This is Part 3/3 of a series by User Experience Design expert Sarah Doody. Check out Part 1: How to create a UX Portfolio from scratch and Part 2: How to create a UX Portfolio to land your first design job.
“How can I stand out as a mid or senior level UX professional so I can level up my career?”
If you’ve been working in UX for a few years, or decades, chances are you’ve struggled with two things:
1. “Who am I as a designer?” Perhaps you’ve been a UX team of one, or you’ve worked in all stages of product development. Now, you’re at the point where you may want to specialize, or at least do less production work.
2. “I have so many projects, which ones should I include in my portfolio?” The luxury of being mid-career is that you do have a lot of experience. But you must be intentional about which projects you include if you want to stand out.
You also face another serious challenge—with the rise in popularity of UX bootcamps and education programs, there’s an increase in available candidates. Due to the lack of standardization of job titles and roles in the industry, recruiters and hiring managers have to quickly sift through a lot of applications for each position.
This is why it’s crucial to develop a portfolio strategy before you start working on taking your UX portfolio to version 2.0. Without a strategy, you’ll inadvertently focus on the visuals of your portfolio rather than the content. Having a strategy in place will help you get that next role in your UX career and your strategy will look different than someone who is trying to get their first design job.
What skills does a Mid or Senior level UX professional have?
Unlike the beginner, you have the likely advantage of real world experience and crucial professional skills that go beyond making UX deliverables. As you present the work in your portfolio, it should also speak to what you’ve accomplished beyond the deliverables.
Here are some examples of what you could include:
- Business analysis skills and mapping your UX solutions back to the business goals
- Stakeholder management and stories of how you engaged with or educated them
- Team management and leadership in your role
- Design advocacy for your peers, clients, stakeholders, or customers
- Facilitation of any workshops to foster collaboration within your organization
- Industry involvement (e.g. articles you’ve written , talks you’ve given, or volunteering)
Clarify who you are as a designer
Establishing a clear personal statement (Compass Statement) gives you a go-to elevator pitch you can use on your resume, LinkedIn, portfolio, and even during in-person meetups. However, writing this is not as easy as you think. The Compass Statement is crucial because it’s your opening statement. It’s your chance to make a first impression, tell people what you do, and immediately eliminate any room for assumption or confusion about what you don’t do.
If you say, “I’m Jane, a UX Designer.” and that’s all, well guess what—that leaves a lot of room for confusion about what you do. Do you do research, experience design, visual design? Could you confidently create a design system?
A successful Compass Statement tells people who you are and what you specifically do. In our example, Jane should say something like, “I’m Jane, a UX Designer who specializes in user research and experience design.” This added detail communicates that Jane does not do visual design or front-end development.
Choose the right projects for your portfolio
If you’ve been working in the industry for a while, you’ll face the challenge of having too many projects to choose from. Which one should you include? It’s simple—choose the ones that provide the best evidence of the skills you’ll need for your next role.
This will likely be a difficult exercise of curating your projects. You’ll be tempted to include projects that you have an attachment to but potentially don’t showcase the depth of your skills. Remember, your portfolio is not an art project – it’s a body of evidence about your skills.
What if you worked on a few major projects, for example a multi-year redesign? How do you include that in your portfolio? First, you do not try to make that a single project in your portfolio. You’ll get overwhelmed and end up only skimming the surface of what you did because you’ll be so worried about how long it is. So what’s the solution? Break up big projects into smaller projects. So, for a large redesign, that could theoretically become three different projects in your portfolio such as:
- Acme E-Commerce: User Research
- Acme E-Commerce: Experience Design & Prototype
- Acme E-Commerce: Mobile Usability & Design Sprint
It’s also important to consider whether any of your work appears outdated. This applies more-so to Visual Designers because user research tends to be a bit more timeless. However, be mindful of this as first impressions do matter, and if you have visuals that scream “2008,” then you might want to think twice.
Audit your entire online presence and personal brand
You have a personal brand online, whether it’s intentional or not. It’s the first impression that people get when they Google you, and chances are, they will Google you. Your entire online presence needs to tell a consistent story of who you are.
Take a look at the Compass Statement you wrote earlier and make sure you use the same language on all of your professional profiles. Re-visit your LinkedIn and resume to make sure that they match what’s in your portfolio. You don’t know what the first point of contact will be, so you need each of these touchpoints to tell a consistent story.
Also, don’t forget to continue editing your online presence over time. If you only display old work on your Dribbble profile, now is the time to update it. That branding or print project you loved creating four years ago may not be a relevant project for the UX role you want to get. Don’t let your past work overshadow the UX work that needs to serve as evidence of the skills needed for your next role.
By investing the time into clearly communicating who you are as a designer, displaying those relevant projects in your portfolio(s), and making sure your online presence reflects all of this, you’ll be well on your way to leveling up your career and landing the next UX role you want.
About Sarah Doody: Sarah Doody’s UX career resources have helped people get hired at companies including Home Depot, Google, American Express, Amazon, Salesforce, GM Financial, Prudential, Deloitte, Warner Brothers, and more. Find all of Sarah’s UX career resources here.