Designing a comes with its challenges and delights. The frustration of trying to tell the story is countered only by the satisfaction in succeeding. For many UXers, the stress is compounded by the fact that they may be unemployed and running off of fumes after completing an intensive Bootcamp.

Add to this the endless lists of “Top 10 case studies,” all complete with extremely varying designs, lengths, and deliverables, and it’s easy to find yourself awash in a sea of confusion, looking at articles like this as lighthouses in the distance.

In my own experience, I have had the same case study get feedback from multiple UX professionals and received conflicting advice as ridiculous as “this is a little short, I want to see more of your process” to “this is a little long, most people won’t read all of this.” I’ve also been told “redesign your deliverables for your case study,” and “use original deliverables, it shouldn’t look like these were made for the case study.”

So from this conflicting advice, I took away an important message — there are no standards, do the best you can.

Now, let me explain why your portfolio (and I do recommend a complete website as opposed to the antiquated slide deck) is just like a .

A cereal box has four sides, not counting the top and bottom, and each side is given a role to play.

Front of the Box as your Headline

The front of the box is where you need to say only the most important thing. This is your one or two sentence headline. It’s usually structured:

“Hi, I’m ________ and I’m a designer based out of __________ who specializes in _________________ and is looking for my next opportunity.”

Obviously, this is an extremely flexible piece, but if you’re having trouble with it, start with this template and build out from there.

Nutrition Facts as your Résumé

The nutrition facts are a fairly boring part of a cereal box. But a LOT of people read them before deciding to purchase the cereal. They don’t read the other sides first, they read this, and then gauge whether or not it’s worth the investment of checking out the rest of the box.

It’s important to not get too “design-y” with this. I’ve fallen prey to my design instincts multiple times, but a brightly colored résumé with a lot of infographics claiming you’re 80% good at Photoshop is only going to make you appear more junior. Stick with black-and-white (or more realistically, dark grey and white), and let your logo be the only color on the page (yes, you should have a logo or wordmark). Keep things extremely organized and only expand upon the sections that are directly applicable.

For example, if you’re applying for a UX Designer role, you can include the fact that you worked in sales, but only expand upon this section if you can connect it to UX. Otherwise, it would be like the nutrition facts launching into details about the nutrition of a different cereal the brand makes.

Back of the Box as your Cover Letter

Your cover letter is a great chance to explain your interest in the company you’re applying for. There are many articles on how to write a winning cover letter but I am going to break this down into three main points:

  • Be honest, a cover letter that goes into how you saved elephants from extinction with your recent logo design isn’t going to get you anywhere
  • Express interest, all of the other sides of the box are spaces to talk about how awesome you are — use the cover letter to talk about the company and why you want to be part of their mission. Explain how their product has made a difference in your life.
  • Use the vernacular, this might be read by a designer, but it also might be read by a hiring recruiter who doesn’t really know what a heuristic evaluation is. Don’t fill your cover letter with industry jargon or attempt to impress with your massive lexicon. Use your voice and speak to the reader.

This advice is malleable and you may completely disagree! Different industries have different expectations as well. If you’re applying to work at a law firm, maybe you do want to sprinkle in legal terms, I don’t know!

The Other side of the box is your About Me

You are a designer, so feel free to get somewhat playful. I pulled the colored stripes from my logo. But make it easy to see what you look like.

This side of the cereal box is where a small farm tells you how they started making cereal in 1919 and they’ve kept it in the family ever since. This is your about me. A lot of people won’t read it, but if they do, it should add to your story. This isn’t a time for redundancy and it’s definitely time for a picture. If you haven’t shown them your beautiful face yet, show them here. If you feel nervous about having a picture, get over it and post a picture.

Make this picture professional. It shouldn’t be hard to get a decent picture with a modern smartphone but if you’re helpless, hire someone. If someone gets this far on the cereal box and sees a picture of you in your pajamas eating Cheetos, they probably aren’t going to what to look inside the box.

Contents of the Box as your Portfolio

There is no point of a box if you aren’t going to use it for something. And all of that wonderful content you created for the box isn’t going to matter if the cereal is bad.

Your portfolio is the cereal. Only some people will get to this part. Some will stop when they read the front of the box and don’t need that kind of cereal. Some will stop when they read the nutrition facts. Some will stop when they read your cover letter. Some may even stop when they get to your about me because you didn’t take my advice and you’re still on the couch eating Cheetos. But for those who make it to the portfolio, it better be good.

The goal here isn’t to get someone to try the cereal and leave, we want people to stick around. We want people to tell their friends about this great cereal. When you hear about good cereal from a friend, you don’t bother to read the box, you just tear it open and pour yourself a bowl!

If you want some help with your portfolio, check this article out:

If you found anything useful here, I appreciate the claps!

50 claps — This really helped!

40 claps — A few sections helped!

30 claps — Probably won’t change anything, but interesting viewpoint!

20 claps (or less)— I think you’re totally wrong about this.

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