2nd April 2014

Getting A Job After University | Top 10 Tips

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Getting A Job After University

Hey I’m Creode’s new front end developer; Alex, and I originally graduated in 3D Animation. Since graduating I have become a self-taught front end developer and have recently started a job here at Creode. I know first hand how difficult it can be getting a job after university and below have listed some of the advice and experience that helped me grow as a professional.


So you’ve graduated, now you need a job – but where to start?

If you are anything like me then you come out of education with a slight sense of entitlement. You just finished 3 years studying your chosen vocation, now of course the job market is yours and you will be fighting off all the offers. No, sadly this isn’t the same market it was 20 years ago. The truth is it’s hard to distinguish yourself from an ever-increasing crowd of equally qualified graduates.

So how do you do it, how do you land that first job to gain the elusive experience? The advice that follows comes from my experience and the experiences of those around me, as we all struggled to get our foot in the door to a demanding and fast paced market.

Some of the things you might notice when you get your first web/digital job;

  • You will probably be on a Mac – so get used to using them.
  • The people you work with will know more than you, so listen, learn and take notes!
  • Its pretty fast paced, probably faster paced than you are used to from University. So set yourself some challenges and goals in order to speed up your workflow.


Learn about the industry, don’t go in blind

This may sound like common sense, but thinking you know enough to jump right into a job fresh from university is a bit of a leap. Ask anyone who works in the web design industry and they will tell you that the vast majority of their knowledge and skills are self-taught or picked up by working on active projects.

Clients don’t want static html websites, they want to be able to add their own content and create new pages, so get used to using a CMS  platform – Drupal, WordPress or Joomla for example. Get used to how they work – setup your own blog and start posting about things that interest you in the industry, or write articles about work and projects you are doing at university.  Always try and keep up to date with trends and new technologies that emerge. 


Work for free!

This tip struck me as odd when I first watched a TED talk on the subject. How could free work eventually lead to paid work? Offering your services for free might sound like an internship or just plain volunteering, but the difference is that you get to choose the companies you want to produce work for. The benefit to this approach is you are more likely to be taken on for work when there isn’t a price tag attached! It will give you the industry experience your CV may lack, and like freelancing, gives you a list of satisfied clients. Working like this means you don’t have to wait for a specific internship to appear and be one of many competing for the same position, ultimately carrying out petty tasks. You get to work on things you want to; things that interest you.

People appreciate the effort and fortitude it takes to do this. I got my first few clients working this way and eventually transitioned to paid freelance, than full time work. For more information on this concept watch the original ted talk by Charlie Hoehn that inspired me to offer my professional services, for free!


Freelance – Build a network and gain experience

Working for clients gives you valuable experience in both keeping to a specific brief and creating a product for use by someone who might not know a thing about code. Here is where the CMS comes in handy. Freelancing is a great way to kick-start a career, and get paid whilst building up a respectable client list and adding to your portfolio.

If you cannot find paid freelance work then volunteer, as you will still be benefitting from giving up your time to work on an active project.  The more you work, the better you’ll be, and having some good testimonials under your belt builds up your confidence and looks great on a CV!


Join professional Networks

This is one of the best ways of meeting new people both socially and professionally. Wherever you are working chances are you’re close to a professional network that have regular meets to discuss changes in the industry and generally socialise with one another. It can be a little daunting at first, but when you get used to talking within a group and socialising on a professional level it can do wonders for your work confidence.

Businesses are looking to employ people who make things happen, people who are proactive and confident. Your qualifications are usually a way for your potential employers to filter down a group of candidates, but for the types of industry jobs you want to apply for, the chances are most people that you are competing against have similar qualifications. Distinguishing yourself from this crowd might seem tricky, but having the initiative to expand your network beyond your typical social circle has many advantages when applying for positions.

Surrounding yourself with more experienced people only helps to improve your skillset. Most people are happy to offer advice, assistance or even direct mentorship to those confident enough to ask for it. The advice that can be dispensed in professional networks could save you time and energy in your work, allowing you to constantly challenge yourself. Quite a lot of the time when competing for a job against a similarly qualified group, knowing the right people could give you an advantage. The age old proverb says:

“For success, and especially to obtain employment, one’s knowledge and skills are less useful and less important than one’s network of personal contacts.”

Build the right connections professionally and they will last for years.


Write a good CV!

This one goes without saying, it’s the first thing the employer sees from you so it’s essential to get it right. Portraying your level of aptitude and previous experience is more important than a load of information about your hobbies and personality. Think about who you might hire for the job when writing it. If you don’t impress yourself, you’re not going to impress an employer. It’s also important to remember to keep the CV applicable to the role you are applying for. It’s no good filling it with information if it’s the wrong kind, so be very particular.

Objective: Listing an objective early on in the CV is great; tell them in one sentence what you’re about and what you want to do.

“My Objective is to work in a creative and challenging environment that will develop my design skills and help me grow as a professional”

Experience: No one in this industry really cares if you delivered pizza for 6 months, that kind of experience you can omit. Plainly listing your skills and abilities is a must, you need to clearly articulate what you can do and what you enjoy doing. The stuff you list on your CV is a reflection of you so make it count! When it comes to formulating creative CV’s many people get carried away and they just become over-designed incoherent messes. So keep it simple, effective, straight to the point, and in an ordered and unique format. 


The web moves fast – so keep up

Web technology is a field that moves fast; things change quickly so being adaptable is key to being successful. If you’re not actively reading blog posts, tutorials and joining in with the wider web community then you’re missing out on an invaluable learning resource. Websites like Stack Overflow, Smashing Coding and Nettuts+ are free to use, so use them!

Get yourself a github account and start uploading your work, it’s a great community and will keep you abreast with the cool things people come up with, as well as giving you the opportunity to share your own work!


Are you using a pre-processor for your CSS?

My fellow front-end developer Ste just wrote an article about this, check it out here. The fact of the matter is; if you aren’t using a pre-processor on your CSS, you’re doing it wrong. You won’t believe how much time it saves, so read some articles on Sass (or others such as Less/Stylus), and the benefits of add-ons such as Compass, Bourbon etc.


Learn how long it takes to complete each task

The deadlines facing web developers are pretty gruelling at times, and finding out how long each task should take will help speed up your workflow and make the process more efficient overall. Everyone works slightly differently, but understanding the relevance of certain tasks over others and delineating time according to relevance is an important step to learn. Your colleagues may be working on the same project as you, so keeping a steady work pace ensures no late nights in the office panicking while you catch up!


Your portfolio is key

So you probably heard this throughout College and University; having a good portfolio is essential to bagging that dream job. It is part of your online identity, so show off the best work. You will do more harm than good including projects that you yourself may not be too pleased with, just for the sake of more content. A portfolio isn’t just something you do once and then pull out whenever you need it again; you should constantly want to improve the work on it and the portfolio itself as your skills and abilities improve.

When studying it is tempting to think of every piece of work you produce as portfolio worthy, especially if its something you have never done before and feel pride over. But be careful, you should only put your most accomplished pieces of work online – remember employers are scrutinising every aspect of it before the offer of an interview arrives in your inbox.


In Conclusion

It’s important to strengthen your foundation before reaching out and applying for jobs. You may do more harm than good if you’re not prepared when making yourself known to employers. Hopefully the advice above gives you something to think about when you are in the process of getting a job after university.

I’d highly recommend applying to Creode if you feel you are in a similar situation to me. Creode offers a thriving environment to learn and apply your ideas. Check out our Careers page for possible opportunities.