How to Get a Job in the Web Industry

Since I became the web team manager at Seattle Children’s Hospital, I’ve been involved in the process of hiring people for my team for the first time.

It’s certainly been interesting to be involved in the interview process from the hiring perspective. However, as I read through resumes and met with candidates, I was often surprised at how poorly they presented themselves, both on paper and in person.

So, I thought it might be useful to highlight a few pointers that might help people who are looking for a job in the web industry to (1) get to the interview stage, and (2) get hired.

Please bear in mind that while I think that these tips are fairly generally applicable, they are not guaranteed to work with every interviewer. As you can imagine, different people have different styles and preferences. Always use your own best judgement!

Resume Tips

The thing to bear in mind about most web team managers is that they hate the process of hiring people. That’s why we don’t work in the HR department.

I would much rather be working on something to do with our web sites than wading through a sea of resumes.

I’m also really busy. It’s a sad fact, but you probably have about 30-60 seconds for me to review your resume, before I make a snap decision as to whether to put you in the shortlist category or the discard pile.

That’s the reality of the situation. As an applicant you’re dealing with someone who’s doing something that they really don’t want to be doing and doesn’t have the time to do it either.

So you have to make sure that your application stands out.

1. Be Focused

Don’t tell me everything you did since you started working – I’m sure your life’s story is interesting to someone, just not me; especially with a pile of resumes to plough through on top of my regular work load.

Focus on jobs that are relevant to the position (preferably leave out ones that are not web-related). And within those jobs, focus on the activities that are relevant – make sure they’re not hidden among projects and work about which I am not interested because it doesn’t relate to the position.

Don’t worry about accounting for every working moment since you left college – I really don’t care about that. I just care about what you’ve done that is relevant to the position.

2. Use Lists

As I mentioned, I receive a lot of resumes for positions I post and so I tend to skim over them initially to get a sense of whether the applicant has the general skills and experience.

Lists help me to easily scan through your resume and pick out the highlights.

3. Sell Yourself!

Make it obvious why you’re right for the position. If the position is for a web producer, tell me about projects you managed, the tasks you were responsible for and how everything ran like a well-oiled machine.

If you’re a developer, tell me about your expertise in whatever programming language and the amazing applications you’ve built.

4. Be Human

Stay away from business speak and talk to me like a real person. Try to inject a little personality into your resume in order to differentiate it from all the others. Too much business jargon just makes my eyes glaze over.

5. Be Concise

Remember, it’s quality not quantity. It’s hard for me to see the important stuff if it’s hidden in a forest of words.

Feel free to use appropriate abbreviations and acronymns (e.g. IA rather than information architecture – if I don’t know what IA means, do you really want to be working for me?)

6. Provide URLs

If you want to work in the web industry you are going to need to provide examples of work you’ve done or sites you’ve managed.

Unless you’re applying for a job as a graphic designer, providing me with screenshots, no matter how pretty, isn’t going to cut it – I need to be able to look at real sites that you’ve worked on.

Provide links to your sites so that I can look behind the scenes at the code, check out the IA and see how usable they are. Don’t forget to point out the highlights within those sites so that I see the things you are most proud of.

If you haven’t got URLs to provide me, then frankly, you haven’t got much of a hope.

Interview Tips

Congratulations, you made it through to the big day. Here’s how to win me over in person.

1. Dress Appropriately

Once I’ve hired you, I really don’t care what you wear as long as you do great work. However, if I don’t know you, part of the impression I form about you will be determined by your appearance.

You don’t have to wear a suit – business casual is fine. Do stay away from jeans and trainers. Just look smart, okay – it shows you care. If you’re not sure what to wear, remember that as a rule of thumb that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.

2. Sell Yourself!

Are you detecting a theme here? For goodness sake, sell yourself. This is probably the most important tip once you get through to this stage, and the area in which most candidates fell down. In a couple of interviews it became a real struggle for me to stay interested in the conversation.

Make sure that you tell me why it is that I should hire you. If I don’t ask you about a particular piece of experience, make sure you tell me about it. Believe me, I want to know – however, I may not ask the right questions to bring it out without you helping me.

