Hello. I'd like to work for you. But I don't know how to approach you.
April 6, 2012 6:19 AM   Subscribe

People who receive unsolicited "I'd love to work for you, here's my portfolio" type emails. What gets your goat about them, what sparks your interest when you receive them?

I've found a few companies I'd love to work for and I (think I) have a complementary skill / creative set. I just don't want to piss them off, be ignored due to blandness or come across as a total weirdo when I approach them to try and work for them.

I'm really rubbish at this sort of thing, I don't really know how to go about approaching companies cold in the vain hope that they like what I do especially when I am less than complementary about my own skills.

Do you have advice, success stories, list of dos and don't that can inspire my task?
posted by gonzo_ID to Work & Money (8 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, I get letters like this frequently and you'd be amazed at how few of them can follow these simple guidelines:
- Spell check and grammar check your letters. If you use any text message spelling I will delete instantly.
- Do not include some other company's information accidentally in your letter because you're using the same cut and paste template to everyone and couldn't be bothered to double check it
- Actually give me some indication that you have read and understand what kind of job we are offering and why you might be a good fit for it, referencing specifics about our company.
- Writing in a friendly/conversational way that does not sound robotic is a bonus.

I encourage you to go ahead with your plan of cold calling. It really, truly works. And even if you get a lukewarm response at first, persistence (with elaboration on what's great about you) can get you in the door. I've done it myself, and I've hired people who have done it to my organization.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:38 AM on April 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

The company which I ran ( 240 employees ) did not accept unsolicited resumes--they were returned with the notation that while we appreciate the interest we do not accept unsolicited resumes. We told applicants where we advertised and encouraged them to apply for specific positions. We did this because of the potential liability of accepting, accumulating and then acting/not acting on resumes. It was cleaner, simpler and.more useful to act only on resumes that were received for a specific position. Things which our HR director looked for were evidence of required licensure/certification/etc (where required), well organized and succinct resumes ( 2 page max), no errors, personalized cover letter and what treehorn+bunny said. When hiring people who reported directly to me, or other upper level positions, I always noted activities that were self directed, evidence of creativity, appropriate risk taking, experience in other fields (usually a positive). I shied away from resumes that were clearly gimmicky or messy. Good Luck
posted by rmhsinc at 7:04 AM on April 6, 2012

(Caveat: I am not in the creative industries.) I do not receive emails like that from job seekers (which is a bit odd because I sometimes have open positions, but that's a different story), but I do get emails, phone calls, and visits from consulting and contracting companies hoping to sell me their services. I'd totally agree with treehorn+bunny's list of dos/don'ts, with the added comment that I frequently find myself explaining that our needs are X, Y, and Z, and finding the person totally fixated on telling me about how they can do M, N, and O, which have no relevance or value to me. So when you get to the point of talking to someone in person, make sure that you can listen to and incorporate their needs, not just recite your pitch. I have been working with some people for years now, all of which started from a cold call like what you are describing. If someone can provide services that meet my needs, I want to hear about it -- that's not spam or a hassle.

I've gotten jobs this way, also; not by email, but by going in person and saying "our mutual friend so-and-so told me that you had a position open and I wanted to talk with you about it." I don't know if you'd call that more "networking" or "cold-calling"; it's maybe sort of both. At any rate, it has definitely worked for me, far more so than applying to advertised positions.
posted by Forktine at 7:09 AM on April 6, 2012

(Because I just discovered this old thing I was going to link to has apparently been taken down by the original publisher, here is my contribution on this topic from my archives with some information redacted)

As a designer, you know the value of a good presentation - whether it's your portfolio for a prospective employer, your concept sketches for a client, or even getting your idea to the front of the line in the product design department of a large corporation. You know the importance of first impressions and will spend hours refining a sketch; but have you ever given a thought to the very first email that you send someone?

Particularly when you are making some sort of request -- asking for information, inquiring about a job opportunity or an internship, hoping for feedback on your portfolio or consideration for a project, writing to grad school about scholarships or teaching assistantships -- all these imply that you want some sort of response to your email. Even here, presentation matters, more so when you are making a 'cold call' - that is, nobody has introduced to the recipient already over email nor have they given you a referral as in "use my name and write to so-and-so".

So, how can you improve the effectiveness of your request? Here are 5 major points you need to address, to ensure your email doesn't end up in the spam file:

1. Do your homework - Small signs like spelling the recipient's name wrong, not knowing their gender, showing no knowledge of his or her area of interest and expertise; or larger gaffes like writing to a graphics design studio asking for a product design internship -- these simply tell the recipient that you are careless and haphazard in your work. Why should they write back to you regardless of how beautiful your portfolio may be? You obviously don't have a clue whom you're writing, nor why.

2. Introduce yourself - The people you're writing with your requests are probably busy, or you probably wouldn't consider them worth writing in the first place. So take the time and trouble to give a little background about yourself, it makes you less of a stranger sending a random email and more of a real person reaching out to them. Don't make the mistake of plunging straight in with your request to someone who has never heard of you nor is expecting your email.

3. Explain why you selected them - Why do you think your recipient, and nobody else, can help you with your request? By building a case for your decision to write him or her in particular, you're demonstrating that it's not a form letter sent en masse to every design studio manager, but a carefully considered choice. This is also an opportunity to demonstrate how well you've done your homework.

4. Elaborate on your request - This is the second part of why you've selected this person to write to with your request. It allows you to demonstrate the fit between your request and their background or position, and strengthens your case for taking this initiative to reach out to them. Create a cogent argument for why the recipient should take the trouble to respond to your request.

