Getting and Doing the Job - Charting Your Career Path - Getting a Web Development Job For Dummies (2015)

Getting a Web Development Job For Dummies (2015)

Part IV. Charting Your Career Path

Chapter 18. Getting and Doing the Job

In This Chapter

arrow Getting the interview

arrow Surviving the interview

arrow Becoming a star employee

So you’ve gotten enough education and built a portfolio site. You’ve had a few jobs — or you’re working on getting your first job. Coworkers (or fellow students) say good things about you. And you’re starting to get some interest for an upcoming job in web development.

How do you nail it down? We describe that process here.

Then comes a time when you get the job — or, you want to think a bit about the job you’re already in. How do you do the job well enough to be seen as a star, one of those 10x employees (see Chapter 17) who can make, or save, a project?

This chapter answers those questions from a web-development point of view, telling you what’s special about this process for graphics-based, coding-based, and mixed roles. With this information in hand, you’ll be ready to boost your career, in the short term and permanently.

Getting the Interview

One of the hardest and most important journeys you’ll ever undertake is the journey from sitting at your computer, looking at a job listing, to sitting in a potential employer’s office, undergoing an interview.

For web developers, this journey is easier than it is for many other people. Web developers continue to be in strong demand as needs grow. And the use of many different, specific technologies within the field means that, if you have experience with the right technologies, and a solid overall background, your chances of getting a given job can be pretty good.

Most people are generally familiar with the process of applying for a job. If not, a good reference is Job Hunting For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Max Messmer (Wiley). There are also For Dummies books on job interviewing, resumes, and cover letters.

Here are a few high points of the process, specifically for web developers:

· The pre-submission phone call: Before you send in your information for a job, give a call, if at all possible. Ask any key questions you have, plus the core question for any such process: Where is the company at in the hiring process? Often you’ll find that the process is completed, nearly completed, or some other status that may leave you deciding to keep your powder dry and not apply for the position. If the hiring process is still open, ask about key tools and technologies.

· The cover letter: Always find a way to write a cover letter, even if you have to paste it along with your resume into a job application form that only accepts resumes. In your cover letter, take the three or so top requirements from the position description (as you judge them) and tie them to your experience. Also describe your availability — looking for work; employed but looking; not actively looking but attracted by this specific job description (or a personal recommendation), and so on. Be straightforward and to the point, rather than funny or cute. Proofread your cover letter to perfection.

· The resume: You should have a somewhat generic resume saved on your hard drive or in the cloud. For a specific job, take your generic resume and semi-customize it to fit the position. For instance, if there are specific technologies or tools required, identify the jobs where you used each one, and make sure that the technology or tool name is mentioned, with appropriate prominence, in the description for each job where you used it.

· The follow-up phone call (immediately): After you apply, follow up with a phone call. In our experience, this one simple step measurably increases your chances of getting the job. Ask if your information has been received. Then ask what’s most important about the position and offer to resubmit your information with those points highlighted. This will really make your application stand out.

· The follow-up phone call (two to three days later, and then weekly): After you apply and follow up with a phone call, call again a few days later. See how the process is going and ask if it’s likely that you’ll move forward. If not, ask the person to whom you’re speaking to consider you for future positions.

tip.eps The WorkSmart site on the website for the state of California, shown in Figure 18-1, has advice on writing a cover letter. Like most such advice, this advice is a bit too formal and complicated for most web development jobs. Your cover note will often be just a short email, with a resume attached in Word format. But even a short cover note should contain the gist of the content described on the WorkSmart site. Visit it at


Figure 18-1: The WorkSmart site covers job-searching basics, including cover letters.

warning.eps Employers fixate (that’s our view) on finding people who have used the top one or two technologies or tools that they’re wanting you to use on the job. Ideally, for the employer, the desired technology and tool keywords appear in most or all of your recent jobs or projects. Not much else matters; you might be a nice person, learn fast, and so on, but if you don’t have the specific technology or tool experience desired, you will often not be contacted, whereas those who do have those keywords in the right places will.

