3 common mistakes I see in UX portfolios and cover letters

Mistake #1: Your role in each portfolio project isn’t clearly explained


Christian Jensen

3 years ago | 4 min read

Although I’ve been involved in hiring a few people in my career, and have looked at my fair share of cover letters, CV’s and portfolios, I’m by no means an expert on this topic. This article isn’t intended to be a “how-to” guide on getting a job in the field. I’ll leave that to the many, many great articles, courses, and books written by people far smarter and more experienced than me. I’ve listed a few of my favorites at the bottom of this article.

For now, I’ll simply point out some of the most common and obvious “mistakes” I see people making in their portfolios and cover letters, and how to correct them.

Other hiring managers, team leads, and recruiters may disagree with me, or care less about the things I’m pointing out. If you follow my advice you’ll at least improve your chances of getting a Design job at SimpleSite (where I’m currently leading the Design team). So at least there’s that.

I’ve personally made each and every mistake listed below when I first started out in my career. Luckily, these mistakes are almost as easy to correct as they are to make. So let’s get into them!

Mistake #1: Your role in each portfolio project isn’t clearly explained

Most of you are probably well aware of the importance of mentioning your role in a project that was carried out by 10 people, from initial research through UX and UI to final development and implementation. However, I still see a lot of portfolios where I have to search for that information.

It should be obvious to me, as the reader of your portfolio, what you did in a given project, and what kind of team you worked with, if any. If the information isn’t there, or I just can’t find it, I basically can’t give you any credit for the work done in that project.

The above is just about covering your bases, though. There’s another benefit to paying a bit more attention to this. It shows another aspect of your experience. One thing is to have done the UX work. Another thing is to have worked with a team of Researchers and UI. Or collaborated iteratively with a couple of FE Devs. Or participated in a workshop with your PM, Head of Marketing, and COO.

Explain your role in a project, so that I know what you’re responsible for — and what you’re not. And keep in mind that whether you were the UX Lead, or the UX Intern, it provided you with valuable experience that I want to know about.

Mistake #2: You don’t explain WHY you did what you did

When it comes to your portfolio, it makes sense to show the outcome of each design project. It tells me that you’ve actually worked in design. Good start, but it doesn’t really demonstrate your UX skills.

Showing how you got to that outcome — which tools and methods you used — is another step in the right direction. Now you showcase your experience doing personas, user journey maps, wireframes, usability testing, or whatever you did in your projects. Nice, but not really enough to make you stand out.

Showing why you did what you did is next-level. Why did you use the methods and tools you did? Why did you make the decisions you did? Making this the center of attention in your portfolio tells me that you really understand the tools we use in UX, and that they are just that — tools!

Tools at our disposal when we need them and when it makes sense to use them. It tells me that you’re able to think critically, reflect on the challenge you’re facing at any given step in a project, and deliberately choose a way forward.

Mistake #3: You’re too formal

When I’m reading your cover letter, or your CV for that matter, I’m imagining having a conversation with you in-person. I’m trying to get a sense of who you are as a person. For this to be a good conversation, we both have to be rather relaxed, comfortable, and talk in a “natural” way. Simply put, if your natural way of speaking is not in the style of an academic paper, don’t write your cover letter that way either.

It’s already an awkward situation, when I’m talking in my natural, casual language, while your replies are super formal. However, what really makes it awkward is the fact that I assume you’re faking it. I assume this isn’t how you normally talk. You’re putting up a facade, pretending to be someone you’re not.

When writing your cover letter and CV, try to read it out loud or imagine yourself saying it in a job interview with me. If it doesn’t feel natural in that scenario, rephrase it. Please don’t think you need to use overly formal language to sound professional.

(Bonus) Mistake #3.1: You don’t tailor your cover letter and CV to the recipient

One important note about mistake #3 above: It depends. Of course…

What you would say in a job interview depends on the person on the other side of the table. This means that you need to understand the company you’re sending your application to, their culture, the general demographic profile (no ageism here, just be aware…), and who will be reading your application.

Where on the casual-to-formal spectrum you land depends on the situation.

If you’re applying for a Design job at SimpleSite though, or just cold-messaging me online, just aim for somewhere between a casual message to a buddy on Snapchat, and the last academic paper you wrote.

I hope you found at least some of this useful. I would love to hear your thoughts, from both sides of the hiring table. Do you agree that the mistakes I’ve described are actually “mistakes”? Any comments, feedback, and questions are highly appreciated!

Originally published at on February 12, 2020.


Created by

Christian Jensen

UX Designer, investor, and NFT nerd, writing about innovation, investing, product design, and culture ✍️







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