Ask Adobe Design: How can applicants stand out when applying to design jobs?

Insights from design hiring managers about what they look for in resumes and portfolios

An illustration of pink flamingos in various positions surrounding a rainbow-colored flamingo with heart-shaped joints, standing in the middle behind a red background.

Illustration by Eirian Chapman

When applying to design jobs, making a lasting impression during the application process requires more than just checking boxes, it means showcasing your unique blend of skills, personal passions, and adaptability. From crafting tailored resumes to curating portfolios that tell compelling stories, eight Adobe design managers reveal what they look for during the application process.

“The most interesting takeaway in a case study is the outcome. Start there—don’t bury the lede!”

Kenji Arakawa, Group Design Manager,

“When crafting your resume, focus on key aspects: Is there a clear page layout? Starting first with hierarchy, what’s the most important thing I should take away from glancing at your resume? Then there’s the content itself. If I’ve gotten this far, I’ll start to scrutinize the text. I’m looking to see if I can easily understand the work or project being described, even if I’m not familiar with the company or subject matter. Are there too many ‘I’ statements? Is there too much jargon? Are there a lot of filler achievements or skills? Is it clear what problem you solved, what role you played, and what the outcome and impact on the business were? Are there any typographical errors?

“All these things show that someone cares about how other people comprehend the intent of their work beyond a pretty presentation.

“If the resume was compelling enough to draw me into their portfolio, many of the same principles apply—but with more focus on the craft. The Minto Pyramid Principle states that effective communication begins with the conclusion, is followed by key arguments, and finally the details supporting that conclusion. It’s a great way to think about someone reviewing your portfolio, which is essentially a pitch deck to a prospective employer.

“Case studies should lead with a clear articulation of the problem facing the user or the business along with a summary of the impact your work had. Help me understand what key assertions you made in support of your design solution and then the design execution. Afterward, you can support it with some process and exploration sketches. Often, the most interesting takeaway in a case study is the outcome. Start there—don’t bury the lede!”

“I value people who demonstrate a capacity for learning and quickly delving into new areas.”

Christopher Azar, Group Design Manager, Digital Video & Audio

“Building a great team means assembling diverse perspectives. When I’m reviewing applications, I prioritize relevant design experience and those who have deep knowledge in new areas not yet represented on the team. On the Digital Video & Audio team, we love folks who’ve had previous creative lives, such as running a YouTube channel, working as a producer, or having a background in commercial photography. Because of the constantly changing technology landscape, I value people who demonstrate a capacity for learning and quickly delving into new areas. Our team comprises a variety of backgrounds, from former 3D artists, architects, feature film directors, to painters and potters, and each of them brings a unique perspective and approach to the work.

“Ultimately, work becomes truly enjoyable when there's a culture of mutual learning and growth among colleagues. I encourage candidates to have a life outside of work, showcasing their creativity through hobbies and side hustles, because it's inspiring to work with folks you can learn from every day.

“A portfolio should feature projects with real clients that showcase someone’s skills and persistence, in an environment with multiple variables and stakeholders. Finally, it may go without saying, but when looking at a portfolio or website, I'm looking for great design. Craftsmanship is key: the use of grids, whitespace, and expressive elements like color, typography, and form. In addition to great problem setting and customer-centric design thinking, attention to visual design detail, including micro-animations, shows a commitment to quality.”

“I want to see whether designers can tell a good story about their work.”

Matthew Carlson, Director of User Experience Design, Adobe Education, Fonts, and Fresco

“When I’m reviewing resumes, I look for a modern, clear, and well-formatted display of information. The layout, the fonts, the visual hierarchy, and the ability to easily read about your experience is crucial. If you’re applying for a design role, your resume should feel ‘designed,’ like you took care to show the details of your life and career in their best light. If it’s under-designed, a cookie-cutter template, or unformatted, that’s usually a non-starter.

“Beyond the design of the resume, I look for interesting career experiences and background. Activities are a plus because they provide a richer sense of who you are beyond work. And ideally there should be a link to an online portfolio so I can explore your work more deeply.

“When looking at portfolios, I’m drawn to strong visual design, clear usability, and good project stories. If I can’t navigate past your home page to see your work, or there isn’t a clear architecture, it can get in the way of evaluating your talent. Compartmentalize your UI experiments so they don’t get in the way of the content discovery. And on the visual design front, I love to see a range of styles and abilities—some of my favorite designers can adapt and express their creativity in different ways for different projects.

“The most important thing to me is seeing process. I want to see how designers think, how they collaborate, what they were responsible for, and whether they can tell a good story about their work. Fewer case studies with deeper process examples are better than a broad, shallow portfolio.”

“Portfolios should offer a quality experience for your audience, but the work is the focus. It needs to be front and center.”

