Rock and a Hard Place, Help?

I’m basically a ball of stress this week. I’ve been rejected on several applications and bombed the coding exercise for my best opportunity so far. Needless to say I’m worried and I’m trying to work through it but I’m not doing myself any favors.

Now I have a UX opportunity to apply for, in a place I want to be, with a group of folks I think I want to work with. The role was posted 6 days ago so the clock is ticking. I really really want to go for this opportunity.

There’s just one issue (well not one but lets focus on this one). I have no portfolio. I want to make one quick but between this article, and the fact that I have only one recent design project (a registration form re-do for a course I’m reviewing), I’m nervous that creating one in time to apply for this job could kill me faster rather than help me.

Can I do this on cover letter alone? Can I count requirements planning for boats and equipment as user experience experience? Can I say that my experience giving presentations in front of crowds will help me with working with focus groups? I’ve had a UX mindset most of my life, and I feel like I have plenty of experiences that will help me. How on earth can I go about proving it.

Note: This question is as much rhetorical crisis whingeing as it is serious question. Do not feel obligated to engage but if you can set me on the right path I’ll buy you a pint.

For further consideration—the group’s application process basically consists of sending an email to their managing director.

Would it be a bad move for me to say something along the line of:

“I don’t presently have a formal portfolio, and I consider this opportunity too important to rush one together. Instead I have included | can provide } samples of my most recent projects. You can also see my user experience blog at …”

I feel like that may actually just be a giant red flag. “Why doesn’t he have a portfolio” “Why bother applying if he’s not presently working” or something like that.

I don’t want to blow this before I even get a shot.

Breathe. You’ve got this. :slight_smile:

[quote=“SgiobairOg, post:1, topic:1197”]
Can I do this on cover letter alone?
[/quote] What do you have to lose by trying? My gut feeling is that a cover letter and an engaging story are probably more likely to support your application than a quickly hacked together portfolio that you’re not proud of and therefore adds to your lack of confidence.

I think you can be frank in the interview – this opportunity came onto your radar too late to put a portfolio together but you’re excited about the chance to work with them and passionate about what you do. You might not get it, but you definitely won’t if you don’t try.

Edit: just read your second post. I think that approach is good. People often approach job interviews from the position of ‘tricking’ people into employing them by bolstering experience or not being open and honest. All that ultimately does is get you a job that you’re not equipped to do or not happy in.

You want to work for an employer that values honesty and likes you for who you are.


My suggestion would be to get rid of the idea of “portfolio” altogether. It’s for visual designers, in my opinion. Your TRUE value to them lies between your ears, so what you need to demonstrate is how you think, strategically. How you solve business problems via design, UX thinking and technology. So any stories you can tell about how you solved a problem and created value — for users, but which also came back to the client’s business in terms of ROI — will serve as your "portfolio.

Tell some stories in a decently formatted Word document, with some rough sketches or diagrams thrown in if you have them. Think process, not final product. Showing them you can deliver something of measurable value (read: make or save money) — to them, to their clients — is what will get you in the door, not pictures of stuff you’ve done.

If it’s helpful, I wrote a post about this, for folks with no portfolio looking to “sell” their UX skills:


This couldn’t be more correct — or better advice. The straight approach is the only path to a gig that’s a great fit, both for you and for them.

Thanks both of you, I’m going to go for it.

Very much appreciate the advice, Joe, and the article regarding portfolios (perhaps showcase is a better term). I have a few past projects that aren’t web related UX but still used my human factors skills. This is a perfect answer to how I could use them.

Love this place, thanks again for the pick-up

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Any time.

And good on you. :slight_smile:

Glad you’re feeling better! Rejection can be really tough to deal with but you can do it :slight_smile:

I’d also like to add that everything we do is based on relationships. Sometimes it’s better to look for a team to join rather than a job ad to respond to. A job application process is a two way street- do you fit in with their culture and do you actually want to work with these people. I recommend you reach out to the team (and other teams too!) or the contact person for the application and show you’re interested by asking questions about the role and start building that relationship.Make it human. You never know what will happen.

If you do happen to miss this opportunity, it’s ok because there will be others. Maybe this organisation will advertise another role in a few months and because you’ve started to build a relationship with them, you’ll have a head start! :slight_smile:

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While I’d agree that portfolios aren’t strictly necessary for most UX jobs, I don’t think they’re completely devoid of value either.

A good portfolio doesn’t need much in it-- usually an image or two and a brief description of your contribution to the project is sufficient. What a good portfolio lacks in content, for a UX Engineer at least, it should make up for in solid application of UX principles. It’s an opportunity to show a practical application of your UX skills to perspective employer.

Even if you’re not a coder, working together with a web dev to create your portfolio can be in itself a portfolio item. It can give you a chance to discuss how you approached the project, the research you did, the testing methods you employed, etc. Yes, it’s a bit meta, but it’s also a great chance to flex your UX muscles. It also gives you experience working within a team to complete a project-- a skill that many potential employers value greatly, but is difficult to get experience in working outside of a corporate environment.

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@dougcollins, I think we are actually in complete agreement. I should have clarified what I meant by this. Probably my age showing, but when I think “portfolio” I think visual images (and that’s usually what I see). Your description of what should be included, however, is spot on. These are the things that are of most value to a potential employer. Showing the strategic side of the work you do, how you think, why you did what you did in a specific scenario, is what matters most.