Choosing Your First Full Time Position Wisely

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Being a web developer or designer is a great job. Working full-time doing the things you love and having the ability to work freelance on the side is a plus. But being a college student looking for placement, or fresh out of school and looking for your first full time job can be stressful. Not knowing exactly what to look for can cause some problems, and potentially even hamper your future in some cases working for others. So what do you look for when you are searching for a placement or your first full-time job?

Having went through this in the past, I had no guidance of what to look for. Applying for several jobs over the internet job boards, I found a small company hiring developers with little to no experience, and offering the job through a local internship program. I thought this was a great opportunity so I took it. In the beginning, it was great. I learned quite a few things while working at this small company.

  • Design
  • development
  • Billing
  • Client Relations
  • Project Management

But what I didn’t notice at the time was that some of the methods I was using were actually setting me up for some difficulty in the future.

Bad coding habits, project management methods that could seem somewhat wrong in most cases, missing deadlines, using unheard of methods for client interaction, etc.

When you choose your first job you should be looking for the following:

A Great Online Presence

Google Them1

If you notice a company hiring through online job banks, do some research. Follow the links to their websites, look through their portfolios to see the kind of work they are currently producing. Also, check their position on search engines, and if they have a good standing currently on Google, Yahoo, etc. Don’t just check their website, but also a site or two in their portfolio. This will give you a great understanding of the kind of work they are capable of teaching you how to produce.

How does their markup look like?

Code

Does their website’s markup validate? If not, is it at least clean and presentable? You want to make sure that you will not be picking up horrible habits with your markup. Allowing yourself to get lazy and sloppy with code could hamper your future with other potential job offers.

Some of the sites you work on for your first employer could possibly be used as examples of your work for the future, so you want to make sure you do well and are following the standards.

How many people are currently employed with the company?

You can find this out in your first interview with the employer. They love when you ask questions about the company and show interest. If the company has a very little amount of people working for them (2 or 3), this could show that there could not be too much guidance for you to learn and expand your knowledge. Do they have separate development teams and are you potentially going to be hired as one of the members of a certain team? You have to make sure there is someone above you which you can learn from.

Learning Experience

How long has this company been in business?

If this is a new company, they could have the possibility of not being around long… If this job is something you would like to last long and be secure, this could be a key point in your decision. If they have been around for several years, keep in mind their portfolio that you have had a look at, does it reflect this? Or does it reflect that they have been around for quite some time, and not have had the time to keep up on their development skills and advance their own knowledge to become a better company. This could be a perfect reflection of your future as well with this company, not moving forward with your own knowledge base.

According to a study by the U.S. Small Business Association, only 2/3 of all small business startups survive the first
two years.

Having dealt with several of these issues myself, I have had to recover from it by building my own portfolio and working on certain bad habits that I had developed during my time with the company. Making sure every detail of my designs is exact, and when being marked up being that much more precise with the development even if I don’t happen to be the one doing the current mark up. Working with other designers and developers has been a great pleasure, I have learned so much from them and they have helped me refine the skills that I do have.

Share your experiences from your first web design or development job, I’d love to hear about them.

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I am a 23 year old freelance web developer/designer located in Ontario, Canada. I enjoy long walks on the beach, getting caught in the rain and shiny things. Check out my portfolio/blog site here or follow me on Twitter.

  1. 1

    Wonderful article Nick!

    I think something that should be taken into consideration, and this can be added when your doing the interview, or pre-interview research, is whether they are willing to invest in the company.

    Do the websites they produce, seem out out date (both design and code wise?). Do they have older / out dated equipment in the office? Are they investing in improving staff with courses and seminars?

    Great article!

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    • 2

      I like those questions Tim. I’ve been further than that for the current position I’m occupying. On the day I was being interviewed for the job I asked the interviewers directly what type of equipment and software they would be providing as well as seminars and courses. This nailed them but gave me a point on my application.
      .-= Sachin @ Web Design Mauritius´s Latest Entry – Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for “coming soon” pages. =-.

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      • 3

        Hey guys, you guys are completely spot-on with this. Equipment is a big issue. With my first design job, I had to bring in my laptop and work from it which ended up shortening the life span of my laptop.

        My next job, they provided me with a brand new 24″ iMac with a complete version of Adobe CS4 and that was awesome. They also had a nice colored printer and tons of books for reference.

        My current job now has a nice setup as well. Dual 22″ monitors with a powerful computer equipped with CS4.

        That’s definitely a key thing to ask when you are looking for your position.

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  2. 4

    Very handful partner! I’ll keep it in mind cause I’m just looking for a web developer/programmer job at the moment. Greetings from Spain ;)

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  3. 6

    Love this article. :)

    Quality of code is very important , I must say.

