Creative + Co-Pilot

What I've Learned From Teaching as an Adjunct Professor This Year

The First Email and The Art of the Follow Up


How many emails is too many? Am I self-aware enough to know when someone's not interested? Who should I email if it's a cold introduction? 

Oh the job hunt. Maybe you have been employed at the same place for 4-5 years and are seeking out something more fulfilling. Maybe you are just graduating from an art institution or state university scoping out your first entry-level position. Either way you cut it, the initial contact made with a potential employer can be a bit nerve-racking. I'm going to walk through the steps I took to land my internship out of college and processes that have helped me along the way when searching for a new job.

The Prep Work

I love lists, so 6 months before I was set to graduate with my BFA I already had my top 10 dream studios written out. I'm one of those people that's all or nothing, and I was all in. I was looking for full-time positions and internships at the same time, because a great internship out of school is better than being unemployed, and I highly encourage multiple internships. I'll write more on this later. I was constantly scouring, Behance Jobs, AIGA Jobs, Creative Hotlist, Glassdoor and frequently checking in on my favorite studios' websites to see if any positions were available. I followed multiple studios and agencies on Twitter and Facebook to not only give myself a platform to engage, but to keep tabs on any open jobs. So many businesses use social media as a way to raise awareness about available positions. There is a creepy way to interact with studios you admire. Don't be a virtual mouth-breather.

At this point when I was actively searching, I already had my website squared away. Fresh work. New tidy bio written. (not too cheesy) My resume had been designed cleanly and without any extra bullshit. i.e. holograms, scratch-n-sniffs or awards for spelling-bee competitions. Be a Boy Scout. Be Prepared. 

Before I emailed any of the agencies on my list, I had created individual portfolio booklets that showcased my best work. Creatives love tactile things! I did a little research and figured out who the Sr. Art Directors and Associate Creative Directors were for each particular studio/agency and I mailed the damn books! Once I knew the books had been delivered, (tracking number) I followed up with my first email introduction. 

Initial Contact

Writing this first email is easier than you might think. Treat this one like an abbreviated cover letter, succinct and to the point. Include a PDF attachment of your resume and cover letter.

  1. Introduce yourself in no more than 2 sentences. 
  2. State your business. Tell them why you are emailing them.
    "I'm inquiring about the available design internship for the fall term."
  3. Give a quick reference to one of your favorite projects they've worked on so they know you aren't just copying and pasting emails. Make it specific to the agency you are contacting. (Don't ever write one email and send the same thing to 100 different agencies. That will end any chance of you landing the gig, because folks can spot generic bullshit a mile away.
  4. Request they take a look at your website and consider you for the position.
  5. Thank them for their time and set a follow up date that you will contact them again. 
    "Thanks for your consideration and your time. I will follow up in a couple of days to check-in."

It should read a little something like this:

Hello John,
My Name is Stephen G. Jones. I'm contacting you today in regards to the open Jr. Designer position on your website. I'm a designer from Kentucky with a passion for type, signage and solid user experiences. I love the illustrations on the 2 Dog's Pale Ale packaging and branding you developed and have followed your work for some time. I'd appreciate it if you would take a look at my site gogojones.com and consider me for the job. I have attached a pdf of my resume for reference as well . Thanks for your consideration and your time. I will follow up in a couple days to check-in. 

Run spellcheck a hundred times if you have to. Make sure it's spot-on before hitting send, because you can never un-send an email. Remember not to send on a Friday or before a Holiday. Make first contact early in the morning on a Monday, to show you are a go-getter. If you have put in the prep work you should be confident, the first email should be fairly easy. 

The Follow Up

Regardless of the apprehension and excitement you are experiencing after sending that first email, you have to wait patiently. 2-3 days is not a long time, but it can feel like an eternity when you are awaiting that first response. Art Directors and Associate Creative Directors are busy folks, don't be surprised if you don't hear back from them right away. This is why you informed them that you will follow up in a couple days. It shows you are persistent, professional and that you are proactive in making things happen. If you don't care enough to follow up with an email then you probably aren't ready to take on the responsibilities that come along with the job, and that'll be evident. It's a base-level professional courtesy and practice applicable to any occupation or specialty. 

The follow up email should be short as well, it should be sent on the day you said you were going to send it. 2 to 3 sentences total is all you really need. You don't want to waste anyone's time or become a pest with a long wordy hard sell. Your portfolio and professionalism will do the selling for you. 

Unfortunately you will not always hear back. I have a 3 email limit to make contact. If I don't hear back during the first week after the initial follow up, I'll usually send one asking them to consider me for future positions and thanking them for their time. I've always assumed that if the contact doesn't reply after 3 emails then they are probably too busy or have filled the position. They may also be in the middle of reviewing 20-30 submissions by other job seekers, a daunting task. Don't give up hope, but be realistic about the time it takes for the employer to give each potential employee/intern attention during the hiring process.

Good luck and don't be scared! Be prepared!

Stephen Jones