I’d like to take you back in time for a minute — back to 1989, to be exact. The place is Kent State University, where I studied Graphic Design in one of the toughest programs in the country. And you need a little backstory on that to fully appreciate what I’m about to tell you, so here goes:
The KSU Design Program had two evaluations for students: one in your Sophomore year, another in your Junior year. In order to continue in the program, you had to pass these two rigorous evaluations. If you failed an evaluation once, you could take it again — but if you failed a second time, it was politely suggested that you pursue another career.
Roughly 50% of students in the Design program failed — which meant game over, man. They could not go on in the program or get a degree in Graphic Design from KSU. The standards were almost impossibly high.
This was a tough, tough program — for which I am grateful every day of my life, even though I didn’t feel that way at the time 😉
SO — back to our story. I am standing across from four professors, my evaluators, walking them through the work in my portfolio. I am passionately describing the layouts I’ve come up with, pointing out the multitude of brilliant visual decisions I’ve made. I am on a roll, feeling completely confident that when I’m done they’ll fall all over themselves to tell me just how damn good this work is.
As you might suspect, this is not what happens.
When I finally shut up, the lead evaluator, who also happens to be my advisor, stares at me with one of those long, thoughtful looks that suggests I’m about to hear something I’m not going to like. The silence is truly deafening.
When he finally does speak, he says:
“OK. Now tell me why I should give a SHIT about any of that.”
It took an entire semester for me to recover from that.
But the thing is, he was absolutely right.
You should care about that question.
This is the same thing every person looking at your portfolio is asking of you. And because in most cases you’re not sitting next to them when they see it, your UX portfolio has to provide the answer.
In the story above, I talked about everything except the one thing that mattered: why was any of what I did useful? Valuable? Appropriate? What made my visual approaches the right solutions to the right problems?
If your portfolio is little more than a glorified art gallery — a screen of thumbnails that offer no context as to what they are or why they matter — you’re not answering the question.
A web page full of images doesn’t tell anybody anything except that you have some visual skills.
It suggests, at first glance, that you are little more than a UI designer.
Neither of those things are enough to convince a recruiter or hiring manager or client that it’s worth their while to look through this work, to read your resume, to spend another 30 seconds on your site.
It does nothing to tell them that you are worth their time.
If the folks looking for talent are hiring for a UX gig, nobody gives a shit how any of it looks. What they care about is what the outcome of that work was, and why that specific approach was taken, and, of course, how you (and your collaborators) got it done.
Learn the specific way you need to tell that story.
My newest course is called Build a Powerful Portfolio (that gets you hired); it’s included in my UX 365 Academy. I called it that because I wanted to be as clear and specific as humanly possible in a world full of UX portfolio advice littered with hyperbole and misinformation.
I wanted it to be the antidote to all that — a sharp dose of the truth for every one of you struggling to get ahead in your career.
The majority of those articles you’re reading are wrong about what needs to go in your portfolio and how you present it. They’re wrong about what a “great portfolio” looks like. They’re wrong in showcasing examples that are little more than collections of pretty pictures.
I’d like to show you the truth. The truth of what recruiters, hiring managers and even potential clients are really looking for. I’d like to show you what they really care about and why it’s either buried or non-existent in most portfolios.
I’d like to show you how to even — and improve — your odds.
So that the next recruiter spends more than 30 seconds looking at your portfolio.
So that the hiring manager contacts you.
So that you get asked to come in for an interview.
Make it happen now.
Check out the course curriculum and see what some of my 150,000 students have to say about the course here:
If you’re getting no response from recruiters, potential employers or prospective clients, you need to hit the link above — because that’s happening for a reason. Build a Powerful Portfolio will show you what that is and how to overcome it.
It’s time you learned the truth about what makes a powerful, impactful portfolio that gets attention — and tells your story the way those hiring need to hear it.
See you in class.