Early-career UXers: Your most impressive work is missing from your portfolio

Jared M. Spool
7 min readFeb 6, 2021
Kew Gardens, London, 2015

Let’s talk about what early-career UX folks should emphasize in their portfolio and in interviews, especially when searching for the first few jobs.

I review a lot of portfolios and talk to many UX folks looking for work. (It’s a regular part of the job when you create a UX design school, conduct UX professional development on a massive scale, and operate a job board for UX careers. I love it.)

In reviewing these portfolios, I see the same mistake over and over. While the Interwebs are filled with advice on what to put in your portfolio and how to present yourself in your interviews, none of that advice talks about this incredibly common mistake.

Here’s the thing. This common mistake? It could be the thing that’s preventing you from getting called back, or even called in the first place. Yet, nobody talks about it.

Today, we’re fixing that.

The mistake: Focusing on the designs you’ve created

A mistake I see folks make is when they focus on the designs they’ve created. For UX professionals just starting out, these are school or side projects. For folks looking for their next job, they are the work projects from their first or second position.

Don’t get me wrong. When I look at these things, they always look great. As far as I can tell, they work great. They are good, solid designs.

However, that’s not what smart hiring managers care about. Of course, if you produce crappy-looking stuff, they won’t give you the time of day.

But the portfolios I see don’t have crappy-looking stuff. That’s not what’s preventing these folks from getting that first dream gig. Or even their first interview.

What’s preventing them from getting that gig or interview is that the hiring managers can’t see their vector of growth. The vector of growth tells a hiring manager how they’re progressing at growing into an amazing UX professional.

You see, these early-career folks are not telling their story right. The hiring manager doesn’t care about their designs, because, let’s face it, those designs aren’t that impressive.

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Jared M. Spool

Maker of Awesomeness at Center Centre - UIE. Helping designers everywhere help their organizations deliver well-designed products and services.