3. Ask Questions

The interview is a two-way conversation. I want to see if you will be a good fit for my team and my organization, but you should also want to see if the job and the company will be a good fit for you.

Don’t appear as if you’ll take the job without properly understanding what it entails and what the organization is like. So ask questions, both about the job and the immediate team/department and the organization in general.

4. Do Some Research

Research the company. Research the web site. Come up with some ideas about improvements you might make or areas you might look into, in case you’re asked (but, see #5, below, first).

See if you can find anything about the members of the web team – perhaps they have personal blogs or have developed other web sites (Google is your friend here).

Don’t forget to show me that you’ve done some research – drop it into the conversation somehow. It shows me that you’re interested enough in the position to go the extra mile. Also, show me that you have a strong interest / passion for the web.

5. Don’t Criticize My Site

Come up with ideas about improvements you might make to the site, but don’t critique my web site unless you’re asked. Don’t start telling me what’s wrong with my web site or what you would change unless I ask you for some ideas.

You don’t know what process we have gone through to develop the site, what issues we’ve faced, who our audiences are, or the goals of our site.

Developing any large web site is an exercise in organizational politics and compromise, and to critique it without knowing the history of why things were done as they were will only succeed in getting my back up. Believe me, this one is important.

6. Bring Stuff to Show

Bring a portfolio of your work and be prepared to leave some examples with me. Depending on the position, you could bring screenshots of sites you’ve designed, code samples, process flowcharts, IA diagrams, functional specs, creative briefs, writing samples, and so on.

Make sure they look nice (color, nice paper, in a plastic folder or something similar). Don’t bring too much, just enough examples to provide more evidence of the quality of your work and to show that you are prepared and organized.

Just whatever you do, don’t turn up empty handed.

7. Follow Up Afterwards

Send me an email saying how you enjoyed meeting me, how keen you are and reemphasize how your skills fit the position.

It’s probably not going to make a great deal of difference if I didn’t like you that much, but it might help swing the balance if I am weighing you against another candidate.

Further Reading About Job Interviewing

27 thoughts to “How to Get a Job in the Web Industry”

  1. Quotable: On Criticism

    Christian Watson has some good advice for those looking to get hired in the web industry. One particular section was very quotable. You know the drill – I take a specific quote and make it generalizable by substituting terms. In this case, remember tha…

  2. those are great tips, too bad i dont live in the seatlle area or i would have totally applied. 🙂
    keep blogging, i like your stuff

  3. Whew! My mind was racing back to the day I got hired. I didn’t bring in any glossy prints of my work but I did pack a resume.

  4. I have been in web dev for over 8 years on both sides of the table, and not once was I asked to bring something on paper. CD yes, paper never.
    BIG waste of time.
    URL’s =yes.
    A Top 10 company in the Fortune 500 hired me because I was the ONLY person who had the chutzpah to criticize their site, so I don’t buy #5 either.
    And as for how busy you are? Maybe they should hire someone else who can take the time at your company to check out a prospect enough so that the diamonds don’t get tossed in the circular file.
    With regards to acronyms – it is unfair of you to expect people to speak the way YOU prefer to be spoken to – you are just the kind of egotistical “webbie” we all thought got flushed in the crash – what, are you going to blog about your stock options next?

  5. wtf? – Thanks for your feedback. However…
    If I’m being interviewed in a conference room with no access to a computer, a CD is not going to help me much. If you need to show something electronically, you’re better off hosting it on the web than bringing it in on CD. And if you do, you should always have a paper copy as backup.
    Re. criticizing my site – if the interviewer asks you what you think about their site or application, then criticize away. However, be careful about stating opinions without knowing the full reason why something was done.
    Offering up your opinions about a web site without knowing the background behind it shows a lack of understanding about the web development process – i.e. you need to do some research before you make a design decision. You shouldn’t just do something based on the views of an audience of one (yourself).
    As for being too busy – I’m afraid that’s just the reality of the situation. Hence the importance of writing a concise, focused resume that catches my attention.
    Re. your acronym rant – wtf? Let’s just say I work for a non-profit organization and leave it at that.

