5 Ways to Improve Your Design Portfolio

Garron Engstrom created a great resource that outlines how you should format your portfolio for recruiters and ultimately your on-site interview. The section titled, "Tell a story, not an outline" is especially apt. I've screened and interviewed hundreds of candidates, and I can say that the advice here is sound.

… hiring managers and recruiters are sifting through tens or hundreds of resumes and portfolios each week. Think about the hours, days and weeks you spent meticulously documenting your process and solution only to find out — or likely not find out — that not a single person has read it in its entirety.

In most instances, hiring managers don't have time to read through even one 1,300 word case study, let alone ten per week. Case studies need to be detailed enough that they tell the story of what you did, how you did it, and what skills you have to offer, but scannable enough that your interviewer can get a good idea about who you are in less than 10-minutes. Given the number of "Here's how to improve your portfolio" articles on Medium today, striking this balance is unquestionably difficult.

There is however, one part of Engstrom's article I couldn't disagree with more: "Don't talk about your process." Engstrom does mention that this is the most controversial statement in the article. That said, there is a difference between "process for the sake of showing process," and "process used as evidence to justify a design decision." I see a lot of the former in applications I review, and only a handful of the latter. My gut tells me Engstrom is referring to the former as well.

Process tells the story of how you think, and how you made a jump from X → Y → Z. In the article, this comes across as "hiring managers don't care about X or Y, they just want to see Z." Process is important, because it shows how you work, and helps the team get a sense of how you would work together. Showing a picture of a wall covered in sticky notes does not. Design is a team sport, and nothing shows your skills more than the "Aha!" moments that helped you get a design across the finish line.