12 Things You Should Remove From Your Portfolio Website Immediately

Your online portfolio is arguably the most important website you’ll ever design.

It presents you to the world and often determines whether or not people choose to hire you. Even if you haven’t designed and coded your portfolio from scratch, you still control what content you include on it.

Over the years, I’ve reviewed hundreds of online student and freelance portfolios and found that there are some common mistakes everyone seems to make.

Fun Fact: Each anonymous example below was inspired by real portfolio websites I’ve found. You won’t believe how embarrassing some of them are!

Here are 12 brutally honest tips for making your portfolio website instantly more professional. In these examples, I’ve included the equivalent client translation to help you understand how you really sound vs. how you think you sound.

1. Hobbies & Interests

Employers and recruiters don’t care what you do in your free time. They might want to ensure you’re a good cultural fit, but leave that for the interview. Better yet, don’t mention your hobbies and interests unless someone asks.

hobbies-interests

Including your hobbies and interests on your portfolio website will make you seem instantly amateur. Established professionals don’t do this and you’ll be perceived as having nothing better to talk about (like your work experience).

No one cares what your juggling record is or that you love puppies. Do yourself a favor and keep your hobbies off your resume too.

What to do instead:

Remove the fluff. Stay focused on the professional skills and experience you have to offer. Portray yourself as established until you are. If you feel like your website is too “empty”, resist the temptation to fill it with useless facts about yourself.

2. Personal Introductions

Put your name in the top left corner and leave it there. There’s no need to say “Hello! My name is [whatever] and I’m a…” in gigantic text that takes up half your home page. It’s a rookie move and distracts people from the work you’re trying to show them. Your name is not the most important thing a client needs to know about you.

Conversational design is great, but this is amateur hour. Unless you think employers are going to hire you based on your name, get it out of their way and make your work more prominent.

As Alex Cornell says, clients just want to see your work. Right away. They don’t want to chase it around the internet for half an hour, only to find angled photos of hands holding iPhones in 400px rectangles.

What to do instead:

Say what you do or don’t say anything at all. On my website, I let potential clients know what I can do for their business with a short, bold tagline. If you don’t feel comfortable writing one, don’t feel obligated to. Just get people straight to your work with as little scrolling as possible.

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3. Your Age + Location

Only kids brag about their age. Being 23 is only cool when you’re 23. The job market is too competitive for you to compete against yourself too. You don’t see anyone marketing themselves as a 43 year old designer from the UK. That’s because at age 43, they’ve got years of experience and reputation to brag about instead.

As Josh Johnson shares, the only time that a potential client might think twice about hiring you based on age is if they think you’re too young, so it’s always beneficial to keep your age to yourself.

Don’t share your location unless it can be used to your advantage. For example, saying you’re from North Dakota just make it seem more difficult to hire you while saying you live in San Francisco is likely a benefit.

Don’t EVER share how much you hate the city you live in, you sour brat. While you’re at it, remove any references to your childhood, upbringing, and background prior to college. Seriously, no one cares.

What to do instead:

Find something better to talk about. Write headlines and content that you think potential clients or employers will find valuable. Most often, that will include nothing more than your skills.

4. Skill Graphs

Skill graphs are a really elegant way of showing employers where you suck. As far as your portfolio and resume are concerned, all your skills are equal. Skill graphs may highlight your strengths, but they also point out your weaknesses.

Just because something is popular doesn’t make it a good idea.

If you don’t feel confident enough about a skill to list it as equal to the others, don’t list it at all. If you’re not a freelancer, you can list it anyway and clarify your capabilities during an interview.

What to do instead:

Kill the skill graph. List your skills equally and be sure not to give employers a front-row seat to your flaws.

5. Fictional Job Titles

No one is searching Google for “UX Guru”, “UI Wizard”, or “Pixel Mason”. They aren’t searching for your passions either. Don’t be too clever or cheeky with what you call yourself. It makes it impossible for anyone to understand what you do.

 

There are industry-standard job titles for a reason. The people writing your check each month don’t want to decipher your skill set. If you want to be found more easily, use a well-known and widely accepted title for yourself.

What to do instead:

Just call yourself whatever you want to get hired for. In my case, UI/UX Designer for Web & Mobile is the most appropriate.

6. Attempted Humor

The only person who thinks your funny is you. The problem with online humor is that you have no idea who’s reading it and who may, or more likely, may not find it funny. Avoid humor in your portfolio.

It’s fine to show your personality, but let your future co-workers decide if you’re funny. People only care about what you can do for their business and stand-up comedy isn’t on the list. Don’t make people question whether you might actually be funny or a really bad cultural fit.

What to do instead:

Get serious about not telling jokes or the joke will be on you for not having a job.

7. Lack of Confidence

Fake it until you make it. Literally. No one wants to hire the shy lonely kid who constantly speaks in a whisper. Act confident in yourself and your ability to produce great work even if you aren’t.

Online portfolios are ideal for timid or unassertive folks. You can write a bold email even if you’re sweating the whole time or take 20 minutes to hit the send button and no one will ever know.

What to do instead:

Present yourself as confident even if you aren’t. All it really takes is being more direct and not sharing your feelings.