If you follow these steps, your chances of getting an interview improve.

warning.eps For some reason, many companies — especially larger ones — will put up a restrictive job posting, wait months, get no candidates they can hire, and then bemoan the result. The thought of lowering the years of experience required, asking for experience with similar rather than exact matches to technologies and tool experience needed, or allowing partial work from home, for instance, doesn’t seem to occur.

I. get. stuff. done.

One of the authors (Smith) had a work colleague in London, a project manager, who was very proud to say, with a long pause between words, “I. get. stuff. done.” (Stuff might not have been the exact word she used.)

When you think of the interview process, it’s good to think of the people in the hiring process as mostly having this attitude. People go to the trouble to get budget approval for new headcount, open up a job requisition, write or revise the job description, and so on because they’re overwhelmed. The hiring process actually makes them more overwhelmed. You’re arrival isn’t going to help right away either, because it might take you a couple of months to get up to speed. (Most of this is especially true in web development, where ambitions are high and budgets, not so much.)

This is why companies are so insistent on experience with specific technologies and tools — it can shorten the time it takes you to get productive.

So the hiring process is not usually a lot of fun, nor very productive in the short term, for the people conducting it. When you think of people who you encounter in hiring, think of them as having the attitude of that project manager — they want to “get stuff done.” The easiest “done” is to find some reason to say “no” to you, so avoiding that is a crucial goal for you in each step of the process.

During interviews, you might finally talk to some people who take the time to start to get to know you, and to think creatively about whether you’re a good fit. Let the interviewers lead on that. Keep your answers during interviews of all sorts short, simple, and positive. This allows the interviewers to get through their routine questions quickly — and either finish quickly, which will make them feel more relaxed, or engage with you on more interesting aspects of the potential job or the hiring company, which will give you a chance to show what you know.

This is part of the reason networking is so powerful; when someone is a trusted friend and former colleague, the strict requirements on the job posting are very often relaxed. But new applicants are held to strict standards so, if no one fitting them exactly shows up, the job just goes begging.

Surviving Interviews

Job interviews can be very stressful. They have a large impact on your getting the job — assuming, that is, that the employer is truly ready to hire. If it’s not, the job interview won’t help much at all.

In this section, we share some web development-specific tips on the interview process.

The phone screen

A phone screen is a, usually brief, phone call between you and someone representing the company doing the hiring. This can be the hiring manager, an internal or external recruiter, or anyone else involved in the process.

The key word to remember in the term phone screen is screen, They’re really trying to weed out candidates. If you’re interested in the job, try to get screened in, not (as is the goal) screened out.

The person doing the phone screen is often a lower-level employee or contractor with only modest understanding of what’s really needed for the position he or she is asking after. This can be a big problem in web development, where there is a plethora of technical pieces and tools, and where a manager might be just as happy if you have similar experience — but won’t hear that if you’re screened out first.

Unfortunately, the one thing phone screeners don’t want to hear is a manager telling them, “You sent through people who don’t fit the job requisition,” because in that case, they’ve missed the whole point of the exercise. Yet web development is so fluid that it’s easy to screen out people who actually are quite capable of doing the job.

So be brief and positive when talking to a phone screener. If you don’t have a given requirement, give a similar alternative. “No, I don’t have a bachelor’s degree, but I do have an associate’s degree and five years of experience.” Or, “No, I don’t have three years of Python experience, only two, but that’s two years of Python, and I also know SQL and Hadoop.” The screeners will usually pass on such comments to their bosses, if the comment is clear and simple enough to write down easily.

It’s good practice to follow up after a phone screen by calling the next day to ask if you’re still in the pool. You might well rise to the top of the pile as a result. You might also be given the chance to correct any negative information, an opportunity that can be invaluable.

Before you interview

Live interviews are fraught with potential pitfalls. You should do some research first. Here are a few web development-specific tips:

· Network with other web developers: Find out from other web developers currently at the company what the interview process is like and about working there more generally.

