Insider S Guide To Getting An Interactive Job
Posted on 03 Feb 2002
by Ben Friedman (iconologic)
Rated 4.06 (Ratings: 3)
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In the past two years, I have seen hundreds of resumes,online portfolios, and links to sites built/designed/worked on by people. I have also spent such an inordinate amount of time on the phone with prospective employees, trading a million emails, and talking about what my company is-and where it's going-that I've unwittingly polished my act for new business presentations.
What follows is a collection of tips, stories, and assortedthoughts intended to help you, the prospective interactive designer/web developer job seeker, get a leg up on the competition as you look for work.
Part One: Making Contact
By phone, e-mail or regular mail?
Phone calls are the most personal of the three and for thatreason they should be avoided for first contact. It is especially difficult to get people on the phone these days and using voicemail to introduce yourself may not be the best idea.
Snail mail isn't necessarily a bad thing but it is becomingincreasingly rare and that is both a good and bad. On the good side, whatever you send will likely be opened by someone. On the bad side, what you send needs to be unique and strong and that could require a lot of effort or cost to accomplish. Also, we all have too much crap in our offices and the likelihood that what you send will either be buried or trashed within a week is highly probable. If you want to make a splash by mail, I would suggest putting in the effort and creativity required to make a serious impact. If you do make a big splash, your work will likely be passed around the office.
Today, e-mail is the preferred method of contact. You reallycannot go wrong using it. It can be opened and read at the employer's leisure, and that will increase the likelihood of their having a favorable impression of you (out-of-the blue phone calls right before big meetings or project deadlines tend not to cast you in the best light). Plus, e-mails are easy to store and find.
What should you put in the email?
Subject lines are like headlines. They ought to be succinctand to the point. Safe bets for the subject box include, "Candidate for ______ job" or "Web Developer, John Doe". Function always trumps form in e-mail intros.
And in the body of the message as well. Don't go overboard-getto the point. Start by saying "my name is ____ and I am interested in the job for _____". Then shamelessly begin stroking the potential employer's ego by complimenting them personally (if you know their work) and their company. Exhibiting a knowledge of their company and work is the beginning of a personal rapport. Address your reader by his/her name. In other words, make it clear to them that you haven't shotgunned this same e-mail to a hundred other people. Showing a little intimacy with a company suggests that they are high on your list of desirable employers. Finally, tell them specifically why you want to work at their company. This ensures that you've done your legwork and actually know something about the company.
The most important thing to include is a link to your onlineresume/portfolio site. You might also include (but be careful not to include too much) mentions of previous employers or projects if you think they will be impressive, interesting or context-specific to the employer.
The goal of the email is to get them interested enough thatthey want to learn more about you (and will click on your link). Don't give it all away in the email.
General note: if you send an attachment, keep it small andmake sure it is either a .doc, .txt or .pdf file. Ideally, you would attach nothing but rather include links to your work.
I am always a bit surprised nowadays to see a resume printedon a piece of paper in this business. Don't get me wrong, it isn't a bad thing to have one, it's just that I think prospective employers would rather see an online resume.
One rant specific to the "skills" section of aresume: I deplore it when someone lists something (example: xml) on their resume and then when I question them about it, they say something to the effect of, "well, I read a book about it" or something similarly displeasing. For god's sake, if you are desperate to add a catalogue of acronyms to your resume, at least indicate your level of proficiency with each one. For instance, are you: an expert, well-versed, vaguely familiar, or unfathomably ignorant of everything but the letters of the acronym. Believe me, as an employer, if you let me know how well you know a program, I will a) appreciate your honesty, and b) be able to understand you better and see where you might be headed from a personal growth perspective.
General note: the most important thing on a paper resumeis the list of previous employers and specific information about how long you worked at each one and what exactly you did while there (aside from refashioning your resume to send to me).
The all-important (online) resume and portfolio!
OK, listen up. This is the most important thing for youto focus on (until you are invited to an interview). I can determine if I am interested in someone within about 1-2 minutes (or less) of clicking on a link to their online portfolio/resume. If you are a designer, this thing had better look sharp. If you are a developer, you should get someone that can design to help you create an interface for it and then make sure you are using some of those "skills" listed on your resume on that site.
