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How a five-minute story can help you engage with interviewers

A woman speaking at a table with her hands on a table, while a person is holding a notepad with their resume on it (in addition to a laptop)
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko: https://www.pexels.com/photo/candidate-having-an-interview-5439152/

“I’m not having much luck with interviews,” a Junior Designer said as we reviewed his portfolio. “I usually don’t get past talking with recruiters.”

Like many others, he was following what he learned in school in a design portfolio: he laid out the overall context, the background, his design process, and more. That was what school had taught him to do, and following that had only netted him a few interviews in 6 months.

This article is about something other than the best way to layout design portfolios. Instead, I want to talk about a fundamental mistake I’ve seen many designers make when presenting their portfolios.

Regardless of your design portfolio structure, you must translate your projects to answer your audience’s questions. Here’s why.

Your design portfolio is meant to summarize, not focus on skills

The purpose of your design portfolio is to act as a conversation starter. In other words, you have a quick summary of a few main things:

  • What was the overall goal of this project?
  • What problem were you trying to solve as a designer?
  • How did you use design to solve that problem?
  • What sort of impact did you have with your design process?

The idea is to have enough for audiences to understand the basics and, if interested, ask you about it in detail. In essence, presenting a design portfolio project answers the question of “Tell me about project X.” in detail.

However, recruiters (and interviewers) don’t always ask that question early on. Recruiters are (mostly) external audiences who may not know everything about the design process.

As a result, they’re trying to answer one specific question: “Does this candidate show that they have experience with X skills that match the job description?”

As a result, they’ll ask you questions like “Have you ever worked with Figma before?” or perhaps “What would you do if your Product Manager…

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