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Recently over the last few weeks I have started applying for a number of different Front End Developer roles.

I notice a lot of the job descriptions ask for good HTML5 knowledge.

The sticking point I find is that no website uses a large amount of HTML5. See here for a list of different unused tags. This is because websites are required to work in older browsers, sometimes IE6, which does not work with HTML5 tags.

So my question is this:

When applying for jobs should I state I know and use HTML5 when explicitly asked even if I only use the HTML5 doctype & a few different tags? Or should I try and explain to the recruiter that the job does not actually need HTML5?

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  • Keep in mind that the company could be interested in re-doing their website and is looking for talented people to come in and help with it. It could also be an indication of the direction the company wants to go on future projects. – Robert Greiner Aug 14 '12 at 19:44
  • Send in random ideas to the WHATWG mailing list so you can say, "Know it? I've actually had my personal suggestions considered for the HTML5 spec." (I'm kidding - don't do this. Or at least don't tell them I gave you the idea) – Erik Reppen Aug 18 '12 at 6:48
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There are a lot of misconceptions currently held by non-technical and semi-technical people with respect to HTML5, what it is, what it's capabilities are, how well-supported it is among various web browsers, and how it relates to "standard" HTML. So on the one hand I'd fully support any effort you wanted to make to help clear those up.

On the other hand, in terms of applying for a job that may not be the best thing to do. If you can do it well and if your interviewer is a clever and reasonable kind of person, then you can certainly earn a lot of points for yourself by showing that you understand the technology better than your interviewer. However, if those things don't hold true then contradicting your interviewer's understanding of something might just upset them and/or cause them to think that you don't know what you're talking about.

So there's a fine line to tread. You can play it safe and just stick to answering their questions directly and demonstrating what knowledge you do have about HTML5, and explaining why you haven't delved into it more deeply (if necessary). Or you can take a gamble and try to explain to them how their understanding of HTML5 isn't really accurate/applicable in a real-world context. If you do that well (and if your interviewer is smart) then you can make yourself look very strong. Do it poorly (or get a bad interviewer) and you've basically killed your chances at getting the job.

Also note that when dealing with an external recruitment agency it's generally unlikely that the person you're talking to will have much in the way of technical knowledge or background, or much reason to care about learning new things about a technology. It's more likely that they'll just see that the requirements say "HTML5" and then consider only candidates who claim to have strong HTML5 skills. I think there'd be little sense in trying to explain to the recruiter that their understanding of HTML5 isn't really correct or that the job doesn't require HTML5. There's just no reason for them to care. They were hired to find someone with HTML5 skills, and would almost certainly just dismiss any candidate who claimed that HTML5 was not required.

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    I remember failing badly with one recruiter when I tried too hard to explain that knowing how to write code for the Lotus Notes client meant the same thing as knowing how to write code for the Lotus Domino server. Domino had become a misused buzzword and it offended me too much, so I tanked the interview by letting that show. As you say, she had no reason to care and was unimpressed by my failure to act like an adult in the interview. Thankfully, many years and lessons learned ago. – David Navarre Aug 14 '12 at 20:26
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    +1 To David's comment. I did try to explain to a recruiter once what html5 meant because I got frustrated with hearing "you're resume says you know html, do you know html5?". I got roughly the same results he got. In the end I learned to just say "yes, I know html5" until I get interviewed by somebody with technical experience. – Working Title Aug 2 '13 at 19:07
  • My thought is that it takes a glance to understand if the interviewer has any technical knowledge. If he/she hasn't, there is no need to explain difference between HTML and HTML5, just wait for the tech interviewer. – gvgramazio Jun 9 '18 at 12:37
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Consider the following quote from HTML is the new DHTML:

It’s true: For all intents and purposes, “HTML5” has become a meaningless catch-all marketing phrase defining a platform rather than a specification. It’s “DHTML” all over again.

Now to your question:

When applying for jobs should I state I know and use HTML5 when explicitly asked even if I only use the HTML5 doctype & a few different tags?

"HTML 5" is a collection of new things that developers can apply to a web page. It's not an "all or nothing" proposition. All "HTML 5" developers apply a subset of "HTML 5" technologies whenever they make sense.

Or should I try and explain to the recruiter that the job does not actually need HTML5?

  1. No matter who you are, that's a difficult case to make.
  2. Even if you are correct, new requirements or new market conditions could warrant the use of "HTML 5" in the near future.
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    It’s “DHTML” all over again - great quote. Where I work, we've come to accept that when clients say "HTML5", they mean "cool, but not done with Flash". It basically means anything modern and neat done in a browser without a plugin. – Carson63000 Jan 5 '13 at 12:25
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    DOM Scripting, Web 2.0, RIAs... !@#$ing obnoxious. It's impossible to know whether people actually know what they're talking about and I STILL see DHTML. – Erik Reppen Dec 5 '13 at 2:33
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Always explain (honestly) how your qualifications fit the role being filled. An external recruiter isn't going to care what you actually do once you work there, as long as you fit what the company expects the recruiter to find and they are satsfied with the hire. When you actually interview with the company, however, it's a slightly different matter.

I would not suggest outright telling them the job doesn't need HTML5. Instead, explain you have some experience, but due to factors like the large presence of incompatible browsers, you haven't gone throughly in depth. Ask how they deal with that issue, or if it's even an issue for them (maybe they're hiring someone to work on internal-facing sites, and mandate modern browsers for all employees). Make sure you make it clear that you understand what it is and how it works, and explain why you don't use it to its full extent.

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Or should I try and explain to the recruiter that the job does not actually need HTML5?

Telling the recruiter about the job they are screening you for is probably not a good idea. That could come off like you are running your mouth, not a good first impression.

Stick to answering the questions. Just because something is listed in a job description does not mean you will be using it. Sometimes all they want to know is if you are aware of a specific technology, if you could pick it up quickly if needed, etc.

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