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Advice on Design Portfolios, Resumes, Interview Prep, and Job Hunting

(presented by TA Rajiv Sancheti)

On 2019-11-25, Rajiv Sancheti (TA in Fall 2019 term) walked through some example case studies and designer resumes, then did a Q&A about the design job hunting process. These are informal notes that Prof. Guo took while Rajiv was talking.

Also check out Prof. Guo's HCI/Design Jobs for New College Grads talk.

Portfolio home page

Make a minimalistic home page; don't put too much fancy stuff on your home page:

  • screen capture of Rajiv's home page
  • get right to the point!
  • list your 2-3 best case studies right away
  • recruiters are on your portfolio for only 1 minute, so get to the point ASAP, minimize distractions
  • no need for fancy pictures or graphical designs (if you want to be a UX designer), get to your case studies right away

Case studies

QUALITY over QUANTITY: you can go through only 2-3 case studies in an interview, so only show 2-3 best ones and be able to go IN DEPTH and tell a good story about each one ... it doesn't help to have 4, 5, 6 case studies listed, nobody's going to read all of them. Show your few best ones.

(In contrast, if you're a graphic/visual designer, you can show off quantity of artwork in a separate tab where you show a lot of illustrations, graphics, or other art that you've done.)

Internship projects should be listed first and prioritized over class projects since internships feel more real ... but if you only have class projects, that's fine too to start with. We all had to start somewhere.

Fall 2019 TAs Rajiv and David worked on the same team project for COGS120 (intro. HCI class) but wrote up their own individual case studies, which they used to get internships:

Find what you're interested in and focus more on those sections in your case study, even if you do a team project; your interviews will focus on more what you're genuinely interested in, and you won't be able to talk well about parts that don't interest you as much.

Case study is to show recruiters whether you're a good fit.

1st round interview will usually be a phone screen:

  • simple behavioral questions (tell me about your strengths, weaknesses, etc.)
  • the main part is a portfolio review: they'll have your portfolio open on computer and have you talk through it with them
  • the best way to frame your case studies is as a STORY that you can talk through in a portfolio review with interviewers

to get UX design jobs, differentiate yourself from graphic/visual designers who have super high-fidelity artistic graphics; you need to show that you're a good problem solver and storyteller

introduction section of case study: make it personal and relate it to yourself

bullet points are good -- more easily skimmable than long paragraphs

bold, highlight, quote info that you want to emphasize

your recruiter/interviewer will scroll thru your portfolio super-fast and read only the key points; make it super easy to skim

Have BIG HIGH-RESOLUTION IMAGES since people will ZOOM IN to see details, and you don't want it looking grainy or pixelated

  • export images as high quality as possible
  • learn some basic visual design like drop shadows, etc.
  • animated GIFs are nice to show more interactivity

Very important to talk about to show where you made changes throughout your design process:

  • show BEFORE-and-AFTER and rationale
  • relate before-and-after back to problem statement
  • this will set you apart from graphic/visual designers
  • this will be the most important part of your portfolio review interviews: they'll probe deeper into your design process

Practicing for interviews:

  • grab a friend, sit them down, project your case study on a TV, then scroll through it and practice talking about it; might be awkward at first but just do it, you'll hear yourself talking too much about something too much or not going enough into it ... talk through and "user test" your case study with other design students to get a sense of how they react to it
  • when you're choosing what to focus on in your case study, focus more on your own unique passions; if you're not that interested in some part, then you won't be able to go in-depth on an interview when someone asks you about it.

Resumes

Piazza question from last week: "How come are design resumes very minimalistic? They often have a lot of white space and are two column. Why is this? Do companies want more or less detail? Or do companies usually look at designer's websites and that's where most of the content comes from?"

Rajiv's answer on Piazza: "Most companies are looking at a designer's portfolio rather than their resume. That's why most designers keep their resumes short and to the point. This is also a place you can show off some of your visual design skills so make sure it is easily readable. Key info to have in your resume would be your education/graduation date, link to your portfolio/LinkedIn, employment experience, and potentially a short description of 1-2 design projects you are proud of."

