WEB Advent 2009 / Get a Haircut

Getting a job can be a harrowing experience. Many companies run candidates through a gauntlet of tests and interviews in the hopes of separating the wheat from the chaff. They want only the best — not just the most knowledgeable person, but also a person who fits in well with the company.

Trust me

Going through the job search process is very similar to dating. In the beginning, there’s a lack of trust that comes from simply not knowing who the candidate is and what they’re capable of. Questions are asked, and multiple dates — or rather, interviews — are necessary to determine if you’re a suitable mate — or applicant. The process is an attempt to develop a rapport and build enough trust to move on to closing the deal.

If you establish a level of trust before you even step foot into the building, you’re already halfway there. Thankfully, for those of us who make our living on the Web, there are some ways to do just that.

Show ’em what you got

Getting involved in the development community has been — for me and for many others — one of the best ways to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. It helps establish the trust that employers are looking for. It shows that you have a passion for what you do, and can exhibit key skills such as an ability to communicate effectively.

Blog

It may seem cliché, but blogging is an extremely effective tool that can be used to garner clients or land an interview with that great company. The blog acts like a long-form resumé that highlights what you know, and what you think is important in your life as a developer.

Picking a topic to blog about may seem like the hard part. Think it has all been done before? Think again. Technology is continually evolving, and people are constantly on the hunt for tips and tricks on using these new technologies.

Start up a blog about introductory PHP tutorials, and chances are your content will get lost in an ocean of existing content. However, new language features like namespaces and closures can often be prime targets for a new audience.

Breaking out into other technologies also highlights your ability to deal with integration and shows that you’re on the leading edge of new developments. The NoSQL movement, mobile development, HTML5, and CSS3 are very hot topics right now.

There are plenty of new developments that need knowledgeable people to help explain them. Create a mix of content between new and old technologies, and basic and advanced tutorials, to keep your blog well-rounded.

Write a book

Writing a book provides a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. It’s a long and arduous process, but it’s a great feeling to walk into a bookstore and see your face on the shelves.

Book writing isn’t the only venue that’s available, either. Look to print and online magazines as alternatives for getting you and your knowledge out there.

In my experience, books don’t do much to get your own personal brand out there unless you’re lucky enough to write a successful book that sells well. However, the clout that comes with having written a book is, in my opinion, still worthwhile.

Contribute to a public project

People usually suggest that you contribute to an open source project, but I contend that — while it is certainly advantageous — it isn’t the open source project that is the key. It’s the fact that there’s a public record of contribution to a project that other people use.

I’ve put together cheat sheets, color pickers, web apps, desktop apps, and, yes, I’ve even contributed to open source projects. But each tool that I built offered up the possibility of getting my name out there in front of yet another new audience of people.

Speak at an event

Public speaking has a number of advantages, and there are easy and hard ways to break into it. I readily admit that public speaking isn’t for everyone. It takes a confident person to stand in front of a room of dozens — if not hundreds — of people and to be able to do it with panache and acclaim, or maybe that’s just what I keep hoping for!

Public speaking gets your name and expertise in front of hundreds of like-minded folks. These folks have employers or run their own companies. If you’re on the hunt for a new job, local BarCamps or user groups are great ways to get your feet wet before diving into larger events. Conferences will often have a CFP a number of months before the event takes place. Alternatively, contact the organizers of the conference and submit a talk idea.

Of course, having an established blog can help you land larger speaking opportunities.

Network

Going to conferences ties neatly with my next point: Get to know people and let them get to know you.

Networking is effective because it allows the transfer of trust between an existing relationship and a new relationship. It’s easier to get a date through a friend than it is to cold call people from the phone book.

Conferences are a great way to form new relationships. Networking, however, can happen anywhere. For example, in this day and age where people move from company to company more regularly, getting to know your coworkers can be an effective investment in your future. As an employee moves over to a new company, that person can be the bridge to getting you in.

Put out

Blogging, public projects, and writing books all tie into this point very well: Put yourself out there so that people find out about you and who you are. They say it’s all about who you know. The key, I contend, is about who knows you.

All of this may sound like a great deal of work, and it can be. For me, I’ve always enjoyed sharing what I’ve been working on and the problems I solve on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, it has never been work to put together a blog post. It has never been work to build a desktop application prototype. It has never been work to head out to the local BarCamp or go to a conference to speak about what I do. (Okay, writing a book was work, but it was worth the effort, in the end.)

Be passionate about what you do, and be open to sharing it; the rewards will come.

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