Don’t let your résumé get rejected right away. Find out some easy steps you can take to make sure the person reviewing your front-end developer application will take you seriously. We get the scoop from Mike Feineman, Lead Developer at Room 214, a social media agency based in Boulder, Colorado.
What is your current job title? Which positions do you recruit for?
Room 214 doesn’t really give job titles, but I would say that I’m the head or lead developer. I help decide who we hire for both front-end and back-end web development positions.
What are some things that college students can do to make their applications stand out?
I don’t think I’m alone in saying personal projects. It gives me a sense of what the applicant is passionate about, as well as lets me evaluate their code. It helps make the interview go much smoother, like a date where you’ve both seen the same movie.
If you’re a developer (particularly in the start-up space) put your GitHub account at the top of your résumé. While I wouldn’t automatically discount someone without a GitHub, I pay extra attention to those applicants who do.
If you are a front-end person, I want a link to your personal site. Your site should be a reflection of you, and whatever you’re interested in. If it’s using modern technologies like HTML5 or has a responsive design, I’m bringing you in for an interview.
Which majors tend to be most successful in the positions you hire? Which majors would you like to see more applications from?
I don’t think it’s any surprise that back-end devs are almost exclusively CompSci majors. However, anyone who has taught themselves to program should not be afraid to “put themselves out there.” My buddy Robert was a Chemical Engineering major who taught himself programming on his own. I would hire him over half of my graduating class. Self-taught programmers generally have a better drive, and are passionate learners. In other words, exactly the kind of people I want on my team.
For front-end, the majors tend to be a little more varied. Art and design majors tend to be very successful provided they’ve got a passion for working on the web. One good, clean example website is really all you need to break into the front-end game. That, and not being afraid to learn a little programming.
I can’t think of any majors I’d like to see more of. I am really looking for anyone with an eye for design, and some work to prove they know the basics of making a website. Exceptional candidates have used new web technologies, have a cleanly coded site, and are actively keeping up with trends.
What are some things you look for in résumés and cover letters? Are there any things that would send an applicant to the “no” pile right away?
Maybe I’m just a technically minded person, but I don’t usually pay attention to cover letters. However, I only see applications that HR passes on. I’m sure they matter to them.
I’m going to look at your résumé and look for the following:
1. Your website, or a site you’ve worked on
2. Your GitHub account, or links to personal projects
3. The technologies you’ve worked with.
I’m going to scrutinize any sample of your code I can get my hands on because that’s the true measure of a developer. Is it organized? Is there documentation? Are variables named appropriately? These are the kinds of things I want to see. Your résumé can say you’ve worked with jQuery, and that’s great. If I see that you’ve just hamfistedly copied and pasted examples you found on Google, I’m not going to be impressed.
So, what gets you tossed on the “no” pile? No relevant experience. I once had a résumé with no web work cross my desk for a front-end developer. If you’ve never written any HTML, why would you think I’m going to pay you to do it?
Another one-way ticket to no-land: putting links to really shoddy work on your résumé. Another front-end developer’s site didn’t render properly in any browser I tried. Why would I expect their work for me to be any better? The stuff you list on your résumé is a reflection of you. Make sure it really is.
What steps would you recommend a student take to best prepare for a career in this field?
Personal projects! It doesn’t need to be your grand opus. Take a weekend and build something you’ve been thinking about. A working demo proves you can get things done, and that will take you a long way.
Learn new stuff! Technology is a field where things change quickly. Being adaptable is key to being successful. Teach yourself a new programming language, or try archery. Often you find yourself working with something you know nothing about, and you will need to learn quickly. If you have a passion for learning and show it, then you’re much more valuable to me. [Editor's note: Mike isn't the only one to highlight the importance of lifelong learning. AfterCollege VP of Engineering, Steve Girolami, echoes these sentiments while teaching kids about careers in STEM.]
What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make when interviewing for positions as front-end developers? What do the best candidates do to stand out in an interview for front-end developer positions?
The biggest mistake I see is candidates not having a project to talk passionately about. Be ready to talk about your favorite project. I’m going to want to know about the challenges you faced, and the cool, new technologies you learned to overcome them. If we can geek out over some aspect of your project, it’s a lot easier to see you as part of my team.
To stand out? Tell me about the conferences you’ve been attending, or whose blog you’re reading, or what book has been most helpful. Demonstrate that you are a person who is always learning, and excited to share.
I also tend to like people who have opinions and will explain why they have them. If you think JSON is better than XML, I want to know your reasons why. It helps prove you know what you’re talking about, and shows that you have considered other points of view. The discussion we have of your opinions in an interview is pretty close to the discussions we are going to have when you’re on the team. The better that goes, the better the likelihood you’re hired.
Homework time! Mike talks about the importance of curiosity and a willingness to learn new things. Make a list of the activities you’re currently engaged in that demonstrate this. If you can’t think of any, sign up for a conference or an online course or find a new blog or book to expand your knowledge.