How to Get That First Job in Web Design by Mark Kay

Working in the Web Design industry can be a lucrative and rewarding career. This article discusses some of the things you can do to land that first job.

Developer or Designer?

The first thing to decide is where your area of interests and skills lay - Developing or Designing. The developing site of things involves programming, whereas the Designing side doesn't. Good Web Design companies will keep the two separate. In these hard-pressed times, however, many businesses are trying to economize by turning two jobs into one, in the mistaken belief that this will save them money. They are usually wrong! Those who excel in the design aspect seldom excel at developing, and vice versa. So make your choice, and don't feel pressurised into being a developer AND a designer. Stick with one.

These days, Web Developers need to be able to program in multiple languages. A lot of jobs are for developers with PHP and Database skills. C#, VB, and ASP.NET are skills in demand, too. Strong JavaScript skills don't hurt, either. Not only do you need multiple programming languages, though, it is assumed that you already know scripting languages like HTML, CSS and XML. If you have any Content Management Skills (CMS) such as Drupal, and can even write add-on modules for these systems, then so much the better.

For Web Designers, you need to be able to use as many different software packages as possible. Photoshop and Flash are the big two skills, but you'll also need to be able to use Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and just about the entire Adobe Creative Suite. The more design tools you have in your employment armoury the better.

Getting the Job

You've got to show employers some work that demonstrates your skills in your chosen area. This usually entails one or more portfolio web sites (usually three). For example, you could get some ASP.NET webspace and write your own online store, complete with sample product information and images pulled from a SQL Server database. Add a shopping basket and admin area to add new products. Then have prominent links to say that this is a demo/portfolio site, with links to your code, explanations, rationale. Make sure you have your contact details up there, as well. If you also have a similar site using PHP and MySQL as a database, this will put you ahead of the competition.

For a designer, the look and feel of the site are more important than the programming side of things. It's recommended that your three sites show off your skills in designing a business site, a hobby site, and a showcase site. Go for that WOW factor in this final category. You business site doesn't need all the "Bells and Whistles": it just needs to inspire confidence. It should be a site that people would be happy spending their money on. Go for solid and conservative rather than flashy and vulgar. Again, stress that these are demo sites, and display a link to your contact details in a prominent place. You can also have a page that details your skills, your design rationales, and your influences.

Once you have your sites in place (Developers and Designers), THEN you send out letters to employers, not forgetting to include the links to your demo sites. Don't waffle in your spec letters to employers: let your web sites do the talking for you. If an employer is impressed, they'll use your contact details to get in touch with you.

One final thing: if you're tempted to part with a lot of money for certificates and qualifications in web design, don't bother! They won't impress an employer. The work you have out there on the internet is far more important for landing that first job. The more great sites you have, the better your chances are.

Mark Kay is the lead writer and programmer for Home and Learn, and has been in the IT industry for over 15 years. Home and Learn is a web site dedicated to offering free computer course.

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