He elaborated on this in class:

  • design resumes are very different from traditional resumes
  • focus either on internships or class projects
  • two good examples:
  • each resume entry should be a project title and a short story about what you did (again, emphasis on storytelling!)
  • most important parts of your resume: your NAME should be big, school you go to, and a URL link to your portfolio
  • recruiter will skim resume then CLICK on your portfolio webpage link, which will be your real resume; don't stress about your resume, spend a lot more time on your portfolio
  • don't put graphs or fancy images or colors on your resume; make it quick and easy to read; don't make it fancy

Question: How important is the cover letter?

Answer: Not too important; just make it OK and put a link to your portfolio

Job Hunting

  • internship job hunt season starts early; start applying in September, before the fall quarter even starts
  • apply to a TON of places; one year Rajiv applied to 60-70 internships, basically anything that says "UX/UI" etc.
    • good to get free practice if you can get interviews
  • reach out to people personally
    • look up connections on LinkedIn; there's a high likelihood there's a UCSD person working there in a design or recruiting related role; reach out to ask to talk to them on LinkedIn message by hitting Connect and adding a short personalized note, especially if there's a UCSD alum
    • try to search for UCSD alum on LinkedIn
    • sometimes there's a bunch of UCSD Extension, COGS120 MOOC Coursera course takers, and other non-students who list UCSD on LinkedIn, so be aware of that
  • make your LinkedIn page solid, basically copy your resume
    • most important part of your LinkedIn profile is a link to your portfolio URL right up front in "About Me" section; that way recruiters can quickly click to get to your portfolio, which again is your real resume
  • LinkedIn is a good place to reach out to people
    • but never reach out to someone you don't know and say "hey, can you send me a referral for this job?"
    • what do you open with then? ...
    • if it's a designer, try to find their portfolio or work online and ask them a genuine question about it
    • or try to ask to talk about their company in more detail and learn more information
    • even if you get rejected the first time you apply to a company, reach out to recruiter to get more feedback and then reach out again next season when you've improved your portfolio; show persistence and improvement
  • when you're applying to jobs, keep a spreadsheet of places you applied to, status of your apps, people you know / connections there, how you've reached out to them, and take notes on those conversations
  • besides LinkedIn messaging, also attend design meetups in SD, LA, or Bay Area to find opportunities in person
  • Kleiner Perkins Design Fellows program: redesign one of their company's apps and apply, and if you get that job you can work at one of their companies

Question: What's most important part of interview prep that's not your actual portfolio?

Answer: depends on the kind of interview ...

  • phone screen: general behavioral interview questions; look them up and practice some standard responses
  • interview whiteboarding challenge: e.g., "design a kitchen for people who can't see"; you're in front of a whiteboard and walk through your designs with your interviewer
    • Main tip: ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS and try to understand user needs; they're evaluating that you're a good UX designer solving a user problem and not just a visual designer; talk with them to bounce ideas off of them
    • don't jump into making sketches or proposing solutions right away
    • your final sketches aren't as important as your process and how you've talked everything out
  • app critique: they'll choose an app that both of you have on your phones; then you both go into the app and they'll direct you to certain pages and they'll ask you to critique it and walk through what you would've done differently and why
  • design challenge: take-home assignment, can be time-consuming, like a mini class project assignment

Question: What do you look for in a company?

Answer:

  • whether the company has a strong design culture: are designers first-class citizens who can exercise creativity, or are they just told by managers/engineers exactly what to build/etc.?
  • but really, don't be too picky at first; QUANTITY is important when applying for jobs -- just apply to a lot of places, it's free interview practice
    • don't overthink too much upfront before you apply; just apply and filter later if you get offers

If you can't get a summer design internship:

  • do your own project on the side and add it to your portfolio
  • one summer Rajiv worked as a DoorDash driver and did an independent project on redesigning the DoorDash driver app; made some money and did user research on himself, great!
  • you can follow a similar template as your COGS127 class project
  • get involved with UCSD design clubs -- e.g., DesignCo, Design for America (during the academic year)
  • try to go to design meetups over the summer