Miles Burke

Startups, digital marketing, small business & more.

39 hints when looking for web industry work

Beer tasting in progress

Six weeks ago I posted about my recent recruitment experiences for Bam Creative. It caused a bit of a stir, and seemed to be well received by some, and not so good by others (hello to those whose comments I deleted!). This list below expands on that previous post, and includes real life experiences of mine when hiring people over the last fifteen years, along with some good old plain advice.

I’ve used the words web industry in the title, however the majority of the tips below are suitable for any job seeker, and many are just plain common sense. You’re welcome to ignore it or learn by it, however I’d be interested in your thoughts on it, so please comment.

  1. Learn the skills required. This may sound simple, but learning the right blend of languages and skills for the job you want can be tricky. Given Australian Universities set the course syllabus at least two years prior, you’re going to have to learn anything ‘cutting edge’ in your own time.
  2. Work part time whilst studying. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the industry or not – in fact, I like seeing retail experience on a candidates resume, because I know they’ve had to learn to take orders, work on customer service and have a good attitude.
  3. Start a blog or have a portfolio site. And spend a handful of cash and get a proper URL for it. A web candidate without a web presence is like a taxi driver without a license. A www.someisp.com.au/~longweirdusername/ address will stay in my mind for 10 seconds.
  4. Get work experience. Use semester breaks or your day off each week (if you’re that lucky) to go out and offer yourself free to a web company for at least 50 hours, if not more. It’ll make sure you’re suited for the job, and it’ll also show that you have initiative.
  5. Work on your resume. Make sure it is grammatically correct, and everything is spelt correctly, and you’ve mentioned everything from your full name, previous work history through to referees (and make sure they know they’re on your resume!).
  6. Work history on your resume is important, but make sure it’s a good history. An unexplained gap of 5 years in the middle of your career, or 14 positions for 14 different companies in the last 18 months probably wont look too good.
  7. Make sure any contact numbers you’ve listed on your resume work, and are not disconnected.
  8. If you’ve had no luck with point 4, offer your services free to a struggling not for profit organization – they get your skills free, and you get some great experience.
  9. Polish up your interpersonal skills. Not everyone gets that dream job of coding or designing all day without any interaction with fellow staff or (gasp!) clients. You need to be able to communicate effectively and have confidence.
  10. Get a serious sounding email address. I have had resumes listing email addresses such as sexy_chick69@exampleisp.com.au – this doesn’t instil much confidence.
  11. Network with your fellow students. One day, one of the people in your class could be your boss or the HR manager. People find it very hard to overlook the fact you snubbed them at Uni five years later when they have to decide whether to hire you.
  12. Learn something different. When I say different, I mean not web related at all. If you’ve got no interest outside of the web, you’re going to look boring on your resume, and you will burn out, quickly.
  13. Join a group like Port 80. If you’re not near a Port 80 chapter, consider joining a Macromedia Users Group, a Cold fusion Club or whatever interests you. You’ll be amazed how many opportunities arise because you’ve becomes friends with someone who either makes hiring decisions, or can recommend you to someone who does.
  14. Check your resume again – does it all make sense, and is well written and honest? Exaggerating claims of skills will backfire on you when the new boss realises what you don’t know but said you were ‘Advanced’ at.
  15. Start looking for work early. If you’re leaving this until the final few weeks of your degree, you are in trouble. I receive a 1000% increase in unsolicited resumes in a six-week window at the end of the second semester. You are better off getting in early and being noticed.
  16. Realise that many positions are filled before they ever get advertised – if you’re waiting for an ad in the paper, it could be a long wait.
  17. Find forums or online communities where your prospective next boss may visit, and join in the conversation. Adding worthwhile posts in a forum carries weight when you meet face to face.
  18. Make a list of the companies you really want to work for, call them and ask them who makes HR decisions. Then always address emails or post to them, so there’s less chance of them being thrown out.
  19. Check your blog – posts titled ‘I want to kill my boss’ or ‘I can’t stop downloading porn’ should probably go before a prospective employer googles your name.
