Instead of worrying about the medium, I sweated the structure and content of that draft, and it paid off.

So pick one that suits you and just start.

The content

A portfolio is a product that helps you get a job. The users of this product are recruiters and hiring managers. You need to treat these users with the same respect that you do with users in your job. You hear the phrase “case study” get thrown around a lot when you talk about portfolios. What exactly is a case study? If done well, it’s a riveting story of how you slew a metaphorical dragon with your efforts. If done badly, it’s as boring as the financial report of a laundromat.

A great portfolio will feature at least two case studies that showcase your range as a designer. Some designers prefer to put in a lot more, documenting everything they’ve ever done. While the effort is admirable, the results are usually counter-productive. How might you make it easy for a recruiter to scan your portfolio? How might you choose the work you want to showcase for a hiring manager at a big tech firm vs a founder at a small startup?

Once you make the mindset shift that lets you think about your users, you’ll find it a lot easier to make the right decisions. Bear in mind that what you showcase will directly affect the kind of work you are offered. Companies like to look for a good fit for the jobs they need to get done. So you can choose to show a wide range of work if you aren’t particular and want to be seen as a generalist, or you can choose to show specialised work if you want to target a particular niche for your next job.


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The case studies

This is a pretty vast subject and there are endless opinions on it. Here’s a process which has worked well for me and that I’ve often seen mentioned across the interwebs.

Feel free to take this and mould it into your magical process.

Always start with a text outline of your story

Think about how the project started from your perspective. Was it a new business need? Or was something broken that needed fixing? Put down a bullet point for it. Next, put down bullet points for each step of the journey as it unfolded. Use the steps in your journey to divide your case study into sections. It helps keep the flow as natural as possible.

What to include

  • The business or design problem
  • The people you worked with on this project and your role in the team
  • The research you did or were given
  • The solution journey, including key work-in-progress screens where you had to think about trade-offs and make decisions
  • User testing and how it changed your designs
  • The impact of your work
  • Bonus: your learnings or reflections on what you would now do differently

Test and iterate

Remember when we said your portfolio is a product? Now it’s time to test it with a mock audience. Show it to other designers and use their feedback to make changes. If you can get a design manager or recruiter to look at it, even better. Reach out to them on LinkedIn or use designer communities.

What to avoid

  • Photos or screenshots that don’t add value to your story
  • Too many details about the process you used (design thinking / double-diamond / etc.)
  • Careless mistakes; links that don’t work, prototypes with dead-ends, spelling mistakes, etc.

Wrapping up

Creating or even updating a portfolio can be a daunting task. Usually, it’s the thinking that makes it seem a lot tougher than the doing. So just start, and use these tips to get an edge over the competition while putting your best foot forward.

Resources and further reading

  1. Ever wonder how recruiters look at your design portfolio?
  2. 5 ways to improve your design portfolio today
  3. 5 essential portfolio tips for designers