You've Graduated... Part Three

This is part three of four in my graduation series which I started last week. If you haven’t already, read the first and second parts.

I’m going to go over what you should be putting into your portfolio, how to brand yourself online, what to do in the interviewing process, or how to ignore all this and start freelancing.

Your Portfolio

If you’ve decided which Designer you want to be, what pieces you put in your portfolio becomes easier. If you want to work building UIs, you should be writing case studies describing problems and your solutions. If you are a communications Designer, you can show screenshots of pieces or websites you’ve worked on. Copy doesn’t have to be as extensive.

Your portfolio should only contain work you want to do.

If you only have communication pieces and you want to work on an admin interface one day, replace the communication pieces. If you don’t have an example, create a new project. Design is communication. If you cannot communicate to me what you want to do and how you’ll provide value to me, you’re bad at communication.

Your portfolio should scream the following:

  • I understand that a Designer’s primary function is to communicate and to do so well. You should be able to explain an app to me: what problem is the app solving? how did you arrive at that conclusion? how did you validate that it was a good solution? If your portfolio piece doesn’t answer these questions, you’re selling yourself short.
  • I am a critical thinker. Your case studies should display to me that you are capable of thinking through several solutions and that you are interested and curious about the target market you are designing for.
  • I understand theory and understand the time and place to apply it. There is no black or white in solutions. Any Designer who decides there’s a blanket solution to all problems lacks understanding of time and place. You cannot decide at the start of your career never to use black, 12-col grids are applicable to everything, or that hamburger menus are the only option. There’s a time and place for everything.

Once you are more advanced in your career, you should be developing opinions about Design, what the world should look like, and why it should be that way. Blog posts are an excellent way to show that type of thinking off.

Have you noticed? Everything I’ve mentioned is a soft skill.

Branding Yourself

I want to squash the notion that branding yourself means developing a persona that isn’t you. Nobody wants that. We want to get to know you. Another important thing: merit doesn’t exist past a certain threshold. It’s like income past $70,000. There’s nothing perfect to measure against and implicit biases prevent anyone from judging fairly anyway. Junior Designers typically graduate with the same skill-sets so merit goes out the window here too. I know; scary.

So what can you do? Be more visible. If I see you online, the likelihood is I can bring you in. It’s very hard to recruit someone who doesn’t exist (this is especially true to you female Designers–most of you are virtually non-existant).

Your online persona can help improve the impression your interviewer has of you or set you apart from your peers. In the later stages of your career, it can even help you skip interview stages.

Being visible online is also great for you to find peer support and mentors, which will help you get by the awful nights when you’re frustrated because Sketch quit for the 1000th time and you didn’t save. Do not underestimate the power of peer support. Peers help you learn faster, help alleviate stress, and help you practice your communication skills.

Lastly, it’s also responsible. Sharing what you’ve learned will help others in the same position as you.

So, here are some tips if you plan to go this route:

  • Be consistent. I’m the same person everywhere. People can get a feel for me online before they see me in real life. It makes it easier to sell yourself.
  • Be careful. Things posted online are public. I know this seems obvious but it’s worth repeating here.
  • Be social. I want to hire someone who is engaged in the industry. I want to know you’re invested in your own growth.
  • Be calm. You don’t have to do everything at once. I worked on Twitter first before I added the other places.


From company to company this process is not the same. It would be irresponsible of me to give you tips that wouldn’t be relevant in another setting so I will reiterate the same age-old truths that most people still get wrong these days:

  • Take a deep breath.
 There is a level of lenience that people will give you but it won’t excuse you completely. I want to know that you’re listening to me and that you’re responding to the best of your ability. If it comforts you at all, you’re sitting in that interview chair because you’ve likely already passed some light form of screening.
  • Show interest in yourself.
 Do you seem like someone who is lackluster about their career direction? Do you just want a job? Do you speak without passion about your past positions? Are you talking more about past people who have failed you or your own past failures? You should be more interested in your career than I am.
  • Show interest in the company.
 We work building the largest knowledge base ever created in history. This means: you have no excuse to show up at an interview without knowing anything about the company. This is especially true if you are applying to a public company. Scour tech news, go look through their press releases, creep all their employees on Twitter, and read all their .com pages.


If you don’t want to work for a company, you can go the freelancing route. I highly advise not freelancing until you feel comfortable with your skill-set. This was the advice an old college professor gave me and I didn’t heed it. I paid for it with money and time. In case you are also going to ignore this advice, do the following things first:

These all have to do with money because you are starting a business. Do not treat it any less like one. Good luck, everything will be bad for the first little bit.

What next?

Tune in next week for the last part: what the working environment actually looks like and what you should be doing your first week. If you haven’t already, read my first and my second posts in this series.

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