  20. Ask lecturers and tutors for advice all the time. They are the ones who will see if you’re enthusiastic or not. When considering hiring a graduate, I have been known to call their lecturers.
  21. Buy a friend who works in the industry lunch or a beer and ask them to look over your resume. Make sure they are brutally honest – any ‘oh, it’s an OK resume’ statements are just wasting your time.
  22. Network, network, network. As per point 10, it’s often ‘who you know’ not ‘what you know’. Don’t take a chance – try to know everyone.
  23. Write a great compelling cover letter and be sure that it is tailored to suit each recipient or position. I’ve had a number of cover letters with other company names on them. This gives me amusement for the 5 seconds it takes me to throw them out.
  24. Be prepared to accept a role more junior than you’d like. Junior roles often end up senior roles, and turning your thumb up at a job because you think it’s below you will rule you out of ever getting a job at that company.
  25. Don’t ever send a 5mb PDF resume to a mass BCC list. Never, ever. It’s so not funny.
  26. Apply for positions that fit 90% of your skill set – often employers list everything they want in an ideal candidate, but end up settling on someone who has most of the skills required. Not applying is just reducing your chances.
  27. If you’re invited to an interview, make sure you research the company – find recent examples of work, and make sure you drop a ‘Wow, I like the work you did with company X’ in your interview.
  28. Don’t leave anything to chance – if you are not 100% satisfied you know exactly where the interview is taking place, go there the day before and scout it out. This may save you turning up late, or having to call and say you’re lost.
  29. Dress well at interviews. I’d prefer overdressed than underdressed. A suit is more impressive than a singlet, regardless of the position within the company.
  30. Don’t bring your mother into the interview. Especially if you’re 22 years old.
  31. Offer yourself as a free trial – suggest that you are happy to come in for a day’s unpaid work, just to show them how good you are. It shows you’re keen, you believe in your abilities and you are a ‘go getter’.
  32. Don’t wipe your running nose on the sleeve of your business shirt during the interview. In fact, don’t do it anytime.
  33. Be honest. If an interviewer asks you about something you know little about, tell them that although you don’t know much about XYZ, you are keen to learn – it shows honesty and a willingness to learn.
  34. Make eye contact and believe in yourself. Time and time again, I have interviewed people who look at their feet, who shrug when asked a question or who come across lacking in any confidence – confidence is catchy, if you have none, it’ll certainly drain any confidence anyone else has in you as well.
  35. Follow the employer up within a few days – it shows them you’re keen and the sooner you know the outcome, the better.
  36. Keep networking. Attend any functions you think your prospect employers will be.
  37. If you don’t get the position, ask them if they can give you a reason – explain it’ll help your further your job hunting, and try not to sound defensive.
  38. Accept any knock-backs and don’t let them deter you. Keep on sending resumes and applying for every job that you believe suits you.
  39. Congratulations! You’ve won the job. Now comes the fun bit about working a full time job, and ensuring you keep learning new skills outside work, that your role can improve and you remain a well skilled employee. Don’t stop learning for a moment; otherwise you’ll end up left behind.

Image: Beer tasting in progress.

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7 Comments

  1. Kate Lande

    Great list Miles, although I feel you’re going to get more sarcastic comments again!

  2. Michael H

    Great work with those tips…I want to know however if sexychick69 was HOT or NOT?

  3. Having worked in industry as an employer, and in university education, students don’t believe you when you tell them this stuff. Thanks for posting this Miles. I’ll link it for my students. Maybe they will believe you.

  4. Excellent list here Miles.

    I would have hoped a lot of these items would be common sense… but sadly I guess thats not true.

    I can’t even count the number of resumes/cover letters I sent out while looking for a job. Can’t say I’m envious of anyone having to do it now either. Luckily back in the bad old days of 1999 blogging was pretty scarce, so having a custom built ColdFusion blog system was enough of a novelty to get me a job.

    These days I let wordpress do all the work.

  5. Jamie Polson-Brown

    Good tips to get me on the right track for life after uni. Can you give me any examples where i could apply for work experience in the web industry in Perth. Ded Keen.

  6. Excellent list of tips I wish i had these when I was leaving Uni. You have also inspired me to start moving parts of my blog in a new direction. Thanks

  7. ren

    This is exactly what I have been looking for. Thanks for the great tips

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