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How to get a job in web design

Me and my Logo
Me and my Logo

I like hiring people right out of school.  For one thing it brings a great energy to a team to have someone young with new ideas.  For another, it’s a chance to shape someone who hasn’t picked up years of bad habits (and who may impart some good habits on me and my team).  I also think it’s my duty to give others the same breaks that were afforded me early in my career.

You’ve finished up your classes, you’ve read a bunch of stuff on your own (including Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, Dan Cederholm’s Bulletproof Web Design, Andy Budd’s CSS Mastery) and you’ve been networking, you’ve been twittering, you’ve met some people, got a couple of leads, and now you’ve sent out your resumes.  You’re well on your way to getting your first job in web design.

Now you’re ready for your first job interview, so here’s some tips for you to make sure that first interview goes really well.

Be prepared – I need to see what you’re capable of.  I’m looking for some stuff you’ve done before, I might spring a quick question like “if I gave you x and y, how would you do z”?  I don’t care if your solution is right…what I want to see is how you think.

Have a portfolio – The most essential thing, even if you’re coming right out of school, you need to have web pages to show me.  They need to knock my socks off because I’m hiring you, but I don’t want to be babysitting you, so I need to see that you’ve got the fundamentals.

Keep your portfolio on the internet – I knew this one back in 1996 when I first started building web pages.  I built a local copy of every site and kept it on one Geocities site…yeah, Geocities.  Laugh about it if you want, but I got my first job at TSN because when I went in to the interview I gave my prospective boss the URL and walked him through the half dozen sites I had built.  Back then buying web space was something only jedi masters could do, but today thanks to places like DreamHost you can host unlimited web domains for less than $100.00 a year (visit DreamHost today and use the promo code “RADICALHIVEYEAR” to get one year hosting for $79.99, that’s crazy cheap).

Remember your URL is your leave behind – I don’t need a CD, I don’t need a flash key, I don’t really need a fancy resume printed on 20lb paper (I’m a web guy, not  a print guy), it’s cool that you can do all of that…but what I really want is a website URL that I can go back to when you’re not with me.

Keep it clean – I know that “Butthole Surfers” is an alternative band, but it’s probably not appropriate to have a fan page dedicated to them on your  portfolio.

Tell me a story – Part of what I want to know is what skills you posess, but part of what I want to know is who you are.  Tell me something that’s a little bit funny, a little bit serious, and shows some of your skill while also showing off your personality.  A story about something you screwed up really badly and how you learned from it is perfect.

Don’t think you’re busier than I am – I get so offended by this one.  I know I’m super busy, but I don’t use that as an excuse.  I figure out ways around it.  I think it’s ridiculous when someone says “Oh, I’ve been too busy to put together a portfolio.”, no you just didn’t think it ranked high enough on your priorities, that’s fine…but it means you’re not ready to do job interviews, so why did you just waste both of our time?  Don’t tell me that you’ve got a ton of family committments and you won’t be able to work overtime.  Don’t tell me that you’re burnt out from 4 years of school.  Sorry to say, but you don’t know burn out yet.

Leave on a good note – Here’s what you want to get across.  You’re a hard worker, you’re willing to put in the extra time to become great, and you understand that you’re starting at the bottom so that means you’re going to have to earn your stripes. You are hungry to learn, and you can’t wait for the opportunity.

Do all of that, and I’ll be happy to give you the gig.

By Brian Garside

Brian is a digital experience expert, and part time internet superhero. He focuses on digital first design, digital strategies, content management, website usability, and user experience. He was part of the team behind BalanceDo, the co-founder of All New Comics, and the chief strategist at NorthIQ.

2 replies on “How to get a job in web design”

Well written Brian! The story part is bang on as I demand concrete examples of success that I can follow up on with references. “I increased online sales by 75% in 2008”. OK, how did you manage to do that? Who can I call to confirm that?

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