Developer and lecturer Richard Askew lends his advice on finding work as a web designer
So you're learning all about web design and you've learnt about the entire process, including usability, accessibility, UX, prototyping, HTML and CSS. You've got your head around the importance of responsive design and you can reel off most of Nielsen's heuristics. What now? You need a job. But how are you going to get the job you want?
You've scoured all the job websites and most, if not all, ask for that dreaded thing: experience. Never fear! I’m going to give you a few hints and tips to get your foot in the door so you can let your charm, personality and passion do the rest.
Create a portfolio site
The most obvious step is to create a portfolio site. It doesn’t need to be groundbreaking but you need something to say, 'This is me'. I’ve interviewed many potential designers and developers over the years and when I asked for links to their websites you wouldn’t believe the number of blank stares that met me. The fact is that if you haven’t made the effort to create a personal site then it kind of implies that your heart isn’t in it and you don’t have passion for the industry.
It doesn’t need to be a meticulously handcrafted one either. Whether it be a website based on blogging tools such as Wordpress, Tumblr or even a simple account on a standalone platform such as Dribbble, Behance or (for you coders out there) GitHub, you need somewhere to direct potential employers and the wider web development community.
You get the work you do
“You get the work you do” is the single most important advice I was ever given, and it was some time after I had got my first job. It is the one piece of advice I give all those that ask about getting into the industry. I saw Matt Brown, then at BERG, speak about what drove him and BERG and this is what stood out. The point is, if you want to design websites for a living, you won’t get hired unless you are designing websites. If you want to work as a coder, you won’t get hired unless you are coding. If you want to design characters for a film, well you get the idea.
It worked for Matt; he's now part of the Human Interface Device Prototyping group at Apple.
Become part of the community
There are essentially two communities you belong to: the online development community, the local development community and, in some cases, those circles intersect. Every area in the UK will have local groups that are designed to bring the local development community together. These allow you to learn from others, make contacts and even form partnerships to win work. We've created one in Scarborough called Digital Coast. You just have to ask around, pluck up the courage to get involved and I guarantee you will be welcomed with open arms. Put it this way, I got my current job by mixing in these circles.
The online community can be a double-edged sword. In one sense the access you have to the industry's leading minds is incredibly exciting. On the other hand, getting noticed is difficult. When looking for work, the best thing to do in the first instance is to learn from the people you follow on Twitter. They are going through the same issues as everyone else and they may even give you tips on how to deal with these in the future. Once you get comfortable I wouldn’t be tempted to use it as a platform to say “Look at me” but instead to get involved in debate, retweet good points and make sure you have input on things you have opinions on.
First of all, a note about recruiters. The web industry is very hard on these people. We need to remember how lucky we are to be actively pursued by people who want to employ us. With that in mind though, try to bear in mind that it's their job to big you up, make you feel important and they are probably doing the same thing to multiple candidates. Work with them, be honest and only go for jobs that you really want to do. Don’t copy and paste an application to every job in the list on job sites.
A better method, although it seems more time consuming, would be to highlight a few companies in the local area that you would like to work for. Learn about them and either wait for a vacancy to come up or send them a letter explaining why you would like to work for them. You will instantly stand out from the crowd and even if there isn't a role for you now, there may be in the near future.
Most importantly of all...
Have fun. Have fun talking about it, building and making things. You're going to be doing this for many years and time flies when you're having fun.
Words: Richard Askew