Paul and Marcus on employment and portfolios

By Paul Boag and Marcus Lillington

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Introduction

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: Hello and welcome to boagworld.com, well, at least, a micro-mini little segment of boagworld.com which is a podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis, but this episode for the guys at scrunchup.com. We said that we would do a little bit for their site, talking about a few things that are relevant to people starting out in web design, those of you that maybe are students looking to move into web design. We think that ScrunchUp is going to be a great site and we want to support it loads. So basically they’ve asked us to look at a couple of issues today. Number 1 is what makes a good portfolio, and 2nd we’re going to look at how we go about selecting employees, what gets you hired I guess is the question there. Joining me as always on our podcast is Marcus Lillington, hello Marcus!

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: Hello Paul, how are you? I’ll be very amazed if this is a very small mini-micro boagworld because they never are!

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: Oh, it’s gotta be shorter than we normally do, because that would just be so wrong! So.. you’re sitting there scribbling notes aren’t you.

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: I’m finished!

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: You’ve finished? So you’re ready to go? Ok, that’s good.

Portfolios

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: So let’s talk first about what makes a good portfolio. Now, I’ve made a few notes on this one, this is kind of my area of expertise. Marcus is going to do the hiring area because I’m notoriously bad at selecting people. I’m a very poor judge of character and think everybody is wonderful, whilst Marcus is cynical and, you know, and thinks the worst of everybody, so he’s much better suited to that kind of thing…

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: Oddly, I have to say that actually, we’re probably we’re more the other way round in real life, but when it comes to interviews you’re absolutely right.

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: Yeah, it’s weird isn’t it. Anyway, let’s look at what makes a good portfolio. So, a little bit of advice; you’re creating a portfolio, you want to get yourself hired, so what do you do?

Quality not Quantity

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: Right, first of all, quality not quantity. So, look, as an employer, both myself and Marcus employ graduate web designers all the time or new web designers all the time, and we recognise you’re not going to have a lot of work, you’re not going to have done a lot by this stage, so it’s quality that matters, and if you can just show me 2 or 3 pieces of work that are really good quality, that’s enough, we don’t need to see loads.

Client Work

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: Now, what is useful is if you can show me real commercial work done for real clients. Now admittedly you might not be able to get anyone to actually pay you money at this stage, but even if you can do some work for a charity, a friend’s business or anything like that, having a real client is really useful from our perspective because it tells us quite a lot that you don’t get told on personal projects. So try and at least have something in your portfolio that is real commercial work.

Background Information

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: Also, I’m not just interested in pretty pictures. Your portfolio, if it’s full of nice designs, or to be honest, if you’re a coder, nice code, you know, that’s nothing, that doesn’t tell us enough. What I’m interested in is the background information on the project. I want to know what the aims of the project were, and what the exact nature of the work you were doing was. So I need to know that background information to be able to judge whether you’ve done a good job or not in the portfolio piece. So make sure you provide some of that information as well.

Good Understanding of Code

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: Certainly, as well, even for designers as well as developers, I want to see a good understanding of code. I want to see nice, semantic markup, I want to see that you avoided hacks, and also, a bit of understanding of JavaScript wouldn’t hurt as well. So, you know, a real kind of knowledge. Now, obviously, if we’re hiring developers here, then I want to see that you’ve got an understanding of server-side code as well, not necessarily that you know the specific language that I want you to code in, but that you’ve certainly got an understanding in object oriented programming and all those kinds of things. I’m going to be careful here because I’m not a developer so I’m going to show my ignorance.

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: (laughs mockingly)

Design Fundamentals

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: From a designer’s point of view, I want to see that you’ve got an understanding of design basics, and to be honest, I quite want to see this from developers, because, developers end up doing a bit of design in the same way that designers end up doing a little bit of development, so, in the same way as it’s important that a designer understands code, and does nice semantic markup blah blah blah, you know, I kind of want a basic understanding of design from a developer as well. But certainly from designers I need to see that you’ve got a good grasp of things like white space, typography, use of grids.

Usability and Interactive Design

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: I also want everybody I hire to have a good understanding of usability. Usability is core to what we do as a company, we need to know that you really grasp that, and grasp the importance of user-centric design. Also, I need to see that you’ve got a grasp of interactive design. Some of the graduates that we see are very print orientated and are thinking from a print perspective. That’s not enough when it comes to the web, the web is a very interactive medium, it’s about what users click on, what happens when they click on it, you know, how’s the interface going to respond to them, so it needs to be a lot more than just pretty pictures.