  6. Resume tips from a first time hirer

    This guy is a newly become web team manager at Seattle Children Hospital. Since he says hospital, I would consider he and his team is not responsible for bring revenue to the hospital. This is an in house function. I presume so. Why I have said this…

  7. “Don’t start telling me what’s wrong with my web site or what you would change unless I ask you for some ideas.
    You don’t know what process we have gone through to develop the site, what issues we’ve faced, who our audiences are, or the goals of our site.”
    Bzzzt wrong! You would be very lucky indeed to get an applicant with the confidence and knowledge to venture this. A good software engineer with years of experience knows EXACTLY what process you went through, and if they did their research properly they also know your audience and goals. If you rejected anybody based on this ego issue you made a big mistake and should go back to basics reading “Software engineering” by Sommerville and Egoless programming to give you an idea about why your best candidates will be eager to shoot down your existing faults. Either that or what you meant to advertise was for a Website Maintainer (college grade material)

  8. “5. Don’t Criticize My Site”
    Aww boo hoo, now cry me a river will you.
    With attitude like that I WOULD not want to work for you, because it shows you don’t want truth and aren’t willing to learn new things. Actually it more or less tells that you think you are above others.
    Just because you have gone some “process” to end up with site you have, don’t mean you are above criticism for that site. If it’s piss poor job, or it has some fundamental flaws, or it’s BAD code there is no excuse “we went through hell and half and this is result”. THAT is not damn excuse for a shit job.
    I’d rather HEAR about problems than cry “don’t criticize my site” and stick my head in the sand. If you don’t want someone criticize, don’t make site at all.
    You would not believe how many job opportunities I have SKIPPED just because companies had websites that were so horribly made I would not want my name associated with them. Usually I also provide info WHY/WHAT I think is wrong with site.
    If I would be in position to hire I would damn well expect someone mention problems my site would have.
    Otherwise nice article, except that part I disagree wit it 😉

  9. You need to back your ego down a few notches there kiddo.
    A great deal of your advice is based on the hiring process employed by print design firms, and I can assure you that the majority of dev shops do not employ these practices.
    Outside of the people skills required, a solid work history and the ability to handle the technology used by the hiring department/shop are key.
    And about the followup email: Don’t ever do that. When your interviewers have seen 20-30 people in the last two weeks, trust me, we’ll call you.
    If you feel absolutely compelled to make contact after the interview, send a letter. Remember the mail? An email is a flippant and intrusive method of contacting someone.

  10. i thought the author’s tip/advice was pretty good and im actually in the process of finding a junior webdeveloper job.

  11. I would have to agree with just about everything you’ve written here. My senior seminar in college brought up many of these points, but to focus on Web related positions is a neat perspective to read about — especially from the hiring side. One of the points you bring up that I majorly agree to is 6. Provide URLs. Providing an example of my work was what got me my present position, so I would take that home as an important point from your article — thanks for the good read.

  12. “If you haven’t got URLs to provide me, then frankly, you haven’t got much of a hope.”
    Did you ever consider that there’s a whole world of web applications that are not public facing sites? Most of the complex work takes place on intranets behind the scenes. A public facing site, while certainly requiring design talent, is pretty run of the mill in terms of difficulty.

  13. Man, can’t even get respect on your own blog when you are just trying to help by showing your own personal views. Give the guy a break. Every interview is diffrent and you should react diffrent to each one.

  14. Excellent list! We have a job posting up for a web designer we hope to hire in the next couple of weeks, and I’m thinking back to the last time we had to do this… I *definitely* agree that people should provide links. It’s really surprising how few people seem to know to do that.
    Here are a few things people should avoid:
    * Don’t wear headphones during the interview. Seriously.
    * If we tell you in the interview we want you to use DreamWeaver, don’t tell us you won’t and that you only use notepad. You’re telling us you can’t do the job.
    * Make sure you’re applying to the right job. If we didn’t mention C++ on the job posting, there’s a good chance it won’t impress us on your resume. At least not without all the skills we *did* ask for.
    * If you’re going to list the software you’re proficient with and you decide to include version numbers — make sure they’re up to date. At least make sure they’re not 3 versions old.
    * And for god’s sake — if you send us a link to your web gallery, please take a moment to ensure it’s something work-related and not badly drawn and disturbing “artwork” you should be showing your councellor instead. Although now that I think of it, we do appreciate getting the warning…

  15. 30-60 seconds to look over a resume? This is why managers constantly complain about not being able to find qualified people. They don’t take the time necessary to *read* what people put on their resumes. The stuff we do is complex and hard to boil down into a few bullet points and even the best resume can be passed over by a manager who doesn’t really care to be interviewing people. But the real matter here is: Would I really wanto work for someone like that, anyways?

