Creating a stand-out portfolio: Advice from design leaders

4 minute read
20211215 Obvious 07517

How much detail is too much detail? Should I publish my portfolio on Behance or as a standalone website? How many projects should I share? If you’ve ever applied for a design role, you’ve probably wondered about these questions yourself, no matter how many times you’ve applied for jobs before.

We pitched these questions to a panel of design leaders to see what they think influences a “yes” and what they’d categorise as red flags.

The consensus? The perfect design portfolio doesn’t exist!

But there are definite ways to make your portfolio work for you (even when you’re not in the room). Here’s what Dhruv, Rahul, Pragati and Shreya from Obvious, Chetty Arun from Razorpay, Kenneth Dsouza from Jiva (ex-Gojek) and Ravi Agrawal (ex-smallcase) had to say.

Best practices: Your portfolio

Prioritise basic hygiene

Your design portfolio is a recruiter’s first impression of you. Make sure all hyperlinks are functional — you could share them with friends and family to triple-check. Ensure your portfolio page isn’t password-protected. If you have some work under NDA, display the ones that aren’t.

Design your portfolio for your dream organisation or industry

Dress your portfolio for the job you want. Work backwards from the question, “What do I want my career to look like?” If this vision calls for being in a particular company or industry, optimise your portfolio to reflect that.

Highlight skills that transfer well. Present your understanding of that industry or company’s work — and you might just get the Golden Ticket in.

Prioritise outcomes over process

Figuring out what to include and exclude from your portfolio can be a nightmare. One rule of thumb to apply here: Outcomes over process. Design practices are often common across design teams — what you achieved with them might not be. If possible, get data that evidences the success of your work.

There are different ways in which design can impact a business so you might have projects where outcomes can’t be quantified. In such cases, aim for quality. The panel suggested using Google’s HEART framework: user-centred metrics for measuring design impact.

Treat your personal and recruiter-facing portfolios differently

A personal website is your slice of the internet — and you should structure information the way you like. This might mean telling a story instead of using bullet points; highlighting processes instead of outcomes.

But if you want to send your portfolio with a job application, consider optimising for recruiters’ expectations and time. Show them what they need to see, even if it’s not necessarily all you want to show. When you move into the next round, you’ll have face time with interviewers to build on what you’ve briefly presented.

Highlight who you are as a person

Recruiters are very often hiring for teams. Highlighting who you are as an individual, in addition to the work you’ve done, creates a more well-rounded image. Consider including non-design skills that show you play well with teammates.

You might also want to talk about what you have fun building. Present side projects or passions that showcase your design or non-design skills. Expand your Luck Surface Area — the more you make people aware of your expertise, the higher the magnitude of value and the more people take action on that value.

Be honest about failures

Many applications the speakers have seen look and read picture-perfect. But it’s common knowledge that design can be messy, and failures happen — talk about it.

“What did I fail at?” “What did I learn?” “What would I do differently now?” Your answers can bolster your work and display a learning mindset that any designer would appreciate.

Best practices: Your application

Customise your job application based on the role

Despite the design titles being standard across companies, responsibilities are often unique. Customising what you show recruiters based on their company and industry can earn you brownie points.

Include references

When hiring for senior design roles, recruiters often make calls to a candidate’s former or current colleagues to better understand them.

By proactively adding references in your application, you can influence the decision process without even being in the room. Choose people with whom you’ve worked closely and can rep your candidature.

Answer application questions sincerely

Many design-related job openings ask applicants to answer questions about motivation and goals. Your answers give recruiters much-needed context to supplement your portfolio or resumé so avoid one-worders or no responses. The speakers said these give the impression that:

a) you’re not invested in working for that organisation, and

b) you aren’t able to articulate your outcomes, preferences or design decisions

The final word

Whether you choose Behance, a personal website, or a Figma file to present your work, following these best practices and believing yourself can help you get a foot in the door.

Design is a wonderfully interesting discipline. So even as you prepare your portfolio and collate your outcomes, remember to have fun!

Thanks to

Kenneth, Chetty, Ravi, Shreya, Pragati, Dhruv and Rahul for anchoring this discussion and providing their valuable tips.