How to apply for a job at a design studio, with help from Fiasco Design’s Co-founder Ben Steers
Who here enjoys the job application process? Show of hands? Anyone? In stark contrast to the bygone era of hard copy portfolios, printed CVs and showing up in person, applying for a job nowadays is primarily a digital affair. And thankfully, when approaching design studios, nobody is really expecting (or wanting) you to show up at their front door, portfolio in hand. However, for an industry centred around concepts, communication and creativity, knowing how to stand out in a sea of applications can be subjective and a bit daunting. We want to help out in any way we can, so we invited Ben Steers of Fiasco Design to share a few insights into their own hiring experience. With 13 years of experience running the Bristol-based studio with Jason Smith, Fiasco Design have cultivated a cohesive 15-strong team alongside a global reputation.
Larger studios and agencies often have dedicated hiring managers and application portals. Conversely, a small and mighty team, such as Fiasco, may not necessarily have a HR department, so with your application, you’re potentially aiming to grab a few minutes of a creative director’s limited time. The formula is simple, as Steers summarises, “I’m looking for someone who’s done their homework; they know what we do and something about us and our culture.”
You might get just a few seconds to stand out, make sure you do.
“We typically get 100+ applications for open positions,” he recalls, “it’s not possible to go through each application in detail.” For studios of any size, this often rings true. A creative director is looking out for something that will grab their gaze, whether that be with the style of work or a high quality of design. “You might get just a few seconds to stand out,” Steers emphasises, “make sure you do.” This advice also extends to the slightly less glamorous but key steps of the application itself. “The introductory email and cover letter are often wildly overlooked. If there isn’t attention to detail and time spent on something as simple as an initial email, then I’m unlikely to go any further. It might sound a little harsh but those initial moments are precious, so make sure you utilise them to the fullest.”
Creatives are an astute and observant kind, so it pays dividends to take your time. As Steers suggests, “spell check and check again. Take care to check supporting text in the portfolio, label files properly, and always make sure you’ve got the recipient's name right.” Essentially, triple-check everything. Read it, and read it again! A hiring lead will keep their eye out for the little things that showcase who you are, whether intentional or not. From attention to detail to clarity, Steers outlines a selection of barriers and boons that can sway the overall impression of you and your work:
If you’re not proud of it, don’t show it.
What could negatively impact your application?
Not following the ‘how to apply’ guidelines – “Each job ad we put out has a number of steps we ask people to go through. This is intentional. It’s a quick way to understand if people are paying attention. Have they used the correct subject line? Did they respond to the question posed? Make sure you are diligent in your response.”
Applications that have been copied and pasted – “It’s easy to see if someone is sending out generic emails. Make sure your response is considered and tailored to the studio you’re contacting.”
Word docs won’t get a look in – “Every aspect of your application should be well thought out and designed. If you send a CV – or even worse, a portfolio – in Word, I don’t care how well formatted it is, I won’t look at it.”
Portfolios that are too broad – “Quality wins over quantity every time. You’ll be judged on your best project, but also your worst, so if you’re not proud of it, don’t show it.”
What will boost your application?
A short but sweet introduction – “Ideally written to the person hiring (creative director, for instance) with a personal introduction; no copy and paste jobs. Be as relevant as possible. Are you a long-term follower? Is there a particular project you admire? Let me know. It instantly makes it more personal.”
Smart portfolios – “Ideally with the project description broken down into sections to help tell the story (e.g. client, brief, idea, execution). Where applicable, images in an order which takes us from concept to execution. Always include links to motion or web work if needed.”
Ways of working – “I want to know how you think and why you made the decisions you did. Don’t be afraid to talk about what didn’t work along the way, as long as you can explain what you learnt from it.”
Be considerate – “From introductory email to CV; cover letter to portfolio. When you apply for a design role, you’re being judged on your design at every touch point. Consider every step of the process.”