Nov 03 2010

Getting Ready for Your Job Interview

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As web designers and/or developers we have a certain luxury afforded to us with the location and times; where and when we work. Ours is an industry that allows us to sit at home and work at whatever times (and in whatever conditions) are convenient to us. However, in today’s economic times it can be harder to find enough contract work to support a comfortable lifestyle.

If you’re a recent college graduate or a freelancer looking to transition into work as a full-time designer/developer at a company, the following tips in today’s post will help you ace the interview and land the job. Note that a lot of the tips listed below are for larger scale companies. Whether small or large scale, most companies tend to interview in a more “standard” method — so we’ll stick to exactly those kind of guidelines.
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Have a Résumé

Most job postings you find online will require you to submit a résumé (or CV if you’re outside the US). So it’s important to be sure that you have this in a digital format; PDF or Word Documents are typically accepted.

Most of the time the first person who gets to see your résumé will be one of the HR representatives and not the person who will actually be doing the hiring. As such, there are hundreds of résumés that cross the desks of these individuals daily and so it is very important to stand out. With this being said, it may be worth the effort to spend some time in making your résumé stand out visually.

Along with your résumé, you’ll generally want to include a cover letter that states (in the first paragraph) why you would be a good hire. The second paragraph can include what position it is that you are applying for.

This may seem like an obvious statement but one that needs to be said: don’t lie on your résumé! One particular thing to mention is your experience level. If you choose to list out all the languages you know, be sure to list your experience with them as well. Most good developers know at best a handful of languages. Compare the following two lists:

PHP (advanced)PHP
ASP.NET (beginner)ASP.NET
SQL (advanced)SQL
CSS (expert)CSS
XHTML (expert)XHTML
JavaScript (expert)Javascript
..etc....etc..

The list on the left gives a clearer picture of what languages you know and what your current level of expertise is with that skill. It’s very easy for us as web developers and designers to paste a large list of languages in the hopes that we’ll be able to be hired and figure out the ‘nuts & bolts’ of the language as we go.

Also remember that knowing a CMS tool such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc.. and being able to customize it does not mean that you are a PHP expert. If you know PHP then you’ll be able to sit down and write PHP code from scratch.

Have a Portfolio

When asking for a résumé, employers may also often ask for an example of your work. For most of us, since we are web designers/developers, we probably have a web based portfolio (this URL should be on your résumé).

Sometimes however, if we are just starting out or we’ve just been too busy with client work, we may not have our own portfolio website in place yet. In this case, it’s perfectly acceptable to make a PDF / Word Document with screenshots and a few bullet points about key projects that you want to showcase for a potential employer.

The Phone Interview

If all went well in submitting the résumé and cover letter then you’ll be contacted by the company to set up a time to meet. Some companies will speak to potential employees via the phone first, in order to minimize the amount of time they have to spend in face to face interviews. Some companies won’t do this, and may just meet in person first, but a phone interview can be your first step into the door, and it’s your chance to make a good first impression on a potential employer.

The phone interview is really about you as a person, you probably won’t be presenting any work at this point, mainly answering questions about your skillset. It’s important to be polite to the interviewer. While it’s essential to use your manners here, it’s also important to make sure there aren’t distractions in the background of your call: dogs barking, loud music playing, and the list can continue!

More on Smashing Magazine: Group Interview: Expert Advice For Students and Young Web Designers

The Face-to-Face Interview

If all goes well, then the interviewer will set up a time to meet with you in person. This is where the rubber hits the road and it’s important for you to make a lasting impression with your personality and your skill set. In smaller companies you may be interviewing with one person, but in larger companies there could be as many as 3-5 people interviewing you. Or you may have several interviews with multiple people in each interview.

It’s always important to have some type of leave behind or handout to give to those interviewing you, and it’s perfectly acceptable to ask how many people will be present at your interview so that you can prepare materials. You will want to have printed copies of your résumé for everyone present and you don’t want to assume that there will be a computer present — so you’ll want printed copies of your work.

The last point about a computer not being present may raise a few eyebrows, especially in the web design and development industry but it’s always a possibility and it’s best to try and be prepared for all circumstances.

Most companies will also give you some type of test to determine your skill level. This test will more than likely be different depending on what job your applying for. A ‘front-end’ web developer can expect to answer questions about the box model, javascript, other front end technologies, or be prepared to write code on the spot. A ‘back-end’ web developer could expect you to answer questions or write code in regards to database access, looping over queries, performance issues, or any other number of issues.

Remember, not all companies will do this, but most will as it is a good measure of how well you know the technologies that you have on your résumé and how well you’d be able to fit in skill set wise to the current development team.

The Followup

After the interview, it’s always important to follow up and thank the interviewer for their time they’ve invested in meeting you as a candidate for their firm. Writing a quick handwritten note and dropping it in the mail can go a long way to making you look good in the eyes of a potential employer. In the age of email and texting, writing a quick letter and dropping it in the mail may perhaps show the interviewer how much you respected their time.

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About the Author

Justin Johnson is Rich Media / UI Developer at E-dreamz an established Web Development company in Charlotte, NC. He spends his days meticulously hand crafting CSS and Javascript as well as tinkering with PHP, MySQL, SQL, ColdFusion & Flex. Justin spends his spare time with his wife and son.

Comments and Discussions
  • Designers' List, 03 November 2010

    Great article, it is very useful.

  • babak, 03 November 2010

    It is good, but I think there had to be more detailed…

  • denno, 03 November 2010

    Thank you so much. I have been applying for jobs because i am nearly completing college. Used your tips to improve my CV (am in kenya).

  • Hunter, 04 November 2010

    Nice tips. Thanks for sharing.

  • benedetta.s, 04 November 2010

    Really interesting post, thanks for advices!

  • Glaiza Bernaldez, 04 November 2010

    this is very useful! Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Curtis Scott, 04 November 2010

    Good read! Also, some things to consider…

    Confidence is important too. Showing that you’re passionate about what you bring to the table is always important in our industry. I look at like this, 40% is selling your self to the would be client/employer 60% is the skill to follow through on it.

  • FSproduction, 04 November 2010

    Thanks!!!
    I love http://www.noupe.com!!!
    Really, you are the best!!!
    Russia, Kazan))

  • Jake, 04 November 2010

    Nice article. I’m always surprised how many applicants screw this process up.

    However, I disagree on the “hand-written” note. Yes you should ALWAYS followup, but you aren’t following up with your grandma. You are applying for a digital position in a creative industry. Impress them by doing something different and show your appreciation in ways relevant to the field. Ex: Instead of sending an analogue note, maybe set yourself apart and design/program a custom HTML thank-you email? (That was actually a deciding factor in the job I recently got as a web designer!)

  • Evan Skuthorpe web designer, 05 November 2010

    As a designer, I’ve never once provided a cover letter and no one in the industry here in London is bothered by cover letters. I really wouldn’t say this is a neccessity.

  • Theo, 06 November 2010

    Great and useful article!

  • BRA$E, 09 November 2010

    Confidence and honesty is key.
    You shouldn’t lie to a potential employer about your skill set.

    If you’re lacking what clients are looking for, study and broaden your knowledge.

    It’s always good to stay on top of your game and make yourself that super valuable asset to any production.

  • Karl Sobin, 09 November 2010

    I actually enjoyed studying your blog. It never occurs before, I’ve carried out reading it becuse of all the awesome information on yout article very interesting. Bookmarked already.

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