Engage your audience in your next interview to stand out and impress hiring managers
In late 2021, I faced rejection after rejection as I searched for my next UX design job. The process was painful to say the least.
I received many of the rejections after the portfolio presentation round, so I knew that I needed to make some adjustments.
The two case studies that I chose to present were the strongest, in my opinion. But I also sought out feedback from other designers to validate my decision.
The first one covered the end-to-end design process of a mobile app, while the second one focused on user research, strategy and product-led growth. This allowed me to showcase my T-shaped skillset, while also diving deeper into my core discipline, which is UX.
So if the content of the case studies wasn’t the problem, then perhaps I needed to improve the way I was presenting them.
Was the presentation structured poorly?
Did I explain my contributions in a way that highlighted my strengths?
Did the presentation focus enough on my impact to the project?
Was my audience confused or disengaged?
These were a few questions that came to mind as I thought about how I could approach my portfolio presentation differently.
Many existing articles explain how to structure your portfolio presentation. I found UXfolio’s “UX Portfolio Presentation: How to Structure and Present Your UX Portfolio on a Job Interview” to be detailed and helpful.
- Introduction — Who are you? What is your role and expertise? What are you looking for in your next role?
- Overview — Give a brief sentence or two about the projects you will be talking about, including the industry and type of project (ie. trial experience, website overhaul).
- Projects — Mention the main skills or themes highlighted in the project, such as UX, research, strategy, mobile design, accessibility or design systems
- Team — Who did you work with on this project? What was your role and specific areas of focus?
- Problem — What was the challenge or problem that needed to be solved?
- Design process — How did you approach the problem? What design methods or activities did you conduct? What insights did you gain? What challenges or roadblocks did you face?
- Solution — Showcase the results, including final mockups, animations or video clips. Choose one design decision to elaborate on and explain your thought process. Talk about how you measured success.
- Learnings — What mistakes did you make? What did you learn from the project? How would you have done things differently?
After refining my presentation structure, I realized that I might not be engaging my audience enough in the delivery.
With the help and guidance from a few mentors, I narrowed down five key takeaways that drastically improved my portfolio presentation and landed me job offers for UX designer roles, including my current one.
In storytelling, setting context is key to delivering a strong presentation that your audience can empathize with.
But you don’t have the whole presentation to explain every specific detail.
Providing context is important, but when you’re faced with a time constraint, it’s best to be concise with the amount of context that you provide.
If you spend all your time explaining complex topics, you’ll end up chewing their ears off.
This signals to the hiring manager that you aren’t able to communicate concisely, which is a key trait to have as a UX designer.
Make your presentation easy to understand for anyone. Provide only relevant context to set up the background and problem of the project. Then continue to present the “meat” of your presentation, your work.
An interview is an opportunity for the hiring manager to get to know you, so talk about yourself!
Do you go on a first date and only talk about your friends?
If you do, then I don’t think it’s going to work out.
Of course, teamwork and collaboration skills are fundamental for any designer to have. And you should definitely mention the teammates and stakeholders that you worked with.
But this interview is about you, so highlight YOUR contributions, YOUR decisions, YOUR opinions, YOUR failures, and YOUR successes.
Now isn’t the time to downplay your accomplishments. This is your time to shine.
Often times, senior UX designers are responsible for delivering game-changing visionary designs, while junior and mid-level designers are tasked with delivering smaller features or deliverables.
To you, your work may feel insignificant in comparison with the bigger picture. Don’t underestimate the stories you can tell from small projects.
Use small projects as an opportunity to talk about your design decisions. Hiring managers want to know how you think and make tradeoffs.
What research did you conduct and what were the insights that influenced your decision?
Dig into the different scenarios you explored and communicate your thought process of what may seem like a trivial feature. Don’t forget to talk about the result and what impact your design made to the overall project.
I prefer to limit my presentation slides to no text at all, if possible.
Design managers sit through plenty of text-heavy presentation slides from executives and product leaders.
Don’t make the same mistake and bore them with bullet points. They will get lost reading your presentation and stop listening to you.
As a designer, you can use visuals to your advantage. Support your storytelling with compelling snapshots of your work and design process.
Even better, include animations or short videos to demonstrate interactions or user flows without displaying multiple screens on the slide.
Using visual slides will help deliver your work across more effectively and keep your audience focused and engaged.
Show some excitement in your presentation! No one wants to hire someone that doesn’t care about their work.
Interviewers can feed off of the energy in the (virtual) room, so show your interest and bring a positive attitude.
Before the interview starts, take a few minutes to clear your mind from any negativity, stress or anxiety. Forget about all the rejections you’ve gotten in the past.
Every interview is a new chance to find your next fit. It can be a grueling process, but hopefully less so once you master your portfolio presentation.
Thanks for reading!
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