EX09 - Professional Path

Finding the Way Forward

Successful career moves are made by first acknowledging where you are and then carefully choosing the adjacent moves that make sense.

Updated July 22, 2020

So you finished your portfolio. Congratulations!

With a freshly minted portfolio in hand, it might seem like the next logical step in the process would be to begin applying for jobs. Employment is the only reason many even bother with the exercise.

A portfolio’s quality exists on two levels — the build of the portfolio itself and the projects’ expertise on display.

Every portfolio exists on a continually changing spectrum that alters its perceived quality, depending on the work compared with the portfolio. A great portfolio can be suddenly mediocre when the competition changes. Still, the fewer noticeable holes in your portfolio, the more likely you’ll land an interview.

Unfortunately, most new designer portfolios inherit holes that immediately undermine your ability to compete against more experienced designers.

Many designers address the mistakes made on earlier projects by the time they build a portfolio. This improvement means that the build of new designer portfolios is often superior to the work within, but the flaws are still present in work featured in the portfolio.

If we accept that the quality of a designers’ work generally improves over time, the next logical step is obvious.

You’re going to need more projects — but from where?

The paths emerge

If you’ve managed to craft a complete portfolio, you’ll likely garner some attention on the job search. The amount of serious attention you receive is directly dependent on the overall quality of the case studies the portfolio contains.

What determines quality will vary from one position to the next, but your case studies are the breakpoint between full-time employment and needing further work.

Seeking full-time employment

If you have two or more high-quality case studies in your portfolio, you should be applying for full-time positions. Work done on a team will rank higher than individual work. While school or boot camp might offer a complete view of your range, projects in the real world are how most people are going to judge your portfolio.

A portfolio full of great school projects can breakthrough, but this would be an exception to the rule. This moment is also an ideal time to be a harsh critic of your work. Being diluted about the quality of your projects will only work against you. If the school-based work isn’t outstanding, you’re going to need more work.

It’s also essential that your projects align with the jobs you are seeking. Applying an interface position when you have a portfolio full of research projects won’t generate much traction.

Finally, the question of where you should be searching has grown louder since remote working opportunities have taken off in 2020. Rather than searching exclusively for a remote gig, you should still monitor your local job market first. Many large tech organizations have fully embraced remote working, but they’re still a ton of local opportunities being overlooked.

Aside from using New Pragmatic’s community job board, Google, or LinkedIn to power your job search, here are a few other job sites to bookmark for your upcoming search:

Provided your applying for jobs that match your skills, landing interviews shouldn’t be difficult. With the world of remote opportunities now more available, you should have more options representing a legitimate chance of employment.


There are many reasons why people who could work full-time for a company choose to become a freelancer. This path has its benefits for anyone just getting started as you have an opportunity to work on as many projects as you like.

The requirements to successfully attract clients are almost the same as the corporate gig listed above — except — you need to be very good at selling your work AND comfortable about discussing money.

Perhaps even more important than talking about money is attaching money to the scope of the work that will be performed. While there are plenty of stories of freelancers who were stiffed by their clients, even more exist regarding time abuse. This issue always comes back to properly defining in detail the work you will be performing, when it is due, and how you’ll be paid.

Failure to execute on any of these items will lead to a short freelance career.

There are two main ways to get started for those interested in working on a freelance basis. The first is to set up an account on a site that will pair you with potential clients who are looking for freelancers for a fee. These sites offer an easy way to start. Many of the issues, such as project scope and payment, are addressed in the platform.

The other approach is more traditional in that you seek out jobs on sites that specialize in freelance work. Similar to conventional job searches, you’ll be offering your services to potential clients.

There are many other options out there like 99designs and Designcrowd, but those tend to focus on graphic design projects, which is why I opted not to focus on those sites here.

Volunteer projects

I talk to many designers who have recently gone through a boot camp and have their boot camp project, which is sometimes splendid. As I stated above, those projects will forever be just class projects.

While I believe there is great value in those projects, they should never be the primary base of any portfolio. Class projects give you practice for using methods together to solve problems. Once you can do that successfully in a class setting, you should immediately begin exercising your real-world skills.

This dilemma creates an obvious problem for most designers. You need the experience to land a job, and without experience, how do you put your new skills to work?

Non-profit organizations are always seeking help, and they often are overflowing with problems that could use your newly developed skills. Luckily, most organizations’ have shifted from in-person to remote. This has opened up a vast landscape of options that were previously limited by geographic constraints. You can find projects helping animal clinics or food banks from around the world at the sites listed below.

The key is to make sure you are working for a legitimate non-profit organization. There are plenty of startups looking for free labor, so do your homework on any group you consider working with. It’s terrific to work for a startup, but you should be getting paid if other people are getting paid.

Solo practice projects

Not a week goes by without me seeing someone redesign the Spotify app. I want to go on record and state that there is nothing wrong with this activity when it is done in the proper context — which is practice.

My first design class in college was nothing but copying other existing designs, but none of that work ever found a home in my portfolio. In an ideal scenario, the same should hold true for your portfolio. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. Maybe you need a job right this instance, and all you have are practice projects.

Even if this is the case for you, there is still a logical path forward. Instead of another practice project, seek out a volunteer project, and begin applying yourself to a real problem.

Further review

Article/Video Source/Author
Designing for a Cause? Marvel
The recipe for developing your career as a product designer Intercom
Side projects are the new resume Ximena Vengoechea


The question presented here is also the most painful that you have been tasked to answer to date.

How good is your portfolio?

As you know from the material included, that is an impossible question to answer without proper context.

Luckily, the internet is awash in portfolios of new designers. While you’ll never know whom you are pitted against in the job search, those listed below all belong to designers who successfully gained employment.

Part one: Using the five portfolios provided, assess whether your work is in the top or bottom half of the group. In a few paragraphs, explain how your portfolio could be improved.

Part two: With your self-assessment in hand, it’s time to determine which of paths below is the most logical usage of your time:

  • Seek full-time employment
  • Attempt a freelance project
  • Pick up a volunteer project

In paragraph form, write out the factors you considered when making your decision.


Once complete, update your Program Journal with links to the assets produced for this exercise. Post your Journal in the #Feedback-Loop channel for review.


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