I'm getting ready to start my job search for a User Experience Design or Research position. Can I use a template for my online portfolio describing my relevant research and wireframing experience? Or will I be automatically rejected for using a template for any UX design positions? I've read a few articles that state that these portfolios should be demonstrating design decisions/process. But they do not discuss the actual design of the portfolio itself.
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Answering from the perspective of a hiring manager who hires both UX and UI designers and developers, I can tell you that I always notice when someone uses a cookie-cutter template for the overall online portfolio design. However, this does not always bother me or automatically negate a candidate in my mind.
If you are marketing yourself as a UX architect and researcher, I will care less about the visual design of your own site, and will care more about whether or not the template you've chosen to showcase your work is actually architecturally sound. In other words, I wouldn't care one bit if it was out of the box Bootstrap, but would care that you've used it well and have paid attention to the architectural and rhetorical choices that a generic template allows you to make.
If you are marking yourself as a visual designer of any sort, I would expect different choices to be made in your template selection -- less boilerplate, more artistry on top of a solid foundation; if you're marketing yourself as a developer then I'm going to look closely at the customization you've performed on a template, and evaluate from a technical perspective as well as a visual design perspective, and of course fundamentally from an architectural perspective.
After considering all of the items above, when I look at the examples of actual work for employers/clients, I'm going to compare the examples with what I see in your own portfolio site. If I see amazing things in the work for hire, and not so amazing things in your own portfolio, I'm going to wonder just how much you actually contributed to the sites you have in your portfolio. Similarly, if your portfolio site is amazing and your work for hire is not, I'm going to ask you a lot of questions about why that's the case (and believe me, I understand customer demands vs what is "good and right", so we'll talk about that).
You'll probably have a different answer from different point of view but I think your portfolio is more about who you are, what you do and what you did. If you are searching for a UX Design job, then make sure the template has no experience issue and change it to make it as more personal as possible. Recruiters are going to look at your work and see how you can bring value to a project.
However, be carefull with impressive templates. You know, those with high parallax effects and whatever. If you chose this kind of, the first impression will be :
Because I think they'll be disappointed when they'll find out you used a template.
Actually I'd suggest to use a simple template featuring you and your work. Doing so there is less place for disappointment, it will be clear that you want to show your skills as a UX Designer. You're not trying to lie or being dishonest.
TL;DR Your résumé is more important than portfolio. Pretty pictures excite, but what was the outcome of your work?
If the role you're applying for expects you to develop as well as design, I'd discourage you using a template.
If you're applying for a role that is design only, don't sweat it. Just ensure that the template allows whoever is viewing to learn what they want to learn about you as quickly and easily as possible.
A prominent designer at Google once referred me to this article to learn more about how hiring managers approach portfolios.