Dear Sir: How Not To Approach Me

About once a week, I get an email from someone asking about job openings or looking for feedback on their portfolio. And back in the spring, I sifted through over 170 applications for our internship program. Through all of this, I’ve made a short list of ways not to approach someone when you’re looking for a job. Check that–ways not to approach a creative kind of person. This probably doesn’t apply if you’re looking for a job at a bank.

1) The overly formal approach. “Dear Mr. Bosilajjajemcinavac, I am writing to request an informational interview with your firm. I believe I have the necessary skillset and experience to benefit your creative department blah blah blah.” Yeah, this isn’t a bank. Your job here will be to relate to normal people. Talk to me like I’m normal and you’re normal.

2) The artist statement approach. “I burn with an passion for self-expression. Since my mother first handed me a box of crayons, I have never ceased to explore new avenues of art, performance, and creative thinking. I believe that we can touch souls with blah blah blah.” To be honest, this person kind of scares me a little. Passion is good. Put it in a portfolio.

3) The crazy-ass weirdo approach. “I collect marmot figurines. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can never have enough marmots around. I will tell you this, though, do not feed them peanut butter. blah blah blah” I don’t like weird for the sake of weird. Not in ads, not in introductions.

4) The overly egotistical approach. “My creativity is off the charts. If you’re looking for a real go-getter who’s ready to turn the ad industry on its head, you’ve found him. I was born for advertising. I lust after gold lions. blah blah.” It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: Don’t tell me how awesome you are. Let me see it in your book.

5) The blatant kiss-ass approach. Listing every ad my agency has done and then telling me that they’re all tied as your favorite ads seems, well, like a big steamy pile of bullshit.

I’m not saying this to be a dick. Even when someone sends me an email that takes one of these approaches, I’ll usually give them the benefit of the doubt. When I was in college, I submitted a short story to a magazine along with a letter telling them why it was perfect for their publication. The editor wrote a letter back that started something like: “Because you seem sincere, I’ll give you this constructive criticism.” He then went on to tell me the many ways my letter made me sound amateurish. That’s all I mean here. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you’ve stepped through the door.

So what do I like?

Again, an email that talks to me like a normal person. Tell me who you are or how you found me and a little about yourself. You can mention some of my/the agency’s work if you truly do like it. It’s nice to hear, but I don’t give points for it. And then tell me what you’re looking for–a job, feedback on work, whatever. If I was writing to Greg, I might say something like this:

Hi Greg-

I hope you don’t mind me contacting you. I’m a regular reader of your blog and thought I’d reach out and see if you had a moment to take a look at my portfolio. I’ve just graduated from the copywriting track at VCU Brandcenter and am starting my job search. If you have a moment, I’d appreciate any feedback you can give. And if you like the work, I’d love to talk further about any openings at The Richards Group. Here’s my link:

Thanks for your time.




14 thoughts on “Dear Sir: How Not To Approach Me

  1. “Naked women wrestling in oil”

    Oh, did you mean when someone sent their portfolio? I honestly can't recall one. Which probably makes my point. I remember some great ideas I've seen in books.

    I'm not against creatively branding yourself (e.g. logo, design style, stuff about your hobbies or interests). I just see a much bigger downside (I don't read any further) than upside (I think you're kind of clever) to sending a wacky email. Again, though, my default position is to read the email and at least glance at your book. I don't need a catchy subject line.

    When I was starting out, we were often warned not to try to get into an agency with any weird stunts (e.g. wearing a chicken suit). Apparently that kind of thing was in vogue somewhat for a time. Crazy introductory emails are the modern equivalent, although probably don't provide as good a story as chicken suits.


  2. The example you'll hear over and over is this:

    A guy walks into a room and announces, “I'm a really funny guy! I've been on Conan, Letterman and Jimmy Fallon!”

    Then another guy walks into a room and tells a joke.

    Which one is funnier?

    Don't use your emails or resume to announce that you're creative, dedicated, and hard-working. Put it all in your book and then get out of your book's way.


  3. Love this helpful post!! Thanks heaps for it.

    At the risk of sounding like a douche, I'd just like to mention that sometimes emails coming from the 'other side' (eg. the CD's or GM's computer) also need consider the way they're structured. I wrote an article about rejection letters/emails that went into more detail about 'why?':

    Would love your feed back if ever you get the time :))


  4. Hey bakili-

    I read your blog post. I think you were on the right track with trying not to let the rejection letters get to you. Obviously, that last one did get to you, though. While I think there's no reason for anyone to be an asshole in the business, keep in mind that for recruiters and the like, the decision to pass on you is a business decision, not a personal or emotional one. It's hard not to take it with emotion, though.

    While the letter seemed a little insensitive, I'm sure it wasn't intended that way or written with the intention to hurt. And while I understand your ire, people on the other side unfortunately don't “need” to consider the way their emails are structured. They often just send them off and forget them. So at the risk of sounding callous, the best thing you can do it quickly forget it and move on.

