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Design blog. Tips for applying to an agency.

27/06/12 Agency
by Gemma Germains

I spend one hour each working week responding to job requests from design graduates. Working in business development I know how soul destroying it is to have emails go unanswered, so I always endeavour to reply to everyone who emails us about work. I also try (with varying degrees of tact) to give everyone at least one piece of useful advice.

To save time, and to prevent me from writing the same thing eighteen times a week, I've just written a top five tips list. Here it is...

  • 1. Find out who you are speaking to

It's an oldie but a goodie: I can't believe that people are still starting emails with ‘Dear Sir or Madam.' My name and email address are both actually on the website so there really isn't any excuse, unless you've been too lazy to look past our homepage.

Even worse than Sir / Madam is the person who emailed with just ‘Dear Sirs.' That put me in a mood all morning.

  • 2. Target your delivery

The thing about my role doing business development is that you have to do a lot of proposing, pitching, emailing and chatting to get anywhere. The conversion rates from a speculative email to a signed contract are dishearteningly low. Meaning: I fully understand how hard it is to not just copy, paste and hit send to a load of agencies in one go. Sadly, it's really obvious that you just did that.

There are two options:
a. Stop trying to blanket every agency and pick your top ten. Research them and stalk them and make yourself known to every single decision maker at that agency.
b. Design a mailer and just change the one paragraph where you tell the agency how much you'd like to work for them. Sam Howard sent us a corker last week where, along with his (great) portfolio, he said "Mercy portrays a very ‘emotional' response to graphic design, in its playfulness and visual wit.' He's squeezed a complement and a clever observation into one sentence. Boom, we love him.

  • 3. Don't waste space.

We don't care that you've worked in the local shop since you were 15 or that you've got your Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. Agencies are only really interested in two things; could you potentially be brilliant and are you an interesting, fun, nice person? Tell us about you the interesting, fun, nice person - not you the Saturday girl.

  • 4. Stop telling us you can make a nice cup of tea.

My 10yr old can do that. Replace ‘...and I make a great cup of tea' with ‘I can play the drums' or ‘I once knocked my front teeth out jumping off a cemetery gate' or ‘I had a kid in university and I still got a 2:1'

  • 5. Do not offer to work for free.

Clearly this is easier said than done, but do yourself a favour and at least don't offer to work for free before the issue has been raised. Make it clear you are interested in working at the company, but keep your terms close to your chest and see how it pans out. By offering to come in for nothing you are devaluing your talent, you're perpetuating a free labour work culture and you're making it far too easy for employers to take the mick. If there was no free labour willing to do the entry level (and in some cases, quite skilled jobs) then business owners would have to determine whether or not their current business models were actually sustainable.

We won't pretend that by not offering to work for free you will automatically be offered the money: if someone is interested in getting you in, there is a pretty fair chance they will ask for it for free. But at least you can take a modicum of ownership of the situation, and you never know: a budget might well be in place for an internship that you would have not found out about had you hawked yourself in for nothing.

If you do find yourself working for free, ask yourself: if you have the conviction to work FOR NOTHING for someone else, imagine what you could do for yourself, or with your friends?

This is another blog post in itself, but for the record we set Mercy up because we didn't fancy the look of what was on offer when we graduated. We worked in phone shops and pubs and printers to support ourselves and we gained more experience (in the form of whopping mistakes and immense wins) than we would ever have done in someone else's agency. We learned how to win new business, and manage our clients, we taught ourselves accountancy and credit control and HR and everything else you need to scramble by. Skills like that are really really desirable to future employers. Better still, you may find that you don't need to hunt for a new employer again for a long time.