8. Social Profiles

Social media profiles can be a quick way to show people how unprofessional you are. If you’ve only tweeted 5 times in the last year to the 10 followers you have, don’t link to your Twitter account. Delete your MySpace.

Most importantly, never link to any social media account you don’t actively maintain in a professional capacity. Giving clients access to your Facebook page is usually a bad idea. Instagram is worse.

What to do instead:

Nothing. Just remove links to any social media accounts that don’t portray you in a strictly professional capacity.

9. School Projects

Delete them. If that’s all you have, remove any mention of what class or assignment the project was for. People only care about your recent and relevant real-world experience.

Recent graduates get a free pass here, but as soon as you have real work to show, replace your school projects and update your portfolio. Don’t put anything on your website you wouldn’t be willing to do full-time, every single day.

What to do instead:

If you’re struggling to fill your portfolio with quality work, try re-designing an old school project, but don’t hold yourself to the rules of the assignment. Do whatever it takes to make it amazing and then write about your design process.

10. Hamburger Menu

Do you have so many links in your portfolio that you simply can’t fit them all on the page? No? Then why are you making it more difficult for people to navigate your website?

If you’re using a pre-made theme or template and can’t change this functionality, get a different theme or template. Anyone looking to hire you is likely browsing dozens of websites each day. Every second counts and if takes your page too long to load or too many clicks to view your work, you might get overlooked.

What to do instead:

List your main pages along the top of your website. This instantly lets people know what you do, what information they can access, and maybe even how to contact you without a single click.

11. Bad Grammar & Spelling Mistakes

There is absolutely no excuse for improper grammar or spelling mistakes on your website. These instantly make it seem like you’re careless and lack attention to detail. Worse, they make you sound uneducated.

Treat the copy on your website like you treat the rest of your work. Creative folks tend to be really good at Photoshop, but notoriously bad at writing sentences.

What to do instead:

Go back and proofread every word on your portfolio website. Fix any spelling or grammar mistakes. Spend actual time on this. While you’re at it, take a few extra minutes to improve what you’ve already written. I bet what you wrote originally was done in haste so you could launch your darn portfolio in the first place.

12. Blurred Images

Blurred images leave a terrible first impression, especially if you’re a designer. Either you didn’t take the time or don’t have the pride in your work to ensure that your images are sharp and clear.

blurry portfolio images

You have to keep your image sizes small without sacrificing the details. It’s better to have crisp, clear images than save one second of page load time and leave people feeling like they need an eye exam.

Fix Your Portfolio

If you want to make your portfolio better, try browsing it from the perspective of a prospective employer. Imagine digging through dozens of portfolios before your lunch break and stumbling upon yours. How quickly can they see your work? Learn a little about who you are? Download your resume? Contact you?

There are 4 main ingredients to a stellar portfolio that will have more job offers landing in your inbox:

  1. Tell them you can do the job
  2. Show them you can do the job
  3. Make them want to work with you
  4. Give them an easy way to contact you

Remember, freelance clients are a little different from employers and recruiters. Employers are trying to fill a specific position. They know what it will take and what they’re looking for in a new employee.

Freelancer clients, on the other hand, might think they know what they want, but could benefit from some added explanation and guidance. You can be more verbose about your services if your website’s purpose is to attract freelance clients.

Maintain Your Portfolio

Don’t stop updating your portfolio after you graduate or start finding success. Keep working on it. Redesign it. Recode it. Your online portfolio presents you to the world and you could easily miss out on new opportunities by not keeping it updated.

By keeping my portfolio up to date after college, I got enough freelance gigs quit my job and freelance full-time, even though that was never a goal or dream of mine.

Have something to add or want to share your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!

2 Thoughts

"12 Things You Should Remove From Your Portfolio Website Immediately"
  • AR says:

    I don’t agree with some of these items. You can totally portray your personality if you want to attract clients who will appreciate it. It seems like your list is going to make the most bland, flavorless portfolio you can ever make. There are clients who look for personality. There are agencies who make millions of dollars and portray themselves in a professional manner while also maintaining a type of personality. Clients might as well hire robots instead of hiring a human being. Our job as user experience designers have the word “user” that we always forget about. Design your website for the right user or the right client in mind. So its ok to display hobbies in a professional manner. Think about it. You don’t want everyone to follow a list like this because you don’t want everyone’s portfolio to look the same. Human beings have a personal and they have their own distinct style. Allow their portfolio to have the room to express that.

    • Matt Olpinski says:

      Hi AR – thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts! I see where you’re coming from so maybe I can help clarify. This very website follows everything on this list, but it’s far from bland and flavorless. There are plenty of ways to show your personality and make a fun, exciting portfolio website without displaying your hobbies. For example, you can do it through the design and other content like I have. The problem (and the reason I wrote this article) is that many students and newbie freelancers have very little work and experience to showcase, and so they fill the empty space with useless and amateur content such as hobbies and interests to make their portfolio website seem more complete. I’m saying that’s a bad move. It’s better to remove these 12 things and have a more minimal portfolio until you can fill it with the proper content. Hope that helps!

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