How to land your first digital job

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Young people today have a huge advantage when it comes to digital – as natives who have grown up surrounded with the internet, Wi-Fi and smartphones, they live and breathe mobile communications. But being properly equipped to get a job in digital doesn't always come so naturally. 

I'm often asked what skills are needed to work in a digital agency, and how can one go about preparing for a career in this rapidly evolving industry?

A career in digital doesn't necessarily mean you have to be a Photoshop genius or that you can code in your sleep. Successful teams are made up of all sorts of disciplines, and people come from all sorts of backgrounds with complementary skill sets. Some of the skills that I prioritise when looking to take on new individuals are:

  • Good listening skills
  • Clear communication
  • Able to manage own time
  • Proactive idea suggestions
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Good listening skills

We don't look for all of those skills in everyone we take on, of course. More than anything, we're looking for individuals who are passionate about what they do. You can teach skills like programming, frontend development and project management, but passion is just something that's there. You can cultivate it, encourage it and foster a conducive environment, but ultimately it comes down to the individual.

If you've got an eye for detail, you may have noticed I listed good listening skills twice (give yourself a biscuit if you did). That's for good reason. My experience in this industry has taught me that if you don't listen closely to your client then you might as well pack up and go home. 

There's a surprising amount of psychology at work in successful digital agencies, and often you can tell a great deal from what someone doesn't say. Watch a good crime TV series or movie – the cops always let people talk at length, and that's how they uncover the truth.

In an average digital creative agency you can expect to find some really varied folk who are not easily defined by their job title. There are those who excel in planning and organising people and projects (usually project managers), those who love interacting with existing and new clients (as client or account managers), those who eat and sleep pixel perfection (the UI or graphic designers) and those who feel perfectly at home up to their necks in code (web and mobile developers). 

Rigid job titles, however, are becoming less of a 'thing', so don't be put off if you don't feel you fit into one way of working. If you're handy with InDesign and Illustrator, but also love delving into Google Analytics then fantastic, make sure this is highlighted on your resume.

Tailor your resume

A lot of CVs/resumes land on my desk during an average week. A few are interesting, concise and creative. Many are dull carbon-copy templates that describe the candidate as "a hard-working, enthusiastic individual who works well in a team and thrives under pressure" (if I had a pound for every time…). 

I've got pretty good at quickly filtering through these CVs and finding the real individuals, the genuinely stand-out people who are worth following up on. 

Frequently, I'll turn it straight over and read the very last paragraph, because this is the interesting part. This is where everyone writes about their hobbies and interests, but this is one of the best bits! This is where I discover the kind of person you are, not just the things you've done. 

If we're going to be working in the same room every day I want to know about your love for photography, your collection of porcelain frogs or your YouTube channel where you review Japanese confectionery. My opinion is that you could do a lot worse than tell me about your passions right at the start of your resume.

5 tips for getting a digital job

So, some practical advice for getting into the digital creative industry:

01. Discover your passion

You can't learn passion – you just have it. Find the thing that excites you and pour your energy into it.

02. Do stuff in your own time

You may not have a huge portfolio of commercial work you've created, but you can show off work you've completed on your own. For certain roles, it doesn't matter if you haven't worked on a 'live' project, but it's much better to show something over nothing. 

Try analysing new advertising campaigns, websites or apps – redesign them or detail how you'd approach it differently. If design isn't your thing, tell me how you'd improve it through code, or how you'd plan out the project.

03. Make your resume stand out

Research has indicated that it takes just six seconds for an employer to make a decision from looking at a CV/resume. With this in mind you have to work hard to make yours last longer on someone's desk. 

If you're going to post it or hand deliver it, make sure it's printed on good quality paper, covers no more than two sides of paper and includes a short covering letter. Beyond this, make sure it conveys your unique personality. 

If all else fails, learn from the dude who disguised himself as a donut delivery man to get past reception, and pasted his CV inside a box of donuts – genius!

04. Cultivate your own digital presence

Chances are you're on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Make sure the content you're creating or sharing is the kind of thing you'd want a potential employer to see. If you've shown an interest in us as an agency, don't think I won't come looking for you online to see what image you're projecting.

05. Practice makes perfect

Lastly, if you're successful in securing a job interview, make sure you're prepared. Ask a friend to test you with some example questions. Do your research on the company - look them up on every social media channel you can find. 

It's also good to find a common point of connection – if you can find out who you'll be meeting with, find out about them; do you both have a cat? A shared hobby? Went to the same school? These last few sound weird, but are no less important - give a good handshake, keep eye contact (not all the time - you're not a snake), smile and don't talk too fast. 

The only other thing I'd suggest is make sure you have questions to ask your interviewer - it shows you're interested, engaged and curious.

This article was originally published in issue 299 of net, the magazine for professional web designers and developers – offering the latest new web trends, technologies and techniques. Buy issue 299 here or subscribe to net here.

Illustration by Kym Winters

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