Demystifying Portfolios

Julie Lemieux

VP of Product Experience at Sigma Computing

Every job posting for Product Design, UX, UI and Graphic Design has one thing in common: they all require a portfolio as part of the application. For me, an applicant’s portfolio isn’t simply a box that needs to be checked – they are the best way for me to understand them and if their body of work is suited to the position they applied for. You’d be surprised at how many portfolios I look at that have absolutely no connection to the job the candidate has applied for.

However, a fast-growing company like Sigma Computing, usually has multiple openings available which can be advantageous as hiring managers can redirect your application to a role that’s better suited for you. Let me take you through how me and my team of leaders evaluate portfolios and what you can consider doing to yours to help it advance your candidacy.

One thing to note before I get rolling: Your portfolio should be a living document and be tailored to the role you happen to be applying for. If you have been working as a designer on a Marketing team and focused on campaigns, web assets and collateral and apply for a UI design position, don’t be surprised if you do not hear back from the company UNLESS your portfolio specifically emphasizes the UI work you have done. Tailor your portfolio to speak to the role you want. With that said, here we go!

Your Portfolio Helps Tell Us Who You Are

Portfolios act as the Sorting Hat for us at Sigma. They help me and my hiring team to get an immediate sense of what kind of designer you are and what role you are best suited to. If we know that going in, it helps us accelerate the hiring process and get you working QUICKLY. We hire many different kinds of roles on our team including Product Design, UI Design, Design Systems, UX Research and Brand/Identity.

What to do:

  • Focus the contents of your portfolio to highlight work that is directly related to the position you are applying for.
  • Show your best work and match it to the requirements in the job description.

Your Portfolio Helps Hiring Managers Understand How You Approach And Solve Problems

I’m far more interested in a narrative filled w/ ugly wireframes & notebook sketches than single finished screens. I want to understand how you think about a problem, what you consider when starting to solve it, and what your incremental steps and progress were when tackling it.

What to do:

  • Keep EVERYTHING as you are working. Do not destroy or otherwise change your iterations. This unused body of work (I call it “The Boneyard”) will serve as a source of artifacts to use in your portfolio (not to mention potential sources of ideas and discussion points to go re-explore as the project moves forward).
  • Tell the story of the project. Where did you start & end? What did you try as part of the process? What feedback did you get throughout? How did you get to the solution you shipped to your customers?

Show your progress throughout. Stories like this are like catnip for hiring managers.

Your Portfolio Helps Hiring Managers Spot Potential And Growth Opportunities For You

We look for improvements from one project to the next. We do not expect you to be perfect out of the gate. We want to see how you have grown in your career to date. Your portfolio helps us understand how we can help your grow and what kinds of coaching will help you get there.

What to do:

  • Just because your first project wasn’t the greatest, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show it — especially if subsequent projects show improvement.
  • Make sure to tell the audience WHAT you learned from project to project and how that helped you improve your craft.

Your Portfolio Helps Hiring Managers Understand How Your Work Had Impact

At Sigma, we look for people who have the potential to make an impact. What we want to know is how did your work contribute to helping your company make step-wise improvements during the time you were there? If you are early in your career, it might be difficult to identify this. You can describe how the project helped users find value, improved usability, increased Net-Promoter scores or helped generate more incoming sales leads.

What to do:

  • Document the goal of the project you were working on and what measures were put in place to measure its success.
  • How did your work help achieve that goal? If there were measures put into place, document how your project contributed.

Not all projects achieve their goals and there is great value to discussing how your project didn’t achieve its objective and what you learned from the experience. What you would do to improve the next time around? Not all projects are winners – do not be ashamed of failures.

Your Portfolio Should Tell Hiring Managers About What You’re Currently Learning

I have never had a period of time in my career where I wasn’t learning something. It keeps me sharp and hungry to keep growing. Are you learning how to do animations? Are you improving your UX copy writing skills? Are you taking an online javaScript or CSS course? At Sigma, we look for people who are always learning and growing.

What to do:

  • Make space in your portfolio to show off what it is you are learning and how those skills will make you a better designer.

Your Portfolio Helps Hiring Managers Understand How You Work With Others.

Rapidly scaling companies need people who play well with others and know how to be part of a team. We aren’t just evaluating your work — we evaluate HOW you delivered that work as part of a team. At Sigma, we have a very strong team culture — we do real-time collaborative design with other designers, engineers, product managers, sales engineers and technical writers. Your experiences working on teams are very important to describe as part of each individual project in your portfolio.

What to do:

  • Describe your role on each project, what you did and who else you worked with.
  • Describe how you collaborated, got and gave feedback.

I hope that I have demystified portfolio requirements a little. My hope is that this information helps you build a portfolio that will help you land your next great role on a terrific team. Hiring managers can sometimes be opaque about what they are looking for, which doesn’t help candidates succeed; especially those who are just getting their careers started. For those of you interested in what’s happening at Sigma, our Product Experience team is currently hiring for these roles:

  • Product Design
  • UI Design
  • Design Systems
  • Technical Writing

Which one is right for you? Check out our career page and apply!