Jump start a design portfolio that gets interviews

Structuring your portfolio

To help you with the portfolio I’ve created a foundation portfolio template for Keynote that you can use to get started. Download it, change it, break it, make it yours. And if you have feedback for me, let me know.

Why a deck?

Wait a second, a keynote portfolio? Shouldn’t this be a site? Won’t I get disqualified if I have a deck and not a site? So here’s the thing. If you have a template or something you’ve before to get you started — by all means go for it. If you’re starting from scratch, if your site needs a redesign, use this instead.

The goal is speed > perfection. Once you have your content you can always convert this portfolio to a site, post it as google slides but at least this will give you a starting point.

The main goal of the online portfolio is to land the phone screen

I used this approach myself. I fell into the trap of pushing pixels and making the most perfect portfolio yet… except I’ve never had the time to ship it. To keep things moving I made this deck which allowed me to customize the portfolio for specific companies. In the end this portfolio helped achieve the main goal — getting the phone call, which led to a portfolio presentation (where I used a different deck altogether for my onsite).

Portfolio outline

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 that a minute scanning through your portfolio seeing 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.

Your portfolio must strike the right balance,

  1. Optimize for scanning — tweak the hierarchy to make your portfolio content easy to consume while enticing the reader to dig for more
  2. Support with compelling story — as the readers dive into the content, tell the story, give a narrative highlighting key facts that led to unexpected outcomes.

At a high level your portfolio should follow this structure,

  1. Intro—your name, date of your portfolio
  2. Experience — a short summary of your story, how you came to design, experiences you’ve had and what makes you a strong designer
  3. Personality — fun slide to include of who you are as a person
  4. Projects — ideally a couple of recent projects that show breadth and depth of your thinking and doing that highlight your strengths as a designer
  5. Thank you—closing slide with your email, 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, giving a little background of who you are is helpful. It 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 here.

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.

Project cover slide for a concept

Project Outline

In essence, a successful project is one that has been able to meet or exceed a goal based on measured outcomes with least amount of effort.

  1. Summary — project title, quick summary, platform, your role, project timespan, key screenshots that capture the essence of a project
  2. Process — how did you approach the problem, pull out a couple of methods that you’ve use 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.
  3. Outcomes — what was the end result? You can highlight the metrics that were moved, the before and after, and the outcomes that were achieved. 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.

That’s it! The basic format should carry you through but be sure to make it your own.

Playing to your strengths

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.

Showcasing the many hats I wore as the only product designer at a startup

Portfolio growth hacks

Think about your online site as a landing hub. A place where you have a good control of what you want to show. Within this landing 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.

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. You should consider using all of them. In the article that follows we’ll look at how to use passive and active strategies to entice recruiters and put part of the job search on autopilot.

Concluding thoughts

The work that we do as product designers is hard. It’s not easy to capture the complexity of product design in a couple of slides when the reality is that it takes extensive skills from craft to collaboration. Getting a solid baseline portfolio out there is a first strong step towards landing the dream gig!

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