General note: I hate to say never, but I would never hiresomeone that did not have a site of his or her own.
Things you really should cover on the site
- traditional resume type content
- screen caps of sites you have worked on
- links to the sites (target a new window please)
- descriptions of what the project was for and what you did on it (this is a great opportunity to answer questions before they are asked and to begin to sell yourself to the employer)
Some interesting or unusual ideas that may (or may not)be worth exploring on your site:
Also remember to include current contact information.
General note: try to find the right balance between showingoff your skills and providing useful information. The right combination will result in a quot;homerun" for you with the potential employer.
Part Two: Sitting in Limbo (but not waiting in vain)
The two-day rule
First of all, don't take this too literally, but if youhaven't heard back from someone within 1-2 days of contact you can pretty much count on not hearing from them. The likelihood that an email will get deleted or buried under others or that a package will get thrown out or lost increases substantially each day that passes after it was received.
Sometimes, people are too busy to get back right away andthey will later on but consider this: if it takes more than a day or two to respond to you, what does that say about the potential employer? That they aren't that committed to finding someone for this job right away (or even at all)? That they may be lackadaisical later on if you were to be hired? Perhaps...perhaps not. But things to think about.
Definitely follow up with another note if you have not heardback in more than 5 business days. When following up, communicate (very briefly) that you are following up on a note about "the job for ____" and indicate that you are on top of things by recounting that you sent the note "last Tuesday afternoon (or whenever)" to help politely remind the recipient that this is your second attempt to contact.
If you still don't hear back from them? They are eithernot interested in you or are not seriously interested in filling this job. Regardless, it is likely best to move on. However, if you feel that this is the one and only job for you, consider other alternatives. (Let me remind you that if you do this, please recognize that the odds are already stacked against you so your attempts must be smart and sincere beyond this point.)
Playing cryptologist: decoding the response (and responding)
Responses can vary greatly but you will likely get somevariant of one of the following two responses: "we are not interested" or "we are interested". If you get a response either way, congratulations. This is not always a given. An added bonus is that this is the first opportunity you will have to evaluate a potential employer's interest in you. It is very difficult for them to not reveal some of their hand when they respond to you. Use this to your advantage and read carefully and then re-read carefully what they said to you. Use that information to shape the size and tone of your next communication back to the potential employer. This is also a good time to reiterate your personal knowledge of the person or company and communicate your desire to be in this specific job (although please do this subtly or concisely at this point).
Be prepared to answer specific questions immediately anddon't screw around on the money issue (especially considering the economy right now). Tell them exactly what you are/were making at your last job and give them a range that you think would be fair based on your skill set and past experience as well as your interpretation of what the job would require of you. Don't worry about specifics at this point. That will turn the employer off because it will appear you are more concerned about money than the job. But it is helpful and important to establish a ballpark for compensation to keep things moving forward efficiently for both sides (you are going to have to talk about it sooner or later so my advice would be to get it out there as soon as it becomes relevant or appropriate and perhaps you will prevent either side wasting their time if there is a significant problem in this respect).
Also keep in mind that your response will also tip yourhand to the potential employer. Be sure to include a question or two of your own. This is wise as it indicates a specific interest in the job or company on your behalf and also helps increase the likelihood of the employer continuing the dialog with you (which helps promote a familiarity and recognition which will set you apart from others). Please don't ask trivial things or ask too many questions, but one or two carefully worded questions will show the employer that it is not a one way street and that you are also evaluating them (something some employers forget or never realize).
Part Three: All Things Interview
Setting it up
Generally, at this point, the employer will dictate nextsteps. Some like to continue emailing for a while or will want a quick phone call interview, still others may wish to go ahead and schedule an interview in person. You pretty much will need to follow their lead from here. However, I would recommend that if you receive a favorable response from a potential employer and you have a "good feeling" that you spend a little time each day thinking about the company and the job. This should include everything from considering where they are located and what the morning and afternoon commutes would be like to considering the type of people that work there and how you would fit into the corporate culture or environment.