Sudeep Chaudhuri, Director of Design, Core Technologies & Products

“A resume is a good constraint to work within. It requires a good understanding of storytelling, hierarchy, and typography and clarity of thought and execution. I look for clarity first—resumes must be informative and easy to read.

“Hiring managers often look at portfolios within busy schedules, on days off, between meetings, or while grabbing a working lunch, so when the time and care you take to represent yourself shows, it makes it a lot easier to choose you.

“Include a good selection of projects—with a focus on fewer, better things over a chronological history of everything done. Tell a story that offers a zoomed-out view of your best work but that doesn’t omit important details. I want to be able to see and understand the outcomes and learnings from projects. Portfolios should offer a quality experience for your audience, but the work is the focus. It needs to be front and center.”

“With the rise of templates, it's easy for every portfolio to look the same, even if the work is vastly different.”

Brijhette Farmer, Design Manager,

“I look for portfolios that show, as opposed to tell. Folks whose portfolios use animations, interactive prototypes, and large images tend to capture my attention. Portfolios with extremely lengthy and dense case studies are harder for me to parse when under a time crunch, even if I’m fascinated by the material.

“I also prefer portfolios that have at least one element that stands out. With the rise of portfolio templates, it's easy for every portfolio to look the same, even if the work is vastly different. When candidates include something that's memorable—color, images, moving elements, or unorthodox ways of organizing some of the information—it tends to make me want to go back for a second look.

“This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I personally appreciate it when candidates reach out multiple times or through multiple channels. Often, when I don't respond, it's not because of anything a candidate did, but rather that I just got busy. When someone follows up with me a few times, it serves as a great reminder to review their materials again to see if they'd be a good fit.”

“Employers are interested in candidates who not only possess the right expertise but also align with company culture and values.”

Isabelle Hamlin, Design Manager, Spectrum

“Resumes showing experience in similar roles and industries, especially at companies of similar size, tend to catch my eye. It suggests candidates are well-equipped to handle various work situations.

“When it comes to portfolios, I look for strong visual design skills, recent work, and examples of creative problem-solving and design processes. Bonus points if you have a curated custom portfolio highlighting projects relevant to the job description, alongside evidence of research into the company's needs within their industry segment.

“In today's competitive job market, it's essential to go beyond showcasing technical skills and qualifications. Employers are interested in candidates who not only possess the right expertise but also align with company culture and values. A powerful way to show that is through community involvement and participation—by volunteering or being on a board of a nonprofit—which can show qualities such as commitment, interpersonal skills, leadership potential, values alignment, and well-roundedness. Demonstrating your engagement in causes that align with company values can help you stand out from the competition.”

“The first thing I notice is whether a resume was designed or auto generated.”

Shannon McCready, Senior Design Manager, Creative Cloud Platform

“Your resume is often the first impression you leave with the hiring manager. The very first thing I notice is whether a resume was designed or auto generated. Although it’s not a deal-breaker, it’s always disheartening to see designers uninterested in designing their first impression.

“I love seeing a general overview statement about what drives you or gets you excited about this line of work. With a quick glance I can get to know a bit more about you outside of your career history—keep it short, though.

“I’ve seen more and more Figma prototype links as portfolios and I think it’s a great option for anyone who doesn’t want to use a website builder template or try to customize their own. It allows you to focus on creating the specific experience you want without having to code it. That said, make sure the experience is easy to navigate and use—and don’t forget to double- and triple-check how it looks on mobile.

“When reviewing a portfolio, I consider several key questions: Is the experience of similar complexity to the work this team does? Is the context for the work properly set? Why was it important to do usability testing at a specific point in the process? What problems came up during the project? Make sure to specify not only what the problems were (process, ambiguity, collaboration) but how they were handled. Every project is an opportunity to learn. Share what you learned, what you might have done differently, or (to show a growth mindset) even what you would do next. Finally, don’t skip the About section. I love learning about people outside of work.”

“I appreciate it when a portfolio project has testimonials from users about how a design has positively impacted their lives.”

Guliz Sicotte, Senior Director of Design, Experience Cloud

“Don’t send cookie-cutter resumes and don’t give cookie-cutter interviews. While technical skills and experience are important, what truly sets designers apart is their creative approach. Tailor your resume for each application. Use your portfolio to showcase projects that show your unique design voice and the value you can bring to potential employers.

“A portfolio should effectively showcase the designer's work. I look for storytelling, high-quality images, a good representation of diverse projects, and depth of experience. Each project should include a clear and concise description that provides context for the work and explains the designer's role in the project, the problem they were solving, their process, and the outcomes. I appreciate it when a portfolio project has testimonials from users about how the design has positively impacted their lives. That additional validation of the designer's skills is delightful.

“Finally, be selective about the projects you present during the interview. Think about the position and what type of projects might resonate with the hiring manager.”

Ask Adobe Design is a recurring series that shows the range of perspectives and paths across our global design organization. In it we ask the talented, versatile members of our team about their craft and their careers.

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