How to pass a 2-minute UX portfolio screening

A checklist for UX designers, recruiters, and hiring managers

A lot of people have written helpful articles on how make a great UX portfolio. Like this, this, and this.

It’s good to read sage advice from designers, but I think the most important thing to remember is this:

You have less than 2 minutes to make your impression.

Most hiring managers and recruiters fly through portfolios–spending less than 2 minutes per candidate. They glance through images, read a few paragraphs, and then jump to your Linkedin profile or resume. The best portfolios find a balance between thoroughness and scanability.

To optimize for this, I encourage using a classic design process: user-testing.

Put your portfolio through user testing.

Ask some friendly UX designers who interview designers to review your portfolio. Start by watching them silently and asking them to think out loud. Then follow-up with some probing questions.

  • What draws their attention?
  • Do they navigate through your work the way you expect? Or focus on less important areas?
  • What are they most impressed by?
  • Does anything make them question your abilities?
  • What’s missing?

I’ve done this for my CCA students where I teach Sustainability Design. Also as a hiring manager for Opower’s UX design team, I’ve reviewed hundreds of portfolios, from interns to senior designers. From that, I’ve developed a mental checklist to evaluate the qualities we hire for in UX designers.

I wanted to share my mental checklist for a couple of audiences:

  1. UX designers
    To review your portfolio before submitting it. If you can’t find a professional UX designer, you can test it yourself. Can you find all these things in less than 2 minutes?
  2. Design recruiters
    To filter through portfolios before passing them to a hiring manager. You don’t need to find everything listed. The more you do though, the more likely the hiring manager will find the portfolio thorough.
  3. UX design hiring managers
    To screen portfolios with a consistent method and articulate why one is stronger than another. I’ve also used this to build alignment with my hiring team to define what we’re looking for.

This checklist includes quick cues I look for, common things people forget, and red flags to be wary of.

UX Portfolio Checklist

The Basics

  • Full name
  • What type of designer you are
  • Current position and organization (school or company)
  • What you’re looking for (full-time, contract, internship)
  • Location
  • Linkedin profile or resume
  • Where to find you online (Medium, Dribbble, Twitter, Instagram)
  • How to contact you

Your work

  • 3–5 case studies of your work that includes:
  • At least 1 project that shipped
  • At least 1 mobile and/or 1 web project
  • At least 1 project with user research
  • Projects from different industries or different end-users

Your process

  • Sketches or early wireframes
  • User research artifacts: photos, personas, quotes, and stimuli
  • Customer journey diagram / blueprints
  • Information architecture diagrams
  • Large images of your final designs
  • Project results / success metrics
  • Links to where you can use your live product
  • References to who you worked with
  • Your role and primary contributions to the project
  • Some long form writing explaining your thinking

Red flags

  • Glaring typos
  • Projects without final, polished designs
  • Projects unrelated to the type of work you’re looking for
  • Any work you aren’t proud of

Nice to haves

  • About me / Personal statement
  • Passion projects and hobbies
  • Blog posts

In conclusion

From this list, you might think that you can collect your content and throw it up on a website. However it’s important to remember that your portfolio is your chance to tell a story about who you are and how you work. How the story is told, which can’t captured in a checklist, is what separates the good portfolios from the great portfolios.

Want more advice?

Check out these other articles I’ve written about UX design:

And great articles from other designers:

Kudos

Thanks to Aaron Otani for the support and commitment contract.