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    • 7

      Yes, so many people have developed bad habits from their jobs that’s hard to break. If you are planning to be in the industry for a long time, you might as well get a job where you can learn from right away.

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  4. 8

    With my first job I was… well desperate and took the first job I could get. I ended up working as a designer/webdesigner/photograopher for a company that sells canisters and glassware. All of the equipment I used there was completely out of date and I had no one above me to teach me things. Luckily I only stayed there a year.
    The next year I got a job at a small but growing graphic design firm and am very happy to go from where I was to where I am now.

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  5. 10

    @Tim – A lot of companies cannot find the time / expense to go and do trade show’s and seminars.. However, I would love to see more going on in our area.

    @cooljaz – Thank you.

    @Jessica – I stayed at my first job for almost 2 years (2 months shy), and I can honestly say I am glad I was laid off, and I have never been more happier doing web than I am right now. I get to meet new people, and work with a wide range of freelancers every day. No bogus contracts holding me back from doing other work, and I have people who are willing to teach me new things. I am working freelance for a great company at the moment, they are very good with attention to detail and I’m glad to have a great influence like that as I am still young in the industry.

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  6. 11

    Hey Nick,

    Thanks for this article – I’m actually yet to get my first full-time position at a design firm (actually, my first position at all!) so these tips will really come in handy in the selection process.

    Your comments about checking the markup of the sites they’ve created is great and should be common sense for anyone taking on a position or project that someone else has done; it gives great insight into how that person works.
    For example, my own CSS code for my site is in utter shambles, but I do have a stylesheet in production that’s a lot cleaner and is laid out better – I just haven’t put that online because I’m still making design tweaks.

    These are some valuable insights, something many people should know. Thanks again!
    .-= Laneth Sffarlenn´s Latest Entry – JavaScript Live: New class concept from SitePoint =-.

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  7. 13

    Good article, wish I had this when I first started out. I first got started when I co-founded a web design and development company with my sister and her partner. It was a very high learning curve having to do everything from establishing the company, finding offices, buying hardware and software and developing a project methodology. All this prior to completing my design degree. It was very much learn on the job, adapt quickly and become adept at many different things. We also learned the hard way how to deal with difficult clients and the importance of having a clear project methodology and sign-off process. Whilst it was difficult and stressful it did teach me a lot about the industry and gave me a better and broader understanding of all the different aspects of both running a company as well as delivering a project from beginning to end.

    I think having a good overall understanding can be extremely beneficial before you start specialising in your preferred field. If nothing else it will help you figure out exactly what you want to specialise in.

    Being realistic though, unless you’ve got plenty of time, money and/or job offers most people cannot afford to be too picky about taking a job offer or not. Depending on where you live there might not be a huge amount of job opportunities available or too many good prospective companies. If you do have plenty of opportunities then the tips in this article will definitely steer you to the right company. Sometimes you just have to take what you’re offered to pay the bills. You can always change jobs or take initiative and try to improve the way they do things yourself.

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    • 14

      That’s true Lars, and I completely understand that. I would have to say, my first web design job paid me well, but didn’t have any of the above as I was a one man wrecking crew, having to do everything on my own and without help.

      But one thing that did help me though was that I was always on the internet when I got home, learning from other designers and sites such as Tuts Network, Smashing Magazine, A List Apart and on Twitter. That’s my suggestion to everyone. If you are stuck with a bad job where you don’t really grow or learn anything, you can take it upon yourself and learn on your own.

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  9. 17

    Great post as usal here on design informer! One thing I think is important while looking for your first job is the experience level of the employees you will work with. This will help a lot since you will learn from them. They won’t have the bad coding habits and project management methods that you might come in contact with while working with less experienced colleagues.

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    • 18

      Hey Mikael, yes, that was a great point that Nick made in the article. I’m glad I work at a place where I can learn from someone. :D

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  10. 19

    This drives me back to some 8 years ago when you did not have all this research on reputation over the web as we do today. Things have evolved. Today, not only can your employers make searches on you but you can also look for a great company to start out with.

    When I started, it was in a medium sized web design company specialising in SEO and accessible websites. It was a great ground to seed my budding ambitions. I was really lucky on this company as it gave me top notch projects to work on and acquire confidence and capabilities. The first years were really for learning and trimming down a large amount of misconceptions to working life reality. There were ups and downs but it was a great experience for me.
    .-= Sachin @ Web Design Mauritius´s Latest Entry – Dropping unnecessary tags in your HTML code. =-.

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    • 20

      Hey Sachin, I’m so glad that things worked out from you right from the start. You are very right though. The internet has allowed us to do so many things that we wouldn’t have been able to do and know 8 years ago.