  16. I’m finding some of the negative comments here interesting, especially those who offense at the idea that it’s bad to critique the employer’s site in an interview.
    The reasons you offer why not to do this — because the interviewee won’t yet know how the site is backended, the technologies that might impose non-compliant output, and of course how managerial or client preferences migh dictate a certain approach — is sound.
    That some people get so snippy at this should be seen as a source of information rather than something to be upset about. It shows the huge number of people who know absolutely nothing beyond LAMP-style architectures and the technical freedom they confer, the huge number of people who have never worked in an environment where they don’t have complete artistic control; all, of course, are too pompous to suspect that production web development might operate under organizational or technical contraints unfamiliar to them.

  17. The author’s screed masquerades as a boon to potential job seekers – and does offer some valuable advice – but underneath that veneer this is nothing but a rant by a frustrated hiring manager. So sorry if all those who apply are just wasting your oh-so-precious time. There’s a simple remedy for that: Perhaps potential employees can simply stop sending you their resumes.
    As long as you think this is YOUR team and that people work FOR you rather than WITH you, no one will want to do EITHER.

  18. This information will prove really useful to not just applicants but also people who want to hire. It is so hard knowing if the person is going to be right for a job just from a piece of paper.

  19. Thanks for the feedback, both positive and negative. I do appreciate all your thoughts, although I have to admit I’ve been a little taken aback by the vitriol in some of the remarks.
    On reflection, I can see how my post could be construed as being overly didactic and somewhat confrontational, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.
    It seems like my point about not criticizing my site has drawn the most flack – my fault for not adequately explaining myself (I guess that’s why I don’t write for a living). Perhaps a couple of examples will better illustrate my point.
    I personally think that Amazon’s product pages have way too much extraneous stuff on them. However, if I was interviewing for a job there, I wouldn’t just go and say, ‘You know, you really should get rid of some of that unnecessary crap you have on your product pages.’
    Why not? Because there are probably very good reasons why they chose to add all that stuff. Although good design principles would lead me to think otherwise, I have no idea about the research that has gone into the design decisions for those pages.
    Far better for me to ask why they made those decisions than to launch into a comparatively ill-informed broadside about what they should do. That’s what I mean by not criticizing.
    Similarly, take Craigslist. To me it seems like the site is long overdue for a visual overhaul. However, I wouldn’t go into an interview and say ‘What’s up with the cruddy looking site?’
    Again, there are likely to be very good reasons as to why it looks like it does that I am not privvy to. In that sense, it’s pretty arrogant of me to tell them what I think they should do based solely on my own opinion.
    As for criticisms of ego – there’s honestly no ego involved in my views. If you work in web design, you have to leave your ego at the door.
    Everything we do gets ripped apart multiple times – everyone has an opinion and you certainly can’t please them all. Every web site I’ve worked on has been an exercise in the art of compromise – and there’s no room for ego in that process.
    As for being too busy – I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is. 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 2 minutes – it really doesn’t matter exactly how long each resume gets reviewed. The point is that you don’t have long to make an impression.
    I notice that no one’s posted a comment to say that every resume that lands on their desk gets pored over for no less than 15 minutes.
    Lastly, on the point of ego (again). I work at a children’s hospital and every day talk with doctors and nurses who save lives and work miracles.
    I am constantly in awe of what they do and am grateful to play what small part I do in helping to improve the health and lives of the children we serve.
    When you learn what these people do on a daily basis and compare your work to theirs, any sense of ego about what you do frankly just dissolves into nothing.

  20. Hey Christian I just wanted to say this is a great article with some good information. Most people coming out of school don’t have a clue how this stuff works so this is a great guide for them.