Consideration

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: I think what probably sums it up most is what I’m looking for is a portfolio full of stuff that is considered and understated and isn’t flashy design, and I don’t mean the use of Flash, I’m talking about showing off. I want to see a design that meets the brief, that is simple, easy to use, and intuitive. So, that’s the kind of thing that I’m looking for from a portfolio. Have you got anything that you want to add to that one, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: Errmm.. no, not really. Obviously, quite a lot of the things I’m going to say kind of overlap with what you’ve said, so I guess I have, but I’ll come to that in a bit.

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: Ok, go on then, you talk a little bit about hiring.

Hiring

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: Ok, sure. So, what makes you employable, why are you going to win the job over people with similar qualifications, that kind of thing.. I mean, talking about qualifications, I’ll dive into the one that.. ermm.. er..

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: (giggles)

Degrees

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: People can end up having endless discussions about education, do you need a degree, that kind of thing, and simple answer to that one is no you don’t need a degree. Basically, a university education teaches people to think analytically, so if you’ve come out at the other end of university with a degree of, you know, 2:1 in whatever really, it just shows that you can apply yourself and you can think analytically. So, it’s a box ticked I suppose, but it’s not the be all and end all.

Be Prepared

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: Basically the next point I’ve got here is about being prepared to show examples of work, so obviously your portfolio which is something Paul’s just talked about, but it can also include non web design related stuff. Just show that you’re someone that’s done various.. you know, "I’ve done this piece of work" or "I worked for a charity" or whatever, that kind of thing just shows that you’ve got the ability to work hard and apply yourself, all those kind of things. Let’s face it, often a job is.. you’ve got to knuckle down and get on with it, it’s not all thinking up creative ideas, and you’ve got to show that you’ve got the ability to be able to knuckle down I guess.

Tests

Marcus Lillington: A separate point here, be prepared to be tested. We don’t test our designers as such, but we have a standard test for all developers we employ, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to do some kind of test.

Keenness

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: I guess the main thing, the main thing that’s going to differentiate you from other applicants would be keenness. Just the fact that you’re in love with what you do, Paul’s talked many times in the past about blogging, joining in with forums about web design, that kind of thing. Obviously if you do this to get a job, then that’s not genuine. But if it’s something that you do and you enjoy, that will come shining through. I’m thinking of all the people we have employed, and usually they end up going off in a long diatribe about how much they love what they do, and it’s obvious, by the end of it, this is someone that’s going to work hard because they like what they do, be it design, be it development.

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: It’s not actually… you don’t want someone sitting there and going "oh yes, I love web design" because that sounds false. It’s when you get onto a subject, I don’t know, frameworks, right, whether you should use a CSS framework, and this person is really passionate. Either way, even if they disagree with me, even if they think frameworks are the best thing since sliced bread, and I’m not a great fan of them, that doesn’t matter, that wouldn’t put me off hiring them, it’s the fact that they’re passionate and enthusiastic and have got an opinion that matters to me.

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: I’ve written down here "genuine", and that’s what I mean here. Not everyone’s the same, we’re not all great talkers or wonderful orators and we can express ourselves beautifully and that kind of thing, but you can always tell when someone is genuinely passionate about something, and if you are, that will shine through.

Thumbs up, Thumbs down

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: The last thing I was going to say is how.. this is something that I heard the guys at Adaptive Path talk about at last year’s SXSW (South by South West) conference, and it really captivated me. When they interview someone, they won’t go into a long chat about will they, won’t they, etc. The first thing they do is the people who were interviewing the applicant, they either.. basically it’s thumbs up, thumbs down or thumbs to the side. And basically, if it’s thumbs up, they’re in, no discussion, thumbs down, they’re out, no discussion. So only if someone has got their thumb on the side there will be any discussion about it. Now, all I would say about that, is how would you feel during an interview knowing that that’s what’s going to happen at the end? Put people in a position where they are going to talk passionately about what they love. So, yeah.

Conclusion

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: Ok, that’s hopefully useful stuff and that’s what the great powers at ScrunchUp were actually after, I don’t know.

Marcus Lillington

Marcus Lillington: (laughs) Probably not!

Paul Boag

Paul Boag: But there you go, that’s what you’ve got, I hope it’s useful, and, yeah, good on the guys for taking on and doing ScrunchUp, and I wish them all the best in the future. Goodbye from us at Boagworld!

Paul Boag and Marcus Lillington

Paul and Marcus on employment and portfolios

Paul is the Creative Director at Headscape. He records a weekly podcast with Marcus for his website Boagworld. He is also writing a book called the Website Owner's Manual.

Marcus is Headscape’s business development director. He's also a pop star and appeared on an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Paul and Marcus founded web design company Headscape which is based in Dorset.

The Boagworld podcast covers all aspects of web design. It is not primarily a technology show (although it does cover that). The emphasis is on news, features and interviews, intended to help those running websites as well as designers and developers.

The weekly show is accompanied by regular blog posts, useful links and a thriving online community. It has come a long way since its birth in 2005.