· Find out if there are any “famous” interview techniques: Some tech companies are famous for posing complex problems, using a fixed set of questions, asking a particular unusual question, planting one somewhat hostile interviewer, and so on. Google the company’s name and the word interviews, and use the other approaches mentioned here to find out if there are any such tricks up this company’s sleeve.

· Be ready for behavioral questions: Many companies now ask questions in the format, “Tell us about a time when you ….” They then insert words like succeeded, failed, overcame an obstacle, and so on. Unfortunately, these questions are at least as much a test of your verbal dexterity in an anxiety-producing situation as anything. Consider writing down some of these questions beforehand and identifying three or four accomplishments you’re proud of and challenges you’ve overcome, so you’re more ready for these kinds of questions.

· Look at the company’s website: If it sucks, stay away. (Unless you’re being invited to help completely replace it.) It’s really frustrating, and professionally limiting, to work in a web development job at a company that has a crappy website. But if it’s at least decent, dive into it. Figure out what technologies are being used. Note both good and bad points, but plan to be sparing with the bad news unless it’s really awful.

· Check out Glassdoor: Glassdoor ( has a lot of good company-specific information, especially for big, technology-oriented companies. Use this information to learn about the place you’re considering working, such as typical salaries, employee satisfaction (or dissatisfaction), and so on. Glassdoor can help prepare you for what your interviewers will think that you might think of their company, which is confusing, but an important thing to know so as to navigate the interview successfully.

· Take Glassdoor with a grain of salt: When you use Glassdoor, you may find that it’s a couple of horror stories or snarky comments about the CEO that stick in your mind. Do not go into the interview ready to challenge your interlocutors about this. Use the negative information when choosing whether to accept a job offer, not to make yourself a “hostile witness” during the interview.

· Check out your interviewers on LinkedIn: The hiring company will check you out on LinkedIn, so return the favor. Use what you see on LinkedIn to identify items in your background that will be interesting or relevant to your interviewers.

· Hit the boards: Check out web development discussion boards for your area and see what you can learn. It can be a bit dicey to ask in an open message board for information, but a message like, “Hey, a friend” — you’re a friend of yourself, right? — “is thinking of taking a job at Company X. Please PM me with any info you have,” can be productive.

· Use your e-resources: Use email and Facebook in a similar way to crowdsource information and insights.

warning.eps Companies and their employees get really sensitive about negative remarks posted on Glassdoor, Yelp, other online messaging systems, in emails, and so on. Find as many of these as you can, but be careful about mentioning them. If you do, ask in a neutral tone; don’t badger your interviewers.

warning.eps Some web-related companies are famous for giving hostile, lengthy, or tricky interviews. You need to find out if this is true before you interview. Not only to be sure you can handle the tricky part, but also because the people interviewing you will think you didn’t do your homework if you didn’t find this out in advance. So, be prepared.

Acing the interview

When it’s time to go to the actual, live interview — probably several interviews, actually, with different people — it’s easy to be nervous.

Don’t be. Interviews are first and foremost about showing your interpersonal skills. For web development jobs, interpersonal skills are considered less important than for many other jobs. Yes, they matter, but they’re not the single most important factor like they are, for instance, in a sales or customer support role. So relax.

Technical people pride themselves on dealing with things logically and rationally, and even on being able to handle a fairly high amount of conflict in support of doing the best possible job on a project. This means that interpersonal skills are not likely to be put under the same scrutiny as technical skills.

Your technical skills will largely be assessed from your resume and any work samples you’ve shared. You may be asked technical questions during your interview, but all you can do is answer those honestly and hope your experience meets the needs of the company.

It’s also important to realize that many decisions about whether you’re going to get a job have little to do with how well you interview. Many interviews are a waste of time; the company knows that you’re not quite what it wants, and uses the interview to confirm it. Or it knows that it wants you, and uses the interview to confirm that instead. Sometimes, the company isn’t even really sure if it has an opening, or the opening disappears between the time interviews are held and when it comes time to make an offer.

Figure 18-2 shows an interview with an IT specialist who works for the Library of Congress. The questions and answers are actually a pretty good proxy for a low-key job interview. Use this interview to practice for job interviewing. You can find it at


Figure 18-2: This interview reads a lot like a job interview.

