Presenting your portfolio and yourself for interviews

When people will present their portfolios of work, they often forget the most important thing, which is the storytelling about themselves.

Every week I spend my days coaching design leaders. And in these videos, I reflect upon the common themes and questions that come up in the week.


[00:00:00] Andy Polaine: When people will present their portfolios of work, they often forget the most important thing, which is the storytelling about themselves.

My name is Andy Polaine and every week I spend my days coaching design leaders and in these videos, I reflect upon the common themes and questions that came up during the week.

And this week is about presenting yourself and your portfolio. This is coming up a lot right now because of all the layoffs and some of my coaches have also been affected. And so they’re preparing all their portfolios and presentations for interviews.

Structure the work presentation

[00:00:27] Andy Polaine: There are really two parts to this. There’s literally the case studies and the work you’re showing and your portfolio, but then there’s the storytelling of you. And it’s very important that the former supports the latter.

Try coming up with a structure that you repeat when you’re presenting your projects. That way, when you presented one to your audience and then present subsequent ones, they’re not having to relearn and understand how you’re thinking about these.

I find a useful structure is something along the lines of what was the ask or the problem? Did you reframe the ask and find the problem behind the problem? That can be an important moment to show either creativity or leadership or just really the way you think. How did you approach it and what did you do? This is literally here’s the work we did and what the outputs were, if any.

Now I say, if any, because if you’re in a more IC or player coach role, you’ll have created some work and you’re going to want to show off that work by which, I mean, whatever digital assets or final artifacts you’ve made.

But you might also want to be showing off some other things you’ve done, particularly if you’re in a leadership role. So maybe it was something around like a career matrix, or some kind of roadmap or some kind of strategy document. And that’s going to be your output, the artifacts of those. Some of those, you may not even be allowed to show.

The next thing that is important though, is the outcomes and impact. So those artifacts, those are the outputs, but those are not the outcomes or the impact. The easiest way to think about impact is to answer the, so what question. So we did this work. Here’s all the outputs that we did. So what, what happened, who cares about that? You should be able to answer that question. Because that’ll be the thing that ladders up onto the impact you had on your organisation. Those could be things that were internal, like a better collaboration between the teams, faster responses to changes or doing new versions of things or whatever that is.

And then we should ideally be measureable in some way. You could have in uptick good customer metrics, whatever they should be, those are probably growth or sales or retention or faster onboarding, whatever that is. And a reduction in some other metric such as support requests or failed deliveries or whatever the things are going to be for your organisation that they’re trying to improve or get rid of.

Now, those don’t always have to be numerically measurable. They could be some things that are qualitative. For example, if you do spot surveys around the morale of your team or employee experience, those might show an uptick in positive sentiments and things like that.

The story of you

[00:02:56] Andy Polaine: When you think about the case study, think about what you want to say about yourself with that case study. So yes, you want to show the work and everything you’ve done and were doing. But the whole point of a website or a presentation is tell people how great you are. It’s not just, you know, here’s all the work we did and it should speak for itself.

If you’re creating a presentation, consider what you really want to say in the whole presentation. I really like a three-act structure. Here is this one thing about me and some introduction around who I am and so forth and what makes me tick. Here’s the middle bit where I really talk about the work and that’s going to be your case studies in there.

Why are you leaving your previous job?

[00:03:32] Andy Polaine: And here’s the third bit, which is about where I want to go and how I want to grow. You should be able to answer the question of why you’re leaving your old place. Now, if you’ve been made redundant in some respects that makes it easier because you had no choice. And right now, everyone understands that that’s a kind of social contagion going on in business and so nobody’s probably going to think about it too hard.

But quite often, you’re really saying I’ve got to this point and I didn’t really see a growth pathway for me of where I currently am at. And here’s where I want to be going next. And obviously what you’re really saying here is here’s where I want to be going next and your place is where I see that could happen. And here’s where I suggest asking some questions around that because you’re interviewing the company that you’re applying for just as much as they’re interviewing you. If you think about your time as this non-renewable resource, which I’ve talked about before. Then is this place deserving of this most precious resource of yours?

Three act structure

[00:04:28] Andy Polaine: So when you come to that three-act structure, what’s the main story of those acts? For example, it could be how you responded to leadership requests and interacted with the C-suite. It could be how you took leadership on a project and say, ran a small team, if you’re looking to run a slightly bigger team now. It could be how you collaborated across functions in the organisation.

The facets of your case studies

[00:04:47] Andy Polaine: If you think of each case study, it’s kind of multifaceted. I’m a D&D nerd and so I have these kinds of multi-sided die here. And I often think about them in this way, and this is the one case study, but you can present a different face of that case study depending on what it is you want to show and depending on what it is you want to say about yourself.

So you might be showing how brilliant the design work was or how you responded to the research insights and met customer needs, or how you solved a technical or even an organizational problem. It might be something about how you’ve come up with an entirely new offer and how successful that was or how you validated and tested something.

Each of these will say a different thing about you. And you might want to present a different facet depending on who you’re presenting to and what role you’re going for, even within the same series of interviews for the same company.

Sometimes you might be interviewed by the design team and often that’s around some interview three or four, and they may be interested to know what went on in the design process and for you to show your working and how you thought about that, because they want to see how you tick as a designer. But you don’t really need to explain the whole design process to them and what it is you can assume that as designers, they understand the terms and the things that you’re talking about. Leadership folks may be more interested to know how you impacted the business positively. Product leaders might indeed be more interested to know how you collaborated with product folks.

One thing per slide

[00:06:09] Andy Polaine: For each slide consider the one thing you want to say with that slide, maybe then one or two other points if you have time. Or maybe it’s a slightly more complex slide. If you find that one slide is saying a very similar thing as another slide or directly repeating it. Consider dropping one of them, or maybe combining the two, if there’s aspects that you really want to talk about. It is very, very easy to end up repeating the same point over and over and over.

Conversely ensure you’re giving enough context to the case study. It’s really common for people to dive into showing the work and leave their audience really confused because they lack the context.

You were there. You know, this context inside out, but your audience may not even understand what the organization you previously worked for does and certainly what the project was all about.

So you need to make sure that you give them that with the structure I talked about at the beginning, otherwise you’re diving into a kind of, oh, we did this and we did that and then we did this. And they’re thinking, I don’t really know how this relates to anything.

I hope that’s useful for you. If you’d like to check out my coaching practice, it’s at, and I’ll put a link below. If you don’t want to do a whole set of coaching sessions, I’m very happy to do one-offs or a couple of sessions to look through a portfolio or give some feedback about how you’re presenting yourself.

[00:07:24] Andy Polaine: If you’ve got any of your own ideas and suggestions, or if you disagree, please post a comment below. Thanks very much. And I’ll see you again soon.

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