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Insider S Guide To Getting An Interactive Job

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Ben Friedman

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User since: 23 Feb 2001

Articles written: 1

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 assorted

thoughts intended to help you, the prospective interactive designer/web

developer job seeker, get a leg up on the competition as you look for


Part One: Making Contact

By phone, e-mail or regular mail?

Phone calls are the most personal of the three and for that

reason 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 becoming

increasingly 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 really

cannot 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 succinct

and 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-get

to 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 online

resume/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 that

they 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 and

make sure it is either a .doc, .txt or .pdf file. Ideally, you would attach

nothing but rather include links to your work.

Paper Trails?

I am always a bit surprised nowadays to see a resume printed

on 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 a

resume: 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 resume

is 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 you

to 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 hire

someone 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:

  • inclusion of a photograph, video or audio of yourself to help bring a personal element to things;

  • an explanation of why you went to and why you left each place of employment (never seen

  • anyone do this but I would be blown away if someone did it);

  • a brief bit of commentary of some sort that reveals your personality;

  • finally, try including a list of sites you admire and include explanations as to why you appreciate or enjoy them. On that link list train of thought, perhaps also consider listing the 3-5 web sites you frequent most often.

  • Also remember to include current contact information.

    General note: try to find the right balance between showing

    off 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 you

    haven'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 and

    they 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 heard

    back 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 either

    not 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 some

    variant 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 and

    don'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 your

    hand 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


    Part Three: All Things Interview

    Setting it up

    Generally, at this point, the employer will dictate next

    steps. 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. If

    possible, 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?").

    Sartorial Suggestions

    First, let me tell you that appearances matter very little

    in 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 what

    you 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't

    go 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.

    The handshake

    When you first meet the interviewer, say his or her name

    out 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.

    Small talk

    Finally, be prepared to have 1-3 minutes worth of chitchat

    ready 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.

    Hard talk

    If you have a choice of seats at a table, do not choose

    a 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 street

    and 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


    Try not to ramble on with your answers and definitely avoid

    meaningless 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 or

    job 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 communicate

    further 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 achieve

    or 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 send

    them 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.

    Parting words

    Pay attention to how the interviewer wraps things up. Is

    it 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 sure

    they 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 concentrate

    and 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 and

    how 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 of

    these 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

    Best of luck in your search!

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