10 Tips to Spice Up Your Fresh-Grad Portfolio

Illustration of boiling pot with added seasoning of UX tools

So, you’re fresh out of the academic oven, and guess what? Landing that first gig in UX design can be incredibly challenging. I know it feels like finding a curly fry in a sea of tater-tots, especially in these uncertain times. I’ve been there, too, and I want you to know that I empathize with your journey. Graduating in 2009 during the Great Recession created a similar set of circumstances—fewer positions in a market that was flooded with high-performing, senior-level talent. For me, all it took was one company to take a chance, and the rest was history. Now, as a hiring manager who is looking at dozens of portfolios for a single position, I have some suggestions to help you whip up a delicious UX portfolio that’ll make employers savor your talents.

1. Get saucy with the design process:

Don’t just serve the final dish; tell the story behind the recipe by adding juicy case studies that walk us through your design process. Explain how you seasoned your projects with user research, baked-in user flows, and added layers with prototypes. We want to know you’ve got the recipe for success, but remember that it’s not really about the tools and processes. You don’t need to tell hiring managers how to use a blender; we trust that you know how to use one — tell us how that sauce led to a better dish.

2. Walk down the path towards Michelin Star success

Not every cake is a Showstopper, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know what it would take to get that handshake. Whether you’ll have the chance to keep refining your portfolio work (especially early in your career when those opportunities can be scarce), I’m always eager to hear about your next steps. Think of it as a chance to show that you can identify what’s not working and outline how you’d further explore and enhance those aspects. Just as a skilled baker knows their cake can always be a bit sweeter, you, too, understand the path to continuous improvement.

3. Organize like a pro:

An organized kitchen makes for a pleasant cooking experience; the same goes for your portfolio. Keep it neat and tidy. Use clear labels, concise descriptions, and high-quality visuals. Remember to add project highlights that stand out from the bulk of the copy. We should feast on your work without getting lost in the sauce.

4. Embrace the many flavors of platforms:

Broaden your portfolio by peppering in a dash of platform diversity. At Livefront, we put a premium on native and web experience. I get that it’s hard to get that mix entirely from a boot camp, so you’ll likely have to fill in the gaps with personal projects and freelance work — it’s worth the effort. We love a UX chef who can cook up solutions for all sorts of problems and modalities. Show us you’re not just one flavor but the whole buffet.

5. Volunteer for non-profits (sharpen your skills):

Finding freelance work can be as tricky as honing the edge of a chef’s knife. If you’re searching for a way to add some extra flavor to your portfolio, consider volunteering your skills to a cause you believe in. By helping these noble organizations enhance their digital presence, you not only keep your portfolio sharp but also leave a lasting and heartwarming impression.

This approach can also be used to keep your creative skills finely tuned while focusing the rest of your work on the more practical aspects of product design. Just like a well-sharpened knife is essential in the kitchen, your polished skills will shine when it comes to designing exceptional user experiences.

6. Flaunt your soft skills:

Sure, you’ve got design skills, but what about your people skills? Highlight your soft skills like a true team player. Share tales of your collaboration with teammates, effective communication, and your empathy for users. If we see you as not just a designer but also a delightful addition to the kitchen, you’re much more likely to get to the next round of interviews.

7. Develop your personal flavor:

Create your unique flavor in a world full of bland, hyper-professional portfolios. Not every hiring manager has the same palate, but I love to see your authentic voice in how you communicate — include some slang, cuss a few times…okay, maybe just once. Show employers that you’re not just a designer; you’re an experience they won’t forget.

8. Keep learning, add some spice:

Spice things up by showcasing your dedication to growth. Keep taking online courses, reading articles (like this one,) doing daily UI challenges, attending workshops, and staying updated with the latest UX trends and tools. Add a pinch of humility by seeking feedback from peers and mentors; it’s like adding seasoning to your skills.

9. Join the potluck:

Full transparency: I was a terrible networker coming out of college — I still am. That said, I cannot tell you how important it is to take off your chef’s hat and spend some time front-of-house. Attend industry shindigs, join UX design cliques, and connect with experienced designers on LinkedIn. Please don’t be shy to engage in discussions, ask for advice, and drop your work like it’s hot. None of us got to where we are without a lot of help along the way, and many of us are willing to give back. An expansive network is your secret sauce to success.

10. Keep it hot:

Rejections are merely seasonings in the grand recipe of life. Keep refining your portfolio, savor the experiences, and never lose your passion for UX. Your dream job is closer than you think. Promise.

The UX job hunt may feel like an episode of “Hell’s Kitchen,” but with these tips, your portfolio will shine brighter than Gordon Ramsay’s forehead after some spicy hot wings. Get out there, embrace your unique flavor, and snag that first gig. Remember, you’re not just a designer; you’re a culinary artist of user experiences, and you may be ready to be added to the menu. If our paths happen to cross while we’re busy cooking up a storm with our design team at Livefront, drop us a friendly ‘Yes, chef!’ That way, we’ll know you’ve been exploring this cookbook for early success.

Ben is a chef at Livefront

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