    Good luck with the search.


  5. It is rather disheartening when you work on cover letter after cover letter. Massaging your words, quadruple checking your grammar and then the big finale is a form letter. I have gotten some where they did not even bother to write in my name or theirs.

    “Dear Name,

    We have reviewed your application and although you have an impressive background, we do not have a position that fits your skill set.

    Thanks for applying,

    Director of Human Resources”

    Looking for a career is the most time consuming thing I have ever done! I cringe when it comes to that all important time to send out my resume and cover letter, knowing I will get the inevitable “Thanks, but no thanks.”

    I have a “follow up” folder. I seem to be receiving less emails that are uniform, but ones with feeling coming from a person with blood pumping though their hearts. I appreciate the time it takes to write 3 sentences directed at me. I often get the reply, “I love your emails and thanks for checking in!”

    This keeps me going. Although, it is all about your book; it is also relevant to think about WHAT position you are applying for in the industry.

    I have had the unfortunate, bad art director syndrome. I do not know if it is my luck, or if it is just a common thread I am seeing – but art directors flake out on me. They say they want to work on a campaign and send me 2/3 and then disappear. No matter what kind of cheer-leading I do, they fall off the wagon.

    I created some of my own ads, with the hope that Creative Directors had NOT lost their imagination and could see I was a copywriter. Yes it may be less than perfectly art directed, but why am I being punished for poor art direction (when I did have someone from school help me or an outside source) or for the fact that I gave it the old college try. Have Creative Directors forgotten how to use their imagination?

    I know there was a time when marker comps, napkins with doodles and just explaining an idea would qualify you for a job in the creative industry. Seems technology has made everyone stick their noses in the air and say, “Well, it does not look like it came straight out of a magazine. OUCH! MY EYES!”

    READ a copywriter's work. Embrace the concept. Pull up your creative pants and get your pinky finger out of the air. Remember to be humble.


  6. Thanks for posting, Janet. Definitely feel your frustration. Two bits of advice:

    1) A rejection letter is not personal. It's not a comment on the amount of work you put in, or how close came to getting the gig or certainly not the company trying to be rude. It's simply the most efficient way for them to say that they don't have an opening for you. So as disheartening and cold as it can be, try not to take it personally.

    2) As nice as it might be for CDs to hand out jobs based on marker comps, those days are long, long gone. Good CDs can see ideas for what they are and see past comps art directed by copywriters, but the reality is that your book is competing with polished books. I don't know what else to tell you other than that's the game now. So while I feel your pain, your energy would be better spent working on making your book better.


  7. Great blog post! It is comforting and indeed exactly what I am doing.

    I am exhuasting every resource I have to nail an art director inside a closet and get them to FINISH something. I have one ad for this campaign and 2 for another…and then, POOF they are busy, they promise.

    I did not learn enough to be an art director and polish my book. I have never taken a typography class in my life.

    It's almost as if we are saying, “In order to be a flght attendant, you also need to know how to fly the plane and do maintainence too.”

    I disagree.

    I know when I work in an agency, my CD will make sure the art directors do their work and I will do mine. I know my craft, copywriting. Indeed I might be able to chime in with an awesome idea for layout or design, but the nurse does not step on the doctor's toes. It seems simple to me.

    Read copywriters work. Open your mind to a visual and don't be afraid to use your talents to see what potential someone has. Basically I am pleading for people to take a chance. I am sure they many got their big break in this fashion. Remember where you came from and never treat people in a way you wouldn't like to be treated. My Mom taught me all of that by simply saying, “Remember how this made you feel. Don't ever forget it.”

    I won't.


  8. Hi Janet,

    If you have no other option, you can always work on being your own art director.

    It's a pain, because graphic design requires a different part of your brain. And it adds an extra step after you come up with The Big Idea.

    But it can be done.

    If you'd like, here are some tips:

    1) You're going to have to spend money on two things: fonts and stock photos. I use and Give yourself a monthly budget to spend on both. Make sure you make your font library larger on a consistent basis. If you do nothing else, do this.

    2) Check out Photoshop tutorials online for things like “vintage effect photoshop tutorial” or “collage tutorial photoshop.” A lot of the art direction you see done in student books fall into a handful of categories. They can all be learned.

    3) Use textures / blending modes in Photoshop. They make all the difference. You can look up a tutorial on how to do this.

    4) Look up student art director books from Miami Ad School, VCU, and the like, and see how they're executing their campaigns. Try to mimic.

    5) Experiment, experiment, experiment. As a copywriter, you don't always come up with the best tagline on the first go. Same goes with graphic design.

    6) đŸ™‚

    Good luck!


  9. Thanks! This is all great advice! Wow, I have my work cut out for me. It really doesn't seem fair, but then again life is not fair. I will do whatever it takes to make my dream become a reality.

    Thanks to all.



  10. Janet-

    For what it's worth, I'd spend time working on concepts rather than trying to learn photoshop effects. An great idea with okay polish is always better than an okay idea with great polish.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s