One of the most common requests I get from User Researchers that choose me as their mentor is to give them feedback on their portfolios or how they should structure them.
Why do you need a User Research portfolio?
Many companies, during recruitment interviews, ask candidates to go through some projects to understand how candidates think and approach different research challenges. It’s more about showing the thought process and skills and less about the project outcomes.
What’s the best format?
It’s really up to you to have it as a website or a document. I see pros and cons in both. With a website, you get more visibility and give an idea of who you are as a researcher upfront. The con is that website templates might not be adequate for portfolios, and getting your audience to read everything might be challenging.
Documents, such as decks, you have more freedom to structure them. The cons are that you’re not showing everyone your skills as a researcher.
Another essential aspect you must consider is the confidentiality of your work. It might not be ethical to make it available to everyone. You need to check that with your employer.
How should you structure it?
- Provide some context: The first thing that should go into a case study is the project context. What was the challenge? Why was it important for your business?
- Describe your role in the project: were you the only researcher? How was the team structured? With whom did you collaborate?
- Show your research questions: List your research questions and explain how you identified them.
- Explain your research plan: Describe what research techniques you chose and why, and show the research plan timeline.
- Recruitment: Describe your recruitment process. What were your criteria, and why? How did you find participants?
- Examples of your research: Give an idea of the questions you asked. Show their purpose and how careful you were about not introducing bias, etc. Give other types of relevant information, for instance, the context, etc. It might be worth mentioning if you involved stakeholders in this step (interview observation, for example).
- Explain your data analysis process: whether it was a qualitative study, quantitative or both, explain how you analysed data and the tools you used.
- Artefacts and reporting: Explain and give some examples of artefacts you created (personas, customer journeys, etc.) and why you chose to do that. Explain how you communicated the findings and who was involved.
- Show the impact of your research: Describe how your findings were used and how they influenced decisions or your product. This might be tricky because it’s hard to measure and know this information, but if you have it, by all means, include it.
- Would you do anything differently?: this is the final section, and it should be a retrospective. If it were now, you should say what would you do differently and why.
What projects should I pick?
Choosing 2 to 3 projects to include in your portfolio might be challenging. You might think they’re not good enough or complete enough. But the main point of the case studies is to show your skills and approach to different research challenges. So I advise you to choose the projects that better show this: qualitative and quantitative skills, exploratory and evaluative research, various artefacts created, etc.