5. Craft your email - Take the same amount of trouble over your spelling, language, choice of words and sentence structure as you would in preparing a design sketch or rendering. This is your first impression, not your portfolio in a link or attachment. Are you coming across as an intelligent, insightful person that engages attention, or a sloppy thinker who is too lazy to bother with a well-written request? Ask a friend to read it if it's really important to you, and ask what kind of an impression you are making. Is it the right one?

Fine, now how would this work for real? First, an example of a truly abysmal contact letter, quite representative of emails that I often read and immediately delete: (note, I've made this up)

Hi Finito!

Can you please help me with a service design position? I want to work with a company that does good projects in this field and I think you can let me know where to look. I am in Bangalore so maybe you can meet me to offer some help.


Note that the author has very obviously not done their homework, much less taking the trouble to read the About page where they picked up the email address. There is also no effort made to either introduce herself or why she's writing to me. It hasn't engaged my interest and offers me no incentive to take the time to sort out why it's worth responding. So I don't.

Next, a real contact letter from last week, slightly edited, asking essentially the same thing:

Dear Ms. Infini,

I was reading up about your initiative, and was eager to write in and explore opportunities in service innovation with your firm.

I work as a service designer, helping companies, NGOs and Governments innovate on their service offerings, gather key user insights, and launch new services to market. I specialise in applying design tools and thinking to facilitate this process, enabling service providers to visualise scenarios of their future services and their function, from a user-centered perspective.

I have completed my Masters in Strategic Design from the Politecnico di Milano in Italy and am especially intesrested in service design for social innovation. My thesis, sponsored by the European Commission, UN/UNEP and Swedish Task Force on Sustainable Development, was on Conducting Design Research, Creating Scenarios and Visualisations of new and more sustainable lifestyles, in Brasil, India and China, as part of the Creative Communities for Sustainable Lifestyles project,. The everyday life areas studied included new food networks, neighbourhood care and community housing.

I have seven years of combined work experience in strategic design, market research, brand development and marketing in India, Europe, Canada and the Middle East. My qualifications also include a Bachelors in Hospitality Management and an MBA in Marketing.

I am attaching my resume for your reference and would also like to request a personal meeting with you, if you are currently in India, to take you through a more detailed presentation on the service design process. I am currently based in Bangalore and am available for a meeting on weekdays and weekends.

I look forward to your reply.

Warm Regards

It's worth pointing out that the level of English fluency in these two letters is similar, but the second has clearly had much more thought put into its crafting. It also gives me ample understanding of why the author is worth my attention, and moreover instills some desire to find out more -- we have some shared interests, she knows my work, we're trained in similar fields. I'd write this woman back (in fact, I did write this woman back and then followed up to ask permission to use her actual email as a sample for you guys).

A final point, keep in mind that even the most lovingly crafted letter won't always get the desired response; much less any response -- some people are just that busy or picky. But if you do get a response, even if it's not what you hoped for, please don't forget to write back and thank them for their time and trouble. Courtesy costs so little, and given how small some creative professional circles are, you may very well meet again. Always leave a good impression.
posted by infini at 7:17 AM on April 6, 2012 [23 favorites]

They don't care that you love their work and want to work with them. They care what you can do for them. And not generalities about hard work, client focused, blah blah blah. If the target is a travel company and you redesigned the reservation page at Hilton.com, leading to a 18% reduction in load time and a 3% improvement in conversations leading to $350,000 of additional revenue...they will want to talk.

So figure out, very specifically, how you can help the target company be more successful.
posted by COD at 7:29 AM on April 6, 2012

Can you demonstrate previous similar work you have done? Have you done work for companies that are in contact with the companies you want to hire you?

I had surprising success with freelance editing queries when I mentioned I'd worked with x, y, and z similar publishers, some of which had actual relationships with the ones I queried.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:35 AM on April 6, 2012

Nthing all of the advice mentioned above. Will add my own experiences as an editor at two different publications (simultaneously) for the past 10 years. Both of the pubs I work for specialize in trivial facts, odd-but-true stories, strange moments in history, that sort of thing. One of the pubs also contains word puzzles and brain games. Ninety-nine percent of the queries I receive are obvious mail merges, a hopeful writer who has simply gone through a list of editors and plugged their names and addresses into a form letter (many don't even take the time to add my name in the salutation, leaving it as "To Whom It May Concern" or worse, "Dear Sir"). No indication that he's read my publication, no mention of any particular expertise in that genre, etc. Some have even submitted things like original artwork and comic strips, things we don't use which would be apparent with just a cursory glance through the pub. And the typos and grammar mistakes.....Oy!!

FWIW, I've hired just a very few of these unsolicited folks on a per-article basis, and they were the ones who did the same thing I did 10 years ago to land my current job. I had a solid background in writing trivia and I sent query letters to a few publications explaining not only my background but also what I would do if I was writing for them - the "musts" in posing a quiz question (which their current writers were not observing) and provided examples of their "wrong" questions and how they could've been phrased to be unambiguous. Again, this is just an amplification of what has been mentioned above - demonstrate to the person you want to work for exactly what you can do for him/her. Show them you've studied their business/product and that you want to work for them because you've studied it and can help to improve it.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:02 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a followup to Infini's commentary on the 2nd example letter: be mindful of how many sentences you start with "I". Make it about them instead. Frame your background information by stating the ways your experience will SERVE their organization, ADD valuable resources to the team, HELP meet their stated goals, etc. Refer to their organization by name.
posted by MediaMer at 7:54 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Outourced web design in Latin America or CEE   |   Please recommend me a psychiatrist and therapist... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.