Finally, do some homework on the company and the job. Ifpossible, talk to others that work or have worked there. Also, talk to other people in the industry and try to learn about their impression of the company (keep an open mind here as you never know what you will hear from someone... good or bad). Other good sources of information are local news web sites and/or industry specific publications or sites. Even a good old-fashioned search engine query for the company's name can turn up some interesting information. (Some of which could be fun or interesting tidbits or icebreakers to share with the interviewer if you get that far. Something like, "Did you know that if you do a search for your company on google that the one of the first links that pop up is to an archive of Nazi memorabilia?").
First, let me tell you that appearances matter very littlein this business. I have seen absolutely zero correlation between how an individual looks or dresses and how they perform on the job. As such, I could really care less about how a person looks when they come to interview for a job. My suggestion would be this: Be yourself. If, however, you feel as an individual that you can help your chances to get a job by removing an earring or dressing a bit more conservatively, go for it. It is important to feel physically comfortable on your interview. But I would caution you however that over time, a person's true colors will show through anyway, so please be careful about how far you are willing to go to pull the wool over someone's eyes.
From an employer's perspective, we really don't care whatyou look like or how you dress as long as you don't smell or wear offensive clothing or something equally galling. One thing we will care about sometimes is that you choose to be a bit more professional (both in terms of your behavior and your sartorial choices) when you have a scheduled client meeting to attend.
General note: no matter what, try not to look like a dork(try to avoid the perception that you've been living in a closet writing code by the fluorescent light of your monitor). No matter what your style, this is something most people can accomplish without too much effort.
The grand entrance
Get there 15 minutes early (no matter what). However, don'tgo inside that early. Sit in your car until you have about 5 minutes till your scheduled arrival. While in your car, relax a bit. Turn off the radio. Turn up the air conditioner or heater to get your body a comfortable temperature (hot and sweaty or cold and clammy hand shakes are unpleasant, to say the least). Then think about the things you want to make sure you communicate about yourself while in there. Also think about the things you want to make sure you ask or learn while there. When you think you are mentally ready, get out of the car, head inside and pretend you are now the president of the United States and that everyone is watching your every move. I say this because you will immediately start making impressions on people as soon as you walk in the door. Your future boss or co-worker may walk right past you while waiting in the lobby. Be prepared and aware of these things and realize that although no one may ever remember the first time you walked in the building but then again, they just might tell stories about it down the road ("I remember the first time I saw him in the lobby, he was sweating profusely and chain smoking gauloises").
Pay attention to what is going on around you. Evaluate the"mood" or "culture" of the office and staff as much as you can. If you have time, ask where the restroom is so that you can walk around the building a little bit. This will likely enable you to see more and learn more than you would just sitting in a waiting area. It will also give you an opportunity to confirm your stellar appearance in the mirror, or correct any fashion faux pas you've overlooked.
When you first meet the interviewer, say his or her nameout loud "Hi _____" or "Hi Mr./Ms _____". If they don't say your name or otherwise indicate that they know exactly who you are, make sure you say your first and last name to them. Make sure you extend a dry hand, not too aggressively, but firmly and purposefully. Look them in the eye and don't shake too long. (If you find yourself staring at their shoes, quickly recover by commenting on how much you like their taste, something like, "Pick those up in Milan, did you?"). Nevertheless, a handshake makes an impression, establishes a personal relationship and breaks the ice. Also, you may think I am crazy for saying this but, remember how the handshake went and what their technique was like and try to consider that for your departure handshake. That way, if the first one isn't too smooth (for any number of reasons) you have a better shot of making the departure shake effective.
Finally, be prepared to have 1-3 minutes worth of chitchatready because some people like to do that to help break the ice or it may take you a couple minutes to get wherever you are going in the office for the actual interview. It is nice to start talking right away about things that are easy to discuss rather than to be a quiet little follower on the way to some place in the office. Remember, since your interview started the minute you walk in the door, make the best use of your time and be prepared.
If you have a choice of seats at a table, do not choosea seat that will put you exactly opposite the interviewer. If you can sit next to or 90 degrees to the right or left, that is better. It's best not to feel as though you were in a police interrogation. Sit up in your seat, lean slightly towards the interviewer and pull out a paper and pen to take notes or to review notes you may have already made for yourself. Even if your interviewer says nothing worth writing down, scribble aimlessly in order to give the impression that a) you are attentive, and b) that your interviewer is worth paying attention to. It will also enable you to write down the names of anyone you meet so that you may address them specifically later.