There are only a limited number of times when an interview really makes a “yes or no” difference as to whether you get a job, and it rarely comes down to a single question. As long as you’re friendly, positive, and honest, you’re likely to do well in an interview.

tip.eps Companies sometimes make ridiculous requests of candidates — to do several interviews spread out across different days, to add sessions after an interviewer cancels, and so on. Graciously refuse excessive requests; offer a phone meeting instead, if needed, but don’t keep traipsing back to a place that can’t organize an interview.

Here are a few web development–specific tips:

· Practice, practice, practice: We all like to think we can be heroes under stress, but people are usually worse under stress than they are when they’re calm. Have a friend conduct three practice interviews with you. You’ll work through a lot of stuttering, hesitation, indecision, and brain freezing that you might otherwise suffer through during the interview.

· Feel free to be direct: Web developers are famous, or sometimes even infamous, for sharing their opinions freely. Don’t go overboard in an interview, but don’t shy away from expressing yourself clearly.

· Introduce yourself at the beginning of each interview: Be ready to repeat your basic information to each individual or group that you meet with.

· Have, or come up with, a couple of questions for each interviewer: Pivoting from defense (answering) to offense (asking), politely, takes a lot of the pressure off you — and off the interviewer, too. It makes the interview less of an interrogation and more of a discussion.

· Have extra questions for your potential manager: The most important interviewer is usually the person who will be your manager if you get the job. Even if this person is your last interviewer, and you’re exhausted, or the first, and you’re anxious, have a few questions written down for him or her in particular.

· Speak slowly and pause between sentences: It’s very helpful to slow down your speaking during interviews. In web development, where you’re intermixing graphical, technical, usability, and interpersonal concerns all at the same time, this is especially valuable. You will look thoughtful, not nervous. And no one can leave an interview remembering the stupid thing you didn’t say because you gave yourself the opportunity not to say it.

· Follow up afterward with a thank-you email: Address it to whomever set up the interview. Add or reaffirm a couple of key points, shore up any weak spots in your answers, and make your availability and interest in the position clear.

tip.eps The military is famous for its heroes, people who show courage under fire. But it doesn’t expect it; the most important military adage relating to heroism is, “You’re only as good as your training.” Soldiers train over and over so they have “muscle memory” when under stress. You can do the same for yourself by having just a few practice sessions for your interview.

Becoming a Star Employee

People in all fields often look at a new job as a kind of silver bullet. A new opportunity will make them more money, introduce them to better coworkers, let them work on the latest technologies, and on and on.

Instead, a new job can sometimes be like that line in the old song from the famous rock group The Who: “Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The main influence on whether a person is happy in any given situation is the person himself. There are lots of actual and potential difficulties at work, but over time, you have the biggest say in how things work for you.

This is especially true when it comes to becoming a 10xer — a star employee, as we mention in Chapter 17. A “star employee” isn’t someone who’s going to become a star in her next job. It’s someone who is already a star in her current job.

So when you get a new job, set out to become a star employee. And if you’ve been in your current job for a while, figure out how to become a star employee there, as much as possible.

Figure 18-3 shows testimonials from customers of 10x Management, a firm that acts as a talent agency for top web development and other technical talent. You want to hear these kinds of testimonials with regards to your own work. Then you can get a top job yourself, or sign on with a company like 10x Management to represent you.

You can see the testimonials yourself at


Figure 18-3: 10x Management customers love working with top talent, and vice versa.

tip.eps If you’re starting to look to greener pastures in your career, consider spending one year becoming as much of a star as you can manage in your current job. You’re likely to become much more employable in the process.

warning.eps It’s true that people often develop an opinion of you pretty quickly in a new job. If you’ve already been at a job for a while, you may only be able to change people’s opinions so much. Moving from “average” or “good” employee to “star” employee might take either several years in your current job or, more likely, at least one job change. But there’s no time to start like the present.

There are three keys to becoming a star employee as a web developer: be stellar at your core skill; get more technical; and learn to communicate better and earlier.

