Christian Heilmann

How to write a proper CV and get hired as a web developer

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007 at 12:00 am

Disclaimer: the following tips are primarily for web developers (coders of HTML/CSS/JavaScript and some server side language), they will probably not work for other professions involved in web development.
The following is the view of the author, Christian Heilmann and does not represent the view of Yahoo! as a company.

I am once again in the situation where I am hiring several web developers for my current employer, and I think it is time to give out some information as to what I found that people are actually expecting from a good web developer. The following is rather subjective, but actually got me most of my jobs and worked for others, too.

How to read job ads

Hiring good web developers is almost an art. The main issue is that a lot of the Human Resources market and also infrastructure of job sites and magazines is just not cut out for web development. Web development is a niche skill and one that is so diverse and constantly changing that the red tape that is HR (and not because of them being bad at their job, but mostly due to internal politics and legal issues) cannot keep up with it. This leads to the job advertisements that are only partly what the department that really needs the resources asked for. Therefore it is good to consider the following:

  • Don’t trust job ads. Even if you don’t fulfill all the requirements you have a good chance to get the job (reasonably so though, you won’t become a lead developer with 1 year of CSS and HTML). I’ve seen job ads that required 5 years of experience in technologies that were a year old at that time.
  • Job ads however are a “best case scenarioâ€? which means you should be interested in the technologies listed. Nobody expects you to be perfect, on the other hand nobody will invest in someone who doesn’t show any interest in improving.

Relying on third parties leads in 90% of the cases to frustration

If you think that a head hunter or a company will find you if you sit idle and maintain a great amazing and fascinating online portfolio you will wait for a long time. Online portfolios are only good for freelancers who are looking for clients and even then you have to be very lucky indeed to get found as the market is quite saturated.
Your own blog or portfolio is a great asset to try out your skills and play around, and it will get interesting once you got the attention of a potential employer, but do not rely on it to make a difference in the first place.

It is up to you to keep your eyes and ears open, network, and find out about job openings – nobody can help you there. True, when you have an index-able CV on job sites you will get contacted, but 99% of these contacts are headhunters who seriously neither care about you or the employer much as long as they can connect the two of you and tick another box on their weekly activity sheets. The amount of job interviews I have sat and realized I had no place in after five minutes is staggering.

Networking is everything

A large part of the hiring process is not only what you know but also who you know. Getting recommended by someone who is known in the company (and who normally also gets a fee for finding you should you be good enough) is a great step towards getting hired. You already have someone to endorse you on the inside and this person can give the interviewers information that speeds up the whole process rather than guessing what you are like.
The last few years had an almost ridiculous increase of networking tools (social web2.0 software and the likes) and you should really take part and see who you can find in order to get to the point where someone endorses you. LinkedIn is an obvious choice, but also a bit crowded and washed out. O’Reilly’s Connection is an interesting playground and flickr or now even twitter is always fast and fun to get in contact with other people in the same arena.
This also applies to the people you might be currently be working with. You might be fed up with management or the company but never burn all your bridges. Many a workmate will cross your way later on and will be useful to know and still be on good terms with.

Write a good CV

Every employer will want a CV in a printable format. The reason is that your application will end up in an intranet system and a queue to work through and people will want to print out the information and go through it offline or talk you through several parts of the CV.
Always remember that whoever is hiring will have to look through dozens of CVs a day, which means you have good chances if you:

  • keep your CV very short (2 pages tops)
  • offer as many communication channel information as possible (and that you are feeling comfortable with) as soon as possible: Mobile number, email, IM name. Offer times when it is best to contact you
  • list what is really important for the job as soon as possible (your A level topics are not really of interest immediately – your latest employers, achievements and expert technologies however are)
  • give any information about mobility or special arrangements (visas)
  • do not bullshit – ever. If you don’t know a technology, don’t list it in your details, you can list it in your interests though. Don’t try to pretend you know something by repeating what you read or heard, you will be found out and you will lose all credibility. Even worse, this will spread to other developers who might know other people that might have wanted to hire you.

Have a list of achievements and interests

Most interviewers will ask for a list of projects you have done and you are proud of. Have a list of URLs you can send them to have a look at and be prepared to be asked in detail how this or that happened to get to the sites.
Also list any other achievements you have, like your successful participation in mailing lists and forums, or groups like WaSP, Web Standards Group, GAWDS and so on and so forth.
Furthermore be prepared to tell people where you get information from, and what you consider good information sources. Don’t try to please the interviewers but be sincere in what you believe.

Know what you want

It is as important that you know what you want when you go for a certain job. Hiring a full time web developer is a costly business and the diverse nature of our job also means that department managers constantly have to prove to upper management the value and quality of their team. Don’t make a whole department and by proxy web development as a whole suffer by lying to yourself and joining a company because of its name or some other perk. You are only a good web developer when you are interested and proud in your work – it is a job where you constantly need to be on your toes.
So be aware that a good company will ask you what you expect from the job when you are interviewed, so read up on the company and what it has done in the past before applying. If this sounds appealing to you and you get confirmation of your wishes during the interview then don’t worry about the normal job perks like salary and benefits – good companies know what we expect.

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