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November 01, 2010

Go Web, Young Man (and Woman). Today's In-Demand Jobs

by Judi Wunderlich

My daughter is trying to figure out what to major in for college and what classes to take. She's tired of my broken record saying, "Web and mobile - learn how to either design, code or manage content for that and you're in!" She forgets that I'm not only her Mom, but I'm a professional intimately involved in career trends.

I've been watching trends in employment for the last 20 years or so, specifically for jobs involving design, marketing, advertising, communications. Why? Well, that's how my career started out - I was a graphic designer, who moved into design management - and because I later got into recruiting and staffing for jobs in those niches.

I witnessed the first dotcom boom - and subsequent bust. Those days were wild. I remember high school seniors being courted by advertising agencies and corporations alike and being offered unheard of starting salaries, simply because those 'kids' had self-taught themselves all about the internet and how to code and publish websites.

The dotcom bust taught us a lot, and today businesses realize that it's not enough to get a website up and running. Rather, our sites have to be meaningful to our audience, be optimized for search, and absolutely MUST be user friendly and functional, or they lose business.

This has created a whole range of new careers for people, and it's exciting to watch the evolution. I confess that sometimes I wish I were part of it.

The economic downturn we're experiencing has actually BOOSTED careers in online marketing and advertising. Businesses are watching their budgets and are only spending money if they can measure, and practically guarantee, a return on investment. Online marketing/advertising is perfect for this. Where a company previously spent their dollars on traditional marketing/advertising (traditional meaning print, TV/radio), they are now moving their dollars into the web, and also to some extent mobile.

Just check out the recent articles and statistics about online marketing and advertising. Here's a Forrester article from 2005:,1769,1003,00.html. They weren't far off. And a 2009 Forrester article predicted a 17% increase in spending. Probably a low estimate.

According to, there's been a 23% increase in User Experience Design jobs.

Research and statistics are great, but what I 'see' happening here in Chicago is more telling. Traditional marketing and advertising jobs, i.e., those involving print and broadcast media, are very much DOWN. SimplyHired says there's been an 18% decrease in graphic design jobs.

Instead, advertising agencies, consultancies, and corporations alike are hiring Web/Interactive talent. In fact, they are clamoring for them!

Now, as a recruiting professional in the web niche for many years, I learn who's hiring, who's firing or laying off, who's growing, and which companies have high turnover. I hear about agencies bidding on new business, about corporations getting ready to launch new online or ecommerce initiatives, and about companies being sold. And I love to share my insights with WunderLand clients and job seekers as long as the info I have isn't confidential.

I also work with local universities and colleges and advise them on curriculum so their graduates can actually get a job when they graduate.

All this gives me a unique insight into what's happening in the online/web business, especially in my hometown of Chicago, and thus this blog's point is - GO INTERACTIVE!

Here are the interactive jobs that are in high demand today (and careers I'd recommend my own daughter investigate), in order of need as shown by WunderLand's clients:

  • User Experience Designer/Architect or Information Architect
  • Front End Web Developer; this includes developers who specialize in Flex, AJAX, Ruby on Rails
  • Interaction Designer; depending on the company hiring, this job might also be called Web Designer or Interactive Designer
  • Content Manager or Content Strategist
  • Mobile Application Designer or Developer
  • SEO Specialist
  • Online/E-Commerce Marketing Manager
  • Social Media Specialist

Unfortunately for companies looking to hire, there's a big shortage of experienced talent in these areas, and demand is high. Just look at this search for web-related jobs currently offered in the Chicago area.

Fortunately, some of our area universities are cognizant of these career trends and are offering curriculums and majors for students who want to follow this path, such as DePaul's excellent Master's program in HCI. Kudos to them.

Boos and hisses to the colleges trying to lure students for 'gaming' careers solely so they can sell more enrollments. Chicago is not a major hub for game development, yet I constantly see kids enrolling and graduating with this as their goal, only to find there are no jobs for them.

So we know that competition for most web talent is fierce, and you'd might think that by offering the highest salary you can get the best talent. Right?


While salary is important, it's usually not the top motivator today for someone making a decision on accepting an offer or changing jobs. Here are the usual factors, in order of importance:

  • The types of projects they'll get to work on
  • Work-Life Balance (i.e. hours spent working; commuting time; ability to work from home)
  • Salary
  • The colleagues they'll work with
  • Benefits

So climb onboard this newest wild ride called the 'web.' Get the right training or degree (here are some good resources on Human-Computer Interaction education) and enjoy the great salaries and interesting work being offered to accomplished people today. But have a backup plan, because no one can know for sure what the trends will be in the next 5 or 10 years!

If you'd like to see the jobs that WunderLand is currently recruiting for, visit our Available Jobs page.

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