Make sure you ask questions. This should be a two way streetand if you aren't asking questions, you are either going to appear uninterested, too eager to satisfy or cast in some kind of negative light. Consider asking questions that you think no one else may have asked (for instance, "In the event of a fire, would designers be rescued before developers?") Those are the types of things that stand out in someone's mind.
Don't harp on "little" things or formalities.These include "What kind of computer will I get?", "What are work hours?" and "What type of benefits do you offer". (You might ask, with dreamy enthusiasm, "If hired, will I have access to my work station 24-hours a day?") Those answers will come once you've established that this company does the kind of work you want to be a part of. Plus, those kind of detail-heavy issues tend to drain energy from a conversation that should properly take place at a higher, more conceptual level.
Try not to ramble on with your answers and definitely avoidmeaningless conversational detours designed to exhibit your worldy wisdom. But sometimes off-topic can be good (example: you find that you share a common interest with the interviewer like a hobby or favorite sports team) because it can help them remember you and become comfortable with you. If you find those opportunities, exploit them. All is fair in job interviewing but above all make sure you don't lie or mislead!
Always try to relate past experiences to this company orjob and point out how you think those experiences uniquely prepared you for the position at hand.
Listen for clues
Listen for the interviewer to say things like "When you start..."or "You will find..." or any other word choices or phrases that indicate he/she may already be thinking about you being in the picture down the road. Look for their demeanor to change during the interview. If things are going well, they will smile, laugh, relax a bit or do something else that makes you feel more comfortable. Also, note whether they choose to introduce you to other people while you are in the building. If they introduce you and how they introduce you will again force them to tip their hand a bit and give you further insight into their level of interest in you.
Try to leave with a need for either you or them to communicatefurther about something. You might describe some unique or successful thing that you've created or generated that might not be in your portfolio but would be of interest to your interviewer. This is an easy way to continue the communication cycle and keep yourself in the loop.
If the interviewer starts talking about wanting to achieveor do something new and you have done or achieved this already, then take the opportunity to describe it, build on what the person was saying a bit and try to get them pumped enough or interested enough that they want to see or read it later.
This could even be off-topic (example: making sure you sendthem directions to the best place in town to fly fish since you know he is a big fly fisherman) and should essentially be something that promotes a need for further dialog or meetings.
Pay attention to how the interviewer wraps things up. Isit because you are out of time, did he/she seem enthused? Anything you can absorb here could be useful. Make sure you ask what the next steps are in their decision making process and don't be afraid to ask what their timeframe is for making a decision. Be careful how you word these questions as you don't want to appear desperate. You might subtly remind your interviewer that you are interviewing at another place as well, or you might tell them that another firm is interested in your services and is expecting a decision from you-which you've temporarily delayed because you're more interested in this job.
Have 1-2 things prepared for the exit chitchat. Make surethey are clearly things that are not interview-specific so that you can prevent the interview from taking place all the way to the door. It is really annoying to still be talking shop as you are walking someone to the door. Shoot for something more personal like briefly mentioning a current world or sporting event that you think this person could relate to. Say goodbye and express how much you enjoyed your visit. Extend the same courtesy to anyone else you have met and see again on the way out.
After you have left
Drive home with the radio off so that you can concentrateand review in your mind how things just went. Think about what you said. What grade would you give yourself? Are you more or less interested in the job/company now? As soon as you get home, either send an email or write a hand written note and mail it to the interviewer. Keep it short and simple and use this as an opportunity to thank them for their time and consideration and also to include any other information you may have told them you would follow up with or communicate later.
Finally, think about what you could have done better andhow you will use that knowledge to be more prepared either the next time you go back or the next time you interview somewhere else.
I am hopeful that this will be of some use. Most ofthese comments are based on my experiences as both an interviewee and an interviewer in the web design and development industry. However, some of these comments clearly will carry over into just about any other field. If you remember something from this article and use it to your benefit in an interview, I would love to hear about it. Write me at email@example.com. Best of luck in your search!