What Do Recruiters and Hiring Managers Look for in a UX Portfolio?

My notes from the NH UXPA June 2016 Meeting

Left to right: Roger Soucy, Michael Hawley, Kate O’Connor, and Rob Fitzgibbon at PixelMEDIA in Portsmouth, NH

The NH chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association (NH UXPA) held an excellent panel about UX portfolios during their June meeting on 6/28/16. The panel included actual hiring managers and a recruiter…


  • Michael Hawley — Chief Design Officer, Mad*Pow (Agency Hiring Manager Perspective)
  • Kate O’Connor — Business Development Manager, Onward Search (Recruiter Perspective)
  • Rob Fitzgibbon — Sr. UX Designer, Wayfair (Internal Hiring Manager Perspective)


  • Roger Soucy — Lead UX Designer, Deka Research & Development

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Roger: Creating your portfolio should be an on ongoing project. You want it ready when you need it, not just thrown together quickly when you’re under pressure. Constant curation of your work is key.

Check out http://theworstportfolioever.com/ for a satirical view of some things NOT to do.

  • Example: Don’t use a bar graph to show that you believe you know 80% of a tool or skill. It’s completely subjective and does nothing to truly demonstrate your proficiency.

Question: How do you deal with showing deliverables that are confidential?

Rob: If you’re going to show it, make sure you have permission. If you don’t have permission, white label it or put things in a directory behind a password. This is a way to demonstrate your credibility and ethical standards. Or, just show it in person. Don’t put confidential files online in a directory that a web crawler can find.

Question: How do people get your attention in a portfolio?

Rob: You must demonstrate your strengths and passions. “Always play to your strengths.” Rob reviews anywhere between 12–50 portfolios for a position. One memorable candidate branded their entire experience (cover letter, resume, etc). It showed that they thought about the experience from the hiring manager’s perspective and took the time to really design it.

Question: Is personal stuff good to put in a portfolio (i.e. “I love to ski…”, “married with two kids and a dog”, etc.)?

Mike: Personal stuff, whether you’re married or have kids, is not important. The best UXers live it. “It’s best to demonstrate your passion.” Did you participate in a hack-a-thon? Do you volunteer your time at industry events? Do you have relevant blog posts? These are the things that Mike wants to know. At a minimum, candidates have to get a Squarespace website. “Boring resumes that are just a template don’t even get a second look.”

Kate: “Keep the portfolio CLEAN and really highlight your work”.

Roger: Make your portfolio a demonstration of your UX chops not just a place to put artifacts. Tell the story of how you got to the solution your sharing, but don’t be long-winded.

Rob: Has a team of 75 folks. He wants to know if you can “hop in and start rowing with the team”.

Mike: “I’m not going to read an entire 10-page case study on something.” Keep it brief!

Rob: “Sometimes we only have 30 seconds to look at an online portfolio… Your online portfolio is just a way to get in the door. Once you’re at the interview, have 3–4 projects to walk through.”

Question: What to do if you don’t have a lot of work to show?

Mike: Having transitioned to UX from Product Management, Mike suggests that you get some credentials. Degree, certifications, take a General Assembly course, whatever. Then, take a “stepping stone job” if you need it — the job that will get you the title you need, but not exactly the pay or work that you want to do. If you’re not happy, leave after a year and you should be able to land the job you really want now that you have more experience.

Rob: “Go redesign airbnb.com.” It doesn’t matter if you were paid or not for the work. You must somehow demonstrate your knowledge.

When showcasing your work in a portfolio, remember to orient the user (i.e. hiring manager). Ask yourself the question that they’re asking, “Why is this [case study, wireframe, etc.] important?” Then, make sure the answer to that question is loud and clear.

Rob: Sometimes he views portfolios on his phone. Rob typically spends 30 seconds looking at a portfolio to try and decide who to bring in for an interview. Once the pool has been narrowed down to 3–4 candidates, he’ll spend 3–4 minutes on each portfolio.

Mike: The person responsible for the careers@madpow.com account sees a portfolio first. If they like it, they send it out to the team. “We hire people we know… someone we met while participating in a hack-a-thon or met at a networking event.”