Be stellar at your core skill

College admissions to top schools is one of the most competitive arenas on Earth. In this competition, you can divide applicants into two groups: all-rounders and angular students.

All-rounders are omnicompetent, good at a whole bunch of things: for instance, being good at math, good at English, good at sports, good at student government.

Top colleges are full of all-rounders, but here’s the secret: There are a lot of all-rounders who get told “no” by top colleges.

Angular students, on the other hand, are really good at one thing. An angular student is one of the best in the entire applicant pool at chess, or calculus, or lacrosse, or writing short stories.

Top colleges are also — and, perhaps, increasingly — full of angular students, as well. But there are perhaps fewer angular students who truly excel in a niche, almost no matter how small it is, who get told “no” by top colleges.

It’s similar in web development careers, when going for the top jobs. There are lots of people who are good, for instance, at the core web design skills triad of graphic design; HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript; and can write at least some Python or PHP or SQL as needed. It’s quite lucrative to be one of these people.

But if you’re truly expert — widely recognized, or visibly outstanding — in some aspect of graphic design; if you give lectures on how to structure your stylesheets in a hierarchy; or if you teach other designers introductory Python, then you’re going to stand out further. There will actually be fewer jobs out there that are a good fit for you, numerically. But you’ll get a high percentage of the jobs you apply for.

So, for the highest rewards, become stellar at the aspect of your work that you love most. You’ll have more fun, and be more likely to have top pay and respect as well.

Get more technical

Most web developers come from a graphics background and are quick to call in someone technical when coding needs to get done. But the top web developers have a graphics background and can do at least initial coding themselves.

This is because people who are strongly technical tend to go into strictly technical jobs, without a strong web development aspect to them. For instance, the hottest technical job category in the last few years has been data scientist. Lots of data scientists come from a web background. But after they get the title data scientist, they’re mostly not working directly on websites anymore.

So there’s a lot of opportunity for people with a graphics background to get more technical and fill in the gap between the graphics and coding camps.

For most graphics-based developers, the core skill is JavaScript. If you can be strong in JavaScript, which still usually only requires revising scripts you get from somewhere else, you can be quite a threat out there in the web development job market.

Going beyond JavaScript, it can be very useful to know Python or SQL, among others. These languages get you thinking about how your website interacts with the databases that drive more and more of what happens on the web, and in mobile apps as well.

After you gain technical skills, find ways to get recognition for them. Courses, certificate programs, and projects where you’re the lead for coding work are all ways to get this recognition.

Then, assess where you want to grow. You may want to be the best graphic designer you know who also knows how to handle database access — or the best Python programmer you know who’s also skilled at graphics.

Communicate better and earlier

The biggest single frustration that managers, at all levels, have with web developers is that they never know — well, most of what they need to know. They don’t know what a website is going to look like when the project is signed off. They don’t know whether all the promised features will be there. They don’t know whether the schedule will be met — or, it sometimes seems more likely, how big the schedule overshoot will be. And they don’t know whether the site will be relatively bug-free, especially in the vital area of data security.

The odd thing is, if web developers on a project felt that they could be honest, they could probably answer many of these questions much earlier in the game. Management might not like the answer, but everyone would benefit from the information getting out there sooner rather than later.

So perhaps the biggest pro skill in web development has nothing directly to do with development at all. It has to do with communication. Understanding the scope of a project, or part of a project; assessing progress toward goals; calculating realistic finish dates, likely feature sets, and so on, and then communicating the information to others, especially management.

The main difficulty with communication has to do with having the courage to be the bearer of bad news, and earning the respect of others so that they’ll accept it from you. Now if you’re highly skilled, and willing and able to work very hard, you can sometimes single-handedly make the news less bad by filling gaps in the project yourself. But it’s more important to assess, and communicate about, the gaps in a project than to try to fill them all yourself.

So as you work on your projects, don’t just think of technical and artistic challenges. Think of business goals and where the technical and artistic challenges stack up against those. Assess where your project is at against those goals, and start sharing your opinion with others.