  21. Thank you for that perspective. I was just recently hired last week, but I could have done even better in the interview with your tips. I agree with you, (and Rob) on the no-criticism idea just out of plain professionalism. It’s not courteous, no matter how polite you may be and an interview definitely isn’t the time and place to tell your potential future boss how much more you know than him/her. Instead, in preparation for my interview, I completely re-coded one of the sites in their portfolio up to web standards and printed out the code from the before and after. I brought it with me to the interview as a back-up in case it looked like things were going south. I never actually had to use it, and who knows if I would have. I agree we all should be able to face criticism, but if someone is trying to impress me for the purpose of getting a job, I want to know how they can help make money for my company, not how they can fix my (presumed) mistakes.
    I can also appreciate what you mean about time and lack of it. I think it’s immature to see all the people who demand you take more time to look at them because, heck, they’re just better than everyone else and should be given the job without question! But… reality is, you’ve got sites to design yourself and don’t have time for hiring. That’s why my resume has rounded corners and is on card stock weight paper. 🙂 It’s hard to get past that and they keep seeing it. And attitude is everything. A little humility goes a LONG way.

  22. Do you think it is important to go to school for a job in the we industry. I am really interested in web design and have been checking out these Web Design FAQs and it lists a bunch of schools where you can study web design. Do you thikn this is worth it, or is this something you can learn easily enough yourself from books/ websites etc? Do you thikn a degree makes you more employable?

  23. *Natalie* – thanks for the feedback and congrats on the new job!
    *David* – that’s a great question. Unfortunately, the answer is ‘it depends’. I think that school is definitely a great place to learn design skills – that’s something that’s much harder to learn by yourself.
    As far as coding is concerned, I’m not so sure. Some of the schools that I’ve been made aware of teach coding methods that are years out-of-date.
    For example, the site you linked to uses tables for part of their home page layout and throws in a font tag for good measure even though the site’s doctype is XHTML. Check out their CSS too – it’s pretty bad. If they were a school, I wouldn’t be looking to go there, no matter how good their spiel!
    I’m self-taught and have found that there is so much good information available online now – mainly through the blogs of other web designers – that’s it’s hard for me to see how you can beat that.
    Does a [web design] degree make you more employable? As an employer, I honestly don’t care what degree someone has, but it is important to me that they have a degree (mine is in International Relations).
    As long as they can demonstrate that they have the skills I’m looking for they can have a degree in whatever they want – the thing I care about most is their portfolio.

  24. Well, despite all the negativity, I thought it was a great article. Then again, I’m one of the few that fall into the “just out of school” category, so I don’t have the first idea how the hiring process goes.
    But in that respect, no matter how reliable the tips are, they’re a good insight into the process. This will be bookmarked for my next (first) interview.
    And for what it’s worth, I agree with the point about criticising their site. Every (good) design decision comes with a certain amount of research and that research sometimes dictates compromise in the design. … Unless I totally missed the point.

  25. Great article:
    I think the polarity of the replies too the article are wonderful as well. They give a great over view of the extremes and are beneficial therefore, in finding the “middle ground.”
    I have two comments, firstly about “don’t criticize my site”. I agree with the statement that a good programmer/coder can tell a lot about the prospective employers process (or lack of) by digging into the code. I think it is hard to “sell yourself” and illuminate what it is “you can do for them” which is unique or a cut above, with out critiquing. Obviously this must be done with diplomacy. I was asked flat out, in a recent interview, “tell me why my site sucks?” I responded with, “gloves off?”. As I started into my critique of short comings and how I felt I could improve upon them, I rather quickly asked, “who am I bashing here..?” The person responsible was sitting right there as well and said “hey go for it, this is why we are interested in your skills”. Enough said to make my point.
    Second point: all this talk about URL’s URL’s… No one has said to do what I have done. Build a site. That’s right, if you are applying for a web design/coding job get to the point, be current. Build a small site, use the company’s present site as a spring board. Critique the site, illuminate strengths and weaknesses. Show what you can do NOW and for THEM. This will show a level of interest and commitment too them and most likely will be a cut above anybody with URL’s too 1-2 year old work. As well, it can be your latest and “tightest” work.
    “A lot of work and very proprietary” you say? Addressing the later: Not so! you then have it and it’s content can be tailored to other companies with relative ease. addressing the former: If your not into work, why are you going through all the effort to apply for it?

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