Kate: Make sure it’s mobile-friendly. Kate will actually look at the portfolio FIRST before the resume. She knows what the hiring managers are looking for so she will make recommendations for changes, if necessary, before passing it on to the client.

Roger: Make sure to give credit where it’s due. No one works in a vacuum and you should call out the areas of a deliverable that was someone else’s responsibility.

Question: Should a candidate bring in a hard copy portfolio or an iPad/computer?

Mike: We do group interviews to save time. They use a projection screen to bring up the candidate’s portfolio website and talk through it. Or, if something is brought in on a USB stick, they project it. He hasn’t seen too many iPads being passed around.

Rob: You want a frictionless experience. You don’t want to have the added stress of your website being down. Have your portfolio on dropbox, USB stick, and computer. If you really want to be impressive, bring in a bound portfolio with the manager’s name on it.

Question: Should we show case studies or actual end deliverables?

Rob: Prefers to see the detailed work during the interview. “We’ll grill you in the in person interview.”

Kate: Hears from managers all the time that what matters in a candidate is 40% — skills 60% — culture fit. If you have the skills you can build on them, but if you can’t fit in with the team, then it’s going to be challenging.

Rob: “Soft skills matter. You can learn any tool. We’re a consultancy. Can you be a good consultant with our clients? Can you command a room? Can you take feedback and critique well? We ask candidates to come in and present.” It’s also a turn off for Mike if candidates don’t know who they are and what they do.

Rob: “I expect your portfolio to reflect back on the role you want.”

Question: Design challenges — how much time should a candidate spend on a challenge and how is it judged?

Rob: Gives candidates a time frame. An example challenge may be to redesign the wayfair product page. “We want you to walk us through what it is that you created. Why did you make these changes? Did you conduct any competitor research?”

Rob: White boarding is big and the hard thing is that you don’t know the real objective behind the exercise (i.e. what hiring managers are really trying to learn about you).

Rob: Don’t let rejection stop you. Learn from it and keep going. “Rejection is all a part of this process. Just keep applying!” [mic drop]

Question: What are some of the worst portfolios you’ve seen?

Rob: Someone once showed him 40 projects. He doesn’t want to talk to someone for 30 minutes about a project they did 3 years ago.

Rob: “Brevity is key with an online portfolio.”

Question: Can I send you a consulting website for my business (that includes case studies) instead of a pure portfolio website?

Kate: “It’s OK as long as your voice comes through.” Is it you or a bunch of people doing this consulting, etc?

Question: Should you include a picture in your bio?

Rob: Federal government jobs do not want to see your picture on your portfolio. He tries to avoid looking at the picture if he can help it. Wants to avoid ageism, etc. “Just concentrate on demonstrating the work.”

Kate & Mike: Most likely they’ll see your picture anyway on LinkedIn.

Question: What social media platforms should candidates be on?

Kate: Everyone should have LinkedIn. A Dribble or Dropbox account with samples posted or an online portfolio is necessary. If you have Facebook or Twitter, keep it appropriate and be careful.

Mike: Put all your links in the contact information area on LinkedIn. “I don’t even look at resumes.” I look at LinkedIn and the candidate’s links to Behance or whatever portfolio websites they have.

Rob: You may not want to be on Behance or Dribble. Think about it as a “bluewater strategy”. “It’s hard to stand out when you’re surrounded by other designers.” You want to be in a ″blue ocean″ — an uncontested market space.

Kate & Rob: It’s always much nicer to have something on your own domain than on Behance or Dribble. Your website is completely yours and it shows more of your design skills.

Rob: “It all ties into your personal brand. What you create and how you choose to present it to hiring managers.” You could also send someone an invision prototype as a portfolio as well (Kate has seen this a few times, but Mike has not seen this yet).

In Summary…


  • Capture your audience
  • Tell a story
  • Curate your projects
  • Credit your team
  • Make it usable
  • Let your personality shine

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In August, NH UXPA will regroup to have a portfolio review night. Come and share your work to get a friendly critique from your peers!

Thank you to the host, PixelMEDIA, and to Onward Search for sponsoring this wonderful meeting.