When applying to entry-level jobs, there are two things that’ll make you stand out from the competition: 1) you as the star that you are and 2) a killer portfolio that’ll grab the attention of the people you want to work with. If you're a recent graduate with little-to-no work experience, you might be stumped when it comes to building your first professional portfolio. But no worries—we’re here to offer some portfolio tips for all you beginners out there.
- Choose a portfolio website that works for you.
First, gather inspiration from great designers and your direct competition. Search for other professionals who are maybe a few years ahead of you or already work for your dream employer. Check out their portfolios on places like Behance and take notes on what resonates with you and what elements feel really strong. Be sure to note what platforms they’re using because the same service might work perfectly for you, too. Need help? We have a list of tried-and-true platforms based on what’s best for your expertise.
Some personal sites are completely free and others come with a price tag. When evaluating cost, think about where your portfolio can take you and for how long you’ll want to pay the premium. Maybe you’re most comfortable with Squarespace’s ease and modern templates and truly value the subscription service. But there’s nothing wrong with using a free platform like Wordpress, either. There are ways to create incredible portfolios by simply using themes, your own network, and good old-fashioned ingenuity. Reach out to other former students and ask them if they’d like to trade skills for skills (you write for them, they design for you) and so on. Take free classes and teach yourself a little code if it interests you and you have the time. Money doesn’t buy everything, you know.
- Keep your audience in mind
Remember: you’re trying to attract the attention of your dream employers. Look at their work, think about why you’re attracted to it, and tailor your portfolio to their aesthetic. Pay attention to your choice of typeface and color palette and try to achieve a look that balances that of your personality and your hopeful employers. When in doubt, keep it as simple as possible.
Prioritize projects that really show off your skills and interests. When choosing projects, ask yourself two questions:
(1) Is this a project I want to show off and celebrate?
(2) Is this the kind of work I want to continue doing in my career?
Just because you were paid to do a job (and, ahem, did it well!) doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to shout about it from the rooftops. Some of these paid gigs might have taught you more about what you don’t like doing, which is a valuable reminder that you keep to yourself. On the flip side, you might have done some incredible real-world volunteer work and learned a ton in the process. Bottom line is, here, in your personal portfolio, we’ve only got room for the good stuff you’re proud of—paid or not.
Once you’ve added your best work to the site, you should review it and show it to others for feedback. Be sure all your links work by clicking through them for confirmation. Accessibility matters, too. You never know who your employer will be and you want to make sure your site is clear. Some examples of what we mean are: you’re using a legible font, in a good size, and in a readable color (sorry, no lime green); you’re using descriptive alt text and/or captions for images and foregoing flashy on-image text that will make screen readers go “nope!”. Think through your audience’s experience and make sure your portfolio is crystal clear.
- Have a strong About Me page or section
Most of us dread writing about ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Write just one paragraph (that’s right! five sentences, give or take) and use your real voice. Start with the basics: where you studied, the degree(s) you’ve earned, and how many years of experience you have. Then mention the types of projects you’ve worked on, even if they are collaborations. End with the kinds of projects you are looking to work on in the future. Interests are a great endnote, even if they’re unrelated to your career. Who knows—your camping enthusiasm could land you that dream UX position for an up-and-coming outdoors app.
If you’re truly stumped, ask a peer from class or a friend you trust to tell you some of your best qualities and personality traits when it comes to work. It’s OK to look to other professionals in the field for examples, but do not plagiarize. It’s just wrong and potential employers will know when they meet you. Don’t overthink it. Remember, no one truly knows you better than you know yourself. Oh, and do include a professional photo or illustration so people can see their next fabulous new hire. You’ve got this!
- Show your process
It’s true that the UX world started this trend, but including case studies in your portfolio will show potential employers your entire work process through design-centered thinking. In addition, they’ll get a feel for what you bring to a team, both in thought and personality. We’re not saying to bring on the jokes. Instead, we’re talking about the natural nuances of your writing, how you appreciate team members, lift people up, and get excited about creating something worthwhile. If you’ve never written a case study before, well, you’re in luck! We’ve got an article for that with additional links from design pros.
- Update your portfolio at least once a year
Oh, you thought this was gonna be a one-and-done kinda thing? Sorry folx, but it’s important to keep up with your progress. We’re not talking about a complete revamp once a year. But at the rate that design and your expertise change, you’ll be always putting your best foot forward with your latest and most exciting work. Look at it as an investment in your future career—a new client or hopeful employer might peep your portfolio on a whim, message you, and before you know it you’re negotiating over your next gig.