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  11. 21

    Well, design is a hobby for me. It would be great if one could make a career out of the skills and techniques I taught myself. I also redesigned my CV using Indesign and sent it off for a few design jobs just to get turned down. I think due to the fact that I am not qualified most organizations don’t even want to know me and what I could do….so I had to get a job as a cashier as I was getting desperate. Have a look at my portfolio, well what do you recommend? An advice? Any guidance.

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  12. 22

    @Mits.. Don’t feel down.. lol. I don’t have any qualifications other than what I taught myself pretty much. A few night classes at college, but aside from that its tutorials and friends who show me things.

    My suggestion is to keep trying. Start doing projects for companies as a freelancer, build up your portfolio and power on to the next until you find a great full-time to get experience.

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  13. 23

    great choice of topic…well written as well

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  14. 25

    Expertise and confidence will put you up the ladder.
    Thanks for sharing, good article as usual at DI. :).

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  15. 27

    I started looking for my first job this week. It’s easy to jump at the first opportunity, thanks for the advice

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  16. 29

    Thanks for all the kind comments. I appreciate them.

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  17. 30

    Another important point to ask during an interview for a full-time position is hours. What kind of hours are expected and whether or not they allow “flex time” or moving your starting hour ahead so you can get out early or vice versa. This is important for me due to a few reasons, one being I’m a father and sometimes have after school activities to attend with my daughter and two, I do talks sometimes at local colleges and being able to get out of the office at 3 to pursue a talk at 4 is vital.

    Equipment is another key issue as most designers/developers need a copy of photoshop or visual studio or whatever to do their job. No one wants to front those applications out of pocket. And no one wants to do 3D on a single core P4 with 1gb ram either.

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    • 31

      another thing I forgot to mention, internet access and their electronic usage policy. This is probably one of the MOST important things to ask about as someone who develops or designs for the web. Do they use any kind of DNS denial system, OpenDNS? What would happen if you visited a blog site, would it be blocked (and thus blocking you from vital information?).

      Also, what kind of internet access do they have and how fast it is is also a good question to raise. Having 50 employee’s on a T1 can seriously come into question how fast you can download/upload which will have an effect on how fast you can make changes, upload them back to the site, etc etc.

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      • 32

        Hi Gabriel, you bring up a lot of great points, and I think the internet access is big.

        Some places even track your internet usage and are very strict, but I think a good company will allow you unlimited amount of research. There are simply things that you might not know how to do and for sure you will need to do some browsing.

        Also, resources are big so definitely, you hit the spot with that comment. Thanks for adding something to the article. :D

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  18. 33

    Brilliant article! There’s so much you can learn while working for a company. Particularly when they trust you and they’re open to experimentation when it comes to try new solutions, services, features etc. It’s your best lab.

    Thanks for sharing

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    • 34

      Thanks mate!

      “There’s so much you can learn while working for a company. Particularly when they trust you and they’re open to experimentation.”

      Excellent comment!

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  19. 35

    One of the things you want to know about the company is if there is room for an Advancement. Some lucky college graduates get first jobs out of school that make them a lot of money. Unfortunately, these positions may not have much room for advancement. What seems like a lot of money at 22 or 23 probably won’t look the same at 30, 40 or 50. When considering job offers, look at the company structure and think about whether you could see yourself as a manager or executive. Ask about leadership potential in your interviews to help gauge the atmosphere. Which position will look better on a resume if you decide to pursue other career paths in a few years?

    What a great read. Thanks for posting

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  20. 36

    Some good points here.
    As I hope you know, css validation is lame. If they are using progressive enhancement it cannot validate.

    If their website has any tables they better have a very good reason!

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  21. 37

    Bah! Where was this article 6 months ago?

    I got my first job in January and I just didn’t look for the right things. Sure they were legit but I just plunged into a haphazard business that is about “quantity over quality” (that is a quote from my 90 day review with my boss about how I need to NOT spend more than a couple hours on a web design).

    Their portfolio work was…ok. Thought I felt like I didn’t have room to be that picky, so I took it. I soon realized that the reason the work wasn’t god awful was because every design was just an altered template and I turned out to be the only designer…the owner just started the business because it looked like good money. I have since been resisting forming these bad habits while looking for a job that better suits my philosophy/beliefs.

    Though, that is one thing that I learned very fast taking this job…exactly where I stand as a designer. Do I care about the bottom line or being true, honest and thorough in my designs.

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  22. 38

    Hi Nick,

    Thanks for your suggestions. I am a Freelance Web and Graphics Designer in Fairfax, Virginia. I am trying to get a full time job as Web and Graphics designer lately. Your article is certainly a great help for me.

    Visit my online portfolio @ sirisgraphics.com.

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