One of the top questions I get asked is what a portfolio for a manager should look like. Unsurprisingly, the answer is like any design answer: it depends. The ultimate output of a portfolio looks different based on so many factors: whether you're in brand or product, the type of management role, and what you're optimizing for.
In this session, we'll look at the goals of a manager’s portfolio, what you are optimizing for, and the core elements of a portfolio. There are a few common artifacts you'll have as a manager: resume/cv, portfolio deck, and website. The last two might be the combo of your portfolio.
The truth is at some point in your management career you will not need a portfolio! You will be reached out by recruiters or apply based on your experience and credibility, which is a much harder thing to maintain than a portfolio!
You might be optimizing your portfolio for different reasons than looking for a new career opportunity. For example, you might want to get into public speaking at meetups and conferences. The content you show there is going to be much different than what you show in a career portfolio.
A leadership portfolio might not be optimized for looking for work.
Depending on the level or the role, you may or may not show the work you directly contributed to. For example, if you're interviewing for a product design manager role at an early startup or at an agency, it's very possible that part of your responsibilities is doing the work. If you're interviewing for a VP of Design role, you won't be showing any pixels you pushed (at least I'd hope not!)
Building a portfolio takes a lot of time, but you can start capturing data of what you'll put in it as you go along. As a manager, the type of impact you make looks different than when you were an individual contributor (IC). Your IC portfolio is more around your work, process, and craft, and the management portfolio focuses on how you manage towards outcomes leading a group of humans. Keep an Infinite Slide Deck to track your work.
Journal your experiences as you’re doing the work. It’ll help you keep track of data and moments you want to share later. Trust me, it’s hard to remember later on. As you keep your journal, capture key metrics you’ll need to remember to tell the story.
My portfolio is a keynote deck. You can use anything that can be exported as a PDF you can share. I also highly recommend building a website that will be your digital portfolio. The website can serve as general content and portfolio deck can be more details. You may not want to disclose every single detail of your portfolio online and that's where a website might serve better to speak at things for a high level. It's common for design managers to have absolutely no portfolio published online.
I recommend having a website and a presentation deck ready to go. The content does not have to match 1:1 but it’s nice to have a website where you can have a general overview and a deep dive slide portfolio.
What is important in your portfolio
A few images and slides on your approach to management. This might include your leadership philosophy, what methodologies you subscribe to, etc.
Company and role overview
Case studies are different for managers. Though you’ll show project work (presumably what you did leading your team), the story you tell is slightly different. The core elements are:
This can be a complement to your slide deck. I recommend managers have a website. Elements to include:
The section that includes details about you:
I recommend that managers have a blog, whether on their personal website, or Medium. Writing articulates what it’d be like to have you as a manager or your philosophy. A few examples of good ones:
Work: Case studies and portfolio pieces you might want to include online. Be mindful of the company metrics you share publicly in case it's confidential
By the end of the management cohort, we’ll work on your portfolio, your about page, and one case study of a project you led.
There are no one-size-fits-all approach for a leadership portfolio. However, here are some tips to keep in mind as you build your portfolio.
Focus on outcomes and impact; present your work at a level higher than you might be used to. Your portfolio will look more like case studies of your time at the company and with your teams vs. individual projects.
It’s okay to show the work of your team. In fact, you should. However, make sure you give them credit.
Even as a manager, people want to know you used to be a good designer! I recommend including a few pieces of content around your work when you were an IC. No need to go in detail and include this as part of your overview.
Part of what people will expect from leadership portfolios is the lessons you learned along the way. It will be more authentic if you talk about the lessons and address the “What would you have done differently?”