Using own projects as evidence of years of experience

I spoke to a recruiter today about a specific position, who encouraged me to ‘emphasise’ the years of design experience I have, over the 13 years of experience I have from my current employer in an unrelated field.

Fair enough, but I have only a small amount of real-world design experience: two internships, some casual work.

In a tight job market, it is difficult for a recent graduate to get past the “must have X years of experience”, especially when the job advertised is for an entry-level/ graduate position.

What sort of self-generated projects would it be reasonable to include as a measure of real-world experience? Only paying clients? Products brought to market? Internships? or is this disingenuous?

I do not want to include on a resume anything along the lines of “5 years as CEO and Chief Design Officer of Awesome Industries”, where it would quickly become clear that Awesome Industries is basically a free website and it’s offices are my kitchen table.

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Hello, nice to meet u. I think we have a same problem here.

I graduated months ago, and have already taken several projects since my time at university which made me cannot take any job until now. Can say that i have more experiences in working with clients than most of my friends have, but as they work as in-house designer, they have more work experiences in companies which they can put them into their CV while i only can represent myself as a freelance designer.

Don’t know if i should come up with larger portfolio, while many companies & institutes only want to look several selected products which are the best.

Sorry for my bad English

I just graduated (undergrad) with an engineering degree, but want to get into a design/engineer position, so for the jobs I am applying to I need a portfolio. Since I came from taking engineering classes, I dont have very much “portfolio quality” project so I just ended up doing the design projects I did outside of school. When I showed it to my old design professor the other day, he said it showed a lot of ambition and drive.

So as long as you present it properly - show process, tell a story, etc. - using your own projects should not be a big deal.

Whatever happened to this thread? I think I really hurt myself when I graduated years ago and put my “personal brand” (which was not just my name + “design”) on my resume. I have long since taken it off, but I still have a tough time getting interviews. I think between a mediocre portfolio, not being great at presenting myself and being awkward around new people, I’m just not what employers are looking for.

Did you get the job? Are there still personal projects in your portfolio? Any advice three years later?

I did this last year when I had to leave my US job due to the disaster that is the H1B process.

Basically I was in a position where I had worked a lot but didn’t have anything I could show.
After looking at what I had, I mapped out what I thought I was lacking in my portfolio to show my current skillset, my thinking and my philosophy towards design.
Then I invested the nights and weekends for about 2 weeks when I still had the resources of the studio to banged them out.

Later in interviews I made very clear that these are personal projects and that they were conducted under a time crunch with the clear objective to represent the work I had done but can’t show.
This coupled with the firms on the resume is enough to convince interviewers and recruiters that you haven’t sat idly by while others were doing the job. Any decent recruiter will understand and respect that it takes time and luck to put together a portfolio with exclusively work in production.
The fact that you aren’t showing professional work you shouldn’t will only reflect positively.

In my experience, if you have good and valid personal work, coupled with a strong point of view, it is just as convincing as a portfolio of on-shelf product. It also shows that you are able to work independently, schedule your time and are able to apply critical thinking towards your own work.

That being said, I was looking for jobs in the mid-level range with a couple of years experience behind me. If you are looking for a leadership role or senior position, I could imagine that this approach isn’t enough.

As an interviewer I love to see personal projects. Often it is the personal projects that makes me hire someone. That is where I can really see their personality and the project is typically free of outside influences of a client or a director. They also show what motivates and inspires someone.

As a designer, you guys know I am always doing personal projects. That is what landed me doing work with Icon, that is how I transitioned from Nike to frog (applying what I learned at Nike to CE through personal projects). You get paid not for what you have done and not for what you might do, but for what you can clearly do. Plus the personal projects keep you sharp.

@Bepster: I remember seeing your quick projects and they were really inspiring to show what someone can do in a short amount of time with some zeal.

@Yo: I agree that they are great to see. I have only been seeing prospective employees (mostly junior level) and current ID students from my position for a little over a year, but when they have more than just school projects that they had to do, it is a big difference. It shows that you are doing something because you enjoy it and care about improving. In fact, with all the classes that didn’t provide portfolio-ready or ID-relevant work, it is hard to imagine getting into ID without any personal work to show.