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Kimberly Blessing

Preparing for Your Web Developer Job Search

6 min read

It's a new year, and perhaps you're a Web Developer looking for a new job. As a long-time Web Developer, here are three things I prepare when looking for work, whether it be freelance or full-time. And as a hiring manager, these are the same three things I'm looking for from the candidates who apply for work!

A Resume

I don't care whether I get one page or three pages from Web Developer candidates -- as a hiring manager, I do review the whole thing. Just don't fill it with fluff. I'm looking for dates of employment, size of company/product/team, type of work performed, and skills utilized. The general stuff which you do on a regular basis (emailing with Outlook, writing documentation in Word, slicing of assets in Photoshop or Fireworks, etc.) can just occupy a general skills section rather than be repeated for each job. Starting the resume with a technical skills overview gives me a quick snapshot of what you say you're capable of, and is a likely place for a hiring manager or recruiter to start with questions -- so don't list technical skills which you can't back up with experience! (Saying you have experience with HTML 5 when you haven't done much more than read a few blog posts is a sure-fire way of getting your resume nuked in a company's recruiting database, thus removing you from future consideration.)

While a beautifully formatted resume is always nice, don't agonize over it: using a Word resume template is just fine. Keep in mind that your resume doesn't always get through to the hiring manager in the format you sent -- so prepare a plain text version for textarea uploads. I know that typos sometimes make it in to a resume, and the occasional one will be forgiven or overlooked -- but do make sure to spell and grammar check everything! After all, if you don't QA your resume, how will a hiring manager know if you QA your code? (Need help? Read this and this.)

A Portfolio

To me, your resume is a formality of the hiring process, just metadata. Your portfolio is the real content which will be reviewed with a far more critical eye. The fact that portfolios aren't requested 100% of the time when seeking Web Developer positions only speaks to a hiring process which still treats the Web Developer role like a traditional programming job. Web Developers know otherwise, and if you truly want to be seen as a professional Web Developer, you'll have a portfolio at the ready. Do not slap something together on an as-needed basis -- proactively prepare a portfolio and send it even without request!

A portfolio should highlight your best work -- not all of your work. Don't include every project you've ever worked on. Choose three to five of your code samples which exemplify things like your coding style, ability to reconcile project requirements versus technical constraints, attempt to put HTML 5 into practice, etc. No one project will demonstrate all of those things, obviously, so make it clear why each project is included -- give a short narrative for each project to point someone to what you want them to focus on. Remember, you won't be the room when the portfolio is reviewed (unless it's brought up during an interview, which the portfolio will help you to score), so hand-hold the reader a bit.

I'm going to write a more in-depth post about what should go in a portfolio and how hiring teams review portfolios, so stay tuned.

A Web Site

May I vent for a moment? I can't believe how many Web Developers apply for jobs and don't have a Web site of their own. Where, pray tell, do all of these folks do their testing and noodling with servers and code? Why would you not want some online repository of your code? OK, venting done.

Yes, I do realize why some Web Developers don't have Web sites, but when you're searching for a new job, you need to have one. No, you don't need to have a blog with a lot of profound blabbering about technology, but yes, you should have an online copy of your resume and portfolio. When a recruiter or hiring manager Googles you (oh yes, we do!), you should want something more than your Facebook page to come up in the results.

I really think the most important reason for having the Web site is to host your portfolio. With an online portfolio, you can still highlight a few key projects while hosting copies of all of your code. This way, at a moment's notice, you can direct someone to (or, in an interview, walk someone through) a code solution that exemplifies a point you're discussing. Plus, you can preserve your code as it was when you finished it (delivered it, launched it) -- no longer will you have to make statements like, "I made the templates for the CMS but someone else maintains them now, plus the content folks don't know XHTML, so I don't know if the pages still validate." Worried about keeping copies of your code online? Just password-protect your site. If you give each recruiter a unique username/password to access your site, you'll be able to check your server logs to determine who's actually checked it out.


How will having all three of these things prepared and submitted help you in your job search? First and most importantly, it will get you in the door faster -- literally. If you have decent experience and great code samples which are hosted online, I'm more likely to tell a recruiter to just bring you in for an interview, rather than go through the preliminary phone screen. Why would you want to wait and let someone else get interviewed (and possibly get an offer) first?

If you're looking for your first Web Development job out of school, as a new career, or if you're switching from freelance to full-time employment, the portfolio can be especially helpful in leveling the playing field. If you're able to demonstrate strong skills but have little or no job experience, you're more likely to get an interview than someone with years of experience but no portfolio.

Of course, while you're in the midst of a job search, all of these tools are equally useful for getting short-term contract work, too!

What else do you think is crucial to a Web Development job search? Leave your thoughts in comments. If you have questions, I'm happy to answer those in the comments as well. Best of luck with your job search!