How to Create a UXr Portfolio

Moderated by Helen Lee Lin as part of the UX Researchers’ Guild
This is an abridgment; view the full video presentation here.
Session 1 – November 5, 2022

When transitioning from academia to UX research, a portfolio can be a great way to introduce yourself, and showcase your talents, experience, and case studies. In this session, Helen Lee Lin explores aspects of portfolios and how to make connections to expand your offering as you move into the workplace.

Do I Need a UXR Portfolio?

While it is possible to get hired without a portfolio, you need case studies to present in an interview. So, at the very least, you need some visual format or presentation. Keep this presentation to yourself until it’s time for an interview or provide it to recruiting or hiring managers beforehand. Either way, you need something that demonstrates you have the skills they’re looking for. 

Either way, it doesn’t hurt to have a portfolio. There were times when Helen was going through a job application process when a portfolio was required and she didn’t have one. She knew she didn’t have time to pull one together, so she had to pass on those particular positions. If you already have a portfolio, you can plug it right in and that’s another job application that you wouldn’t have been able to fill out otherwise. 

What Should I Include in a UXR Portfolio?

You have probably seen portfolios for UX designers with splashy graphics and mock-ups of websites or smartphone screens. But that is not expected of a UX researcher. You would likely have a deck or a document that contains the following:

  • Any literature search or background research that you have done before conducting your study.
  • The findings and your recommendations. 
  • The potential impact, if you are aware of it.

In this way, a portfolio is like a condensed research presentation or a poster, in that you might assume that the audience is not necessarily a researcher. It might be a designer, engineer, or product manager. Beyond these suggestions, don’t forget to address the thought process you went through in your various case studies.

  • Why did you make the decisions that you did? 
  • Why did you choose the methods, the particular users to survey or interview, or the length of the study that you chose? 
  • How did you decide to deal with problems you encountered, and why? 

This is what recruiters and hiring managers want to see: the behind-the-scenes actions that led you to the study in the first place.

Can I Use Academic Research in a UXR Portfolio?

The short answer is yes, you certainly can, and people do. Depending on what types of companies you’re targeting, some of them would find this par for the course. For example, companies like Microsoft, Google, and Meta where Ph.D’s are often hired, are used to seeing academic research in a UXR Portfolio. They understand that you haven’t done industry research and tend to be fine with that.

However, there are other companies that are new to hiring people with advanced degrees or they want somebody who has demonstrable industry research experience. If unsure, talk to people who already work in such a company to learn their perspective. Or communicate with the recruiter or hiring manager to understand what they want to see in your portfolio. 

Because of this, your portfolio might be a collection of three or four case studies that showcase your various strengths, such as different methods, topics, or industries where you’ve done research. If you have more studies than this, you can cycle them out, depending on where you’re applying. There’s no need to include every possible case study that you have. You want to present those which will carry the greatest weight with the companies you are pursuing. 

Can I Include Ongoing Projects or NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements)?

Absolutely. You can include expected findings, recommendations, and anticipated impact. Though not as preferred as a completed case study, you can still present work that is under NDA, even if you need to make it vague. Be sure and communicate the status of any such projects to prospective employers. They absolutely will understand. They wouldn’t want you to violate any agreement you have with a previous employer because if they hire you, they want to know that they can trust you in the future.

If you need to leave out particular variables of a study, you can change some of the details and include more generalized findings. Then give the amount of information that impact-wise is either already publicly known or that you can share.

How Should I Present My UXR Portfolio?

The form of a UXr portfolio can be simple and manageable. While it might include a website, it can be as simple as a Google slides or Powerpoint presentation you’ve saved as a pdf. Upload your document to something like Slideshare and include that link on your application. 

Should I Stay Within a Certain Industry or Go into Different Fields?

Take time to think strategically about where you want to go in your career. For example, if you’re interested in fintech, start moving in that direction and conduct research in that area. You’ll gain experience with the variables and competitors and build connections in that industry.

That said, If you are happy where you are, and want to target a future career in that area, then continue to lean into that industry because you are already a expert in that subject are.

How To Identify Warm Connections for Potential Stakeholders

When we speak of warm connections, we’re referring to people or companies with whom you are affiliated in some way. You’re familiar with the space and more likely aware of what needs to be done. This is a huge benefit, considering we frequently have a relatively short time to complete a project. 

When Helen began her freelance career, she wondered how to gain experience. She didn’t know anyone who had a startup, ran a website, or had a small business. She quickly realized, however, that UX is everywhere and doesn’t have to be a digital product. The key is locating warm connections and then discovering ways you can assist them with your UX experience.

So, think about places where you currently volunteer professionally or in your personal life. Are you completing any type of service of running a program for a community or business? Any program evaluation is a type of user experience research. Do you have a side hustle like an Etsy shop? Or a Youtube channel where you interact with a community? These places, and many others, are where you might find those warm connections you’re looking for.

No matter the organization or team to whom you propose change, recognize the impact your suggestions could have on those in decision-making positions. Bring those individuals in early in that process, so they can offer their input and see the benefit of your recommendations. This can help minimize any possible resistance to changes you are proposing.

Where Can I Find Cold Connections?

Helen has met interesting entrepreneurs at Lunch Club. She has also gone to Fishbowl, something like LinkedIn, but anonymous. When posting on Fishbowl, you can see what role somebody works in, or what company they’d work for, even though you don’t know their name. However, that is a potential place to look around for ideas. is part of Angel List, where co-investors and founders find each other. But, they are also often hiring as well. You could look on there for at least company ideas, if not an actual job. 

Also, look at volunteer organizations where you can find opportunities to gain experience. Consider taking an idea of your own to say Code for America, Hack for LA, or explore freelance talent sites like Upwork, Toptal, or Hirect. 

And then keep an eye out for any new startups or apps related to your passions. This might be a relatively new app or website you are familiar with, and they may not have a UX researcher or know about UX research. You could teach them about it and then propose a project. There are places you could approach to find out if they’re looking for UX help. Keep your eyes and ears open; those opportunities are out there.

How Important is Networking?

In closing, Helen highly recommends networking with other professionals. “I have found the majority of my positions through networking,” she shares. “Your network is everything career-wise. The people in our networks are important resources to not only look for potential stakeholders but also to expand our experience and increase our strengths as researchers.”


About Helen: Helen Lee Lin received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology and has worked in applied research in adolescent literacy and children’s nutrition, and with combat veterans with traumatic brain injuries. She took a career pause while living in Ankara, Turkey for 6 years and then transitioned to UXR in 2018. She volunteered for Hack for LA for six months and broke into industry in January 2021 with a contract at TikTok. She is currently a contract UXR at Meta, working on Facebook Groups.

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