In the mid-1990s, the mainstreaming of the Internet and the home-computer revolution created more than just a lot of online activity. It created a wave of new employment demands. Managers in marketing, communications and advertising had to evolve their work teams to more fully engage the power of interactive media.
The e-trend changed most companies’ structures forever. Up until then, many firms had one ‘techie’ to whom every employee turned for Web work. Now, taking the place of that one Web guru, you will find entire departments or even full-blown corporations. It’s all in response to the need to stay on top of a creative and swiftly evolving medium. And, in 2008, the explosion in interactive careers continues.
What the Work Feels Like
This growing field requires employees with energy and openness to change. "People who take on an interactive career expect it to be a fast-paced world," says Theresa Seybold, a recruiter for Resource Interactive, a digital marketing agency. "You know you’re not going to sit at a desk."
Interactive jobs need people who excel at partnering with others. To create exceptional work, a team of individual problem-solvers must tackle a project from all angles. Designers, writers, computer experts, project managers, and media specialists have to work together, using a give-and-take approach. In other words, you may face a tight deadline because others need your work before they can move forward.
Self-starters handle the pressure best. You have to be innovative, action oriented, and ready to think outside the box. "It’s not as structured as other environments," notes Seybold. "You can’t always get all the information you need before you have to move."
Team members must meet, brainstorm, listen, collaborate, stay flexible, and use their talents to help the greater team succeed. Above all, they must always keep in mind the end-user. This industry needs people who know – visually, verbally, technically and strategically – what it takes to inspire the consumer who views and uses their work.
Evolving Job Titles
Though interactive work has been around for more than a decade, the job titles are still in flux. What one company calls senior interactive writer, another might call content manager. As a result, the titles below are meant only to show some of the different roles available. Even if titles aren’t exactly unified, you will clearly see this industry is open to a wide range of talents.
There are no set rules to categorize interactive jobs, but they fall into three basic areas: Creative (artists and writers); Technology (information architects, web developers and interactive developers); and Relationship Management (project managers and client services positions).
Most jobs have one or two clear paths of experience that will help you enter the role. Here are a few general job descriptions and insights.
Interactive Designer - Other related titles include interactive art director or new media designer. Depending on the specific role, you will need to show a talent for using art, design, type, color, animation, video, motion graphics, or other visual elements. Your goal will be to create visually appealing and engaging designs for powerful Web or multimedia use.
Some roles may require you to be a jack-of-all-trades; others may focus solely on one type of project such as developing high-response banner ads, creating a pleasant online catalog shopping experience, or designing powerfully branded consumer-information microsites. Senior-level positions will include providing mentorship, guidance, and support to other team designers or artists.
Candidates may be required to know programs such as Flash, Director, PhotoShop, Illustrator, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, PowerPoint, FreeHand, QuarkXpress, ActionScript, Lingo, Shockwave, Premiere, SoundEdit, or 3D programs. But the biggest requirement of the job is experience. To get the job, you will want to showcase your interactive-design skills by creating a portfolio of your best work.
If your experience is limited to print work, you have several options. If you’re currently employed, ask your manager if you can take on some interactive projects. If you’re between jobs, consider applying for print-design jobs that could allow you to make the transition into interactive work.
Interactive Writer - Similar titles include content developer or content manager. Excellent writing skills are a must, but even more important is having the ability to divide information into useful pieces, create an engaging story, and elevate interest enough to turn pages.
You will work closely with an artist/designer on your projects, so good teamwork skills will make you more appealing to employers. Most positions require a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, communications, or another applicable field. It is a plus if you have good organizational skills, confidence to work under deadline pressure, and the ability to focus on end-user preferences while also meeting the client’s goals.
Creative Director - Other titles include associate creative director or creative team leader. The person in this position provides creative insights and instruction to the artist/writer teams. Generally, to gain this title, you must have eight to ten years in the advertising/marketing field and a strong background in art direction, writing and interactive media.
Employers will look for a leader who is able to collaborate closely with others under tight deadlines. Ability to clearly express creative direction is critical, as is in-depth knowledge of branding, client relations, client presentations, the product category, the competitive landscape, and the software used by the creative team.
Information Architect - This person is critical because he or she facilitates users’ navigation through the website. It requires talking to the client, understanding the project, laying out the site map, and documenting everything.
According to Seybold, Ias often do ‘white-board sessions’ with the team or client, mapping out, one webpage at a time, how the site will work. For example, they might show how a user enters the site, chooses options, reviews products, adds items to a shopping cart, pays, and receives a ‘thank you’ message.
Ias must display a sense of partnership and consensus building with others on the team. They benefit greatly from internal or client-focused brainstorming sessions to determine functional, content and technical requirements.
In addition to strong organizational and technical-writing skills, the position typically calls for a bachelor’s degree in information science, information architecture, technical documentation, computer science, or a related four-year degree. Useful experience might include database development and integration, rich media (Flash, DHTML, AJAX), and online or permission-based marketing. Frequently used software includes Visio, PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat, Word and Excel.
Interactive Developer - This position creates detailed technical specifications based on each project’s functional needs and design requirements. A Web developer is then responsible for programming, debugging, and testing the work they create. Interactive developers work closely with other team members to ensure their work enables the product to perform as needed.
Requirements may include creating HTML/CSS templates based on W3C standards, as well as knowledge of Flash, ActionScript, Windows or Unix server platforms, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), coding, and understanding of database concepts.
Account Manager - Other titles may include client services manager, account coordinator, account executive, and account director. These roles are critical in ensuring client satisfaction with the work performed by the agency team. Responsibilities include listening to the client’s goals, providing strategic insights to the creative team, and maximizing communication among all team members.
In many ways, account managers serve as liaisons between agency and client. They listen to the client’s needs and limits, and communicate them to the creative and technical team members. As the project advances, they provide the client with updates and seek client feedback.
Interactive Project Manager - This person is responsible for overall quality, deadlines and budgets. The work calls for someone who is able to manage multiple projects at once while maintaining attention to detail. You will need strong organizational and communication skills and the ability to motivate team members.
Depending on the agency and the level of this manager, the role may include responsibilities in building vendor relationships and sharing innovative ways to execute creative ideas. It may also require working with client services or accounting departments to create vendor invoices and resolve billing issues.
Beyond the positions listed here are many more, from junior Web analyst to vice president of client services. Some positions focus very tightly on one area, such as Internet search analysis, online shopping, or click through. All of them are fast paced and subject to change.
Your key to getting these types of jobs is definitely experience. So gain the experience any way you can: Intern during your school years, ask for special projects where you work, or volunteer for a local nonprofit that needs a website update. "You’ve got to have some get-up-and-go," Seybold advises. "You have to do your homework. To get the job, you need to help yourself."
A former Job Journal writer and editor, Denise Leo is the content manager for a large advertising agency. She has been writing professionally for 20 years and thoroughly enjoys the new challenges of interactive writing.