Andy Golpys
Updated on 23 Feb 2021 · 8 min read

How to get work experience at a web design agency

I've not done the numbers on how many emails we get per week from students or graduates asking for work experience (or a job) here at MadeByShape, but it's a lot. And we see many common mistakes happening time and time again. So here's a little article with the basics to get right when contacting a web design agency for work experience.

Research

Would you turn up to a face to face interview without researching the company you are meeting? If the answer is yes, then it should be no. It's important for you to understand the agency you are getting in touch with.

  • Is it an agency you want to work with?
  • Why? Do you like their culture? The portfolio of work? The services they offer are what you want to go into? The location of the studio?

At this stage, if you've looked at the website, social accounts etc and determined its an agency you'd like to contact - this means you've made a conscious decision to want to work there over other agencies. This is important to remember, you care, it's your decision to proceed with this agency and eliminate other agencies you don't think are as good as a fit for you. This sounds simple right? Well unfortunately, there is a lot of students that just email a high volume of agencies 'just to get experience' and hope they get a reply from anyone. We suggest a more tailored approach that is from the heart, and I'm pretty certain it will improve your conversion rates in terms of responses.

Within this research phase, you've not only just decided to choose this agency to contact - you now also have all this knowledge to use in your favour when it comes to communication.

Grab attention

Due to the high volumes of emails received, you need to stand out from the crowd. Imagine how many emails the agency gets per day from clients, staff, subscriptions, enquiries etc as well as work experience and job request emails. The email subject should stand out - be personal and direct in my opinion. Even if it is - Andy, I'm looking for some work experience. It's direct to me (you will have done research to find out who that I'm Co-Founder and deal with new enquiries) and also direct to what you're looking for. The name grabs my attention, and I know you are looking for work experience.

Once the email gets clicked, it's then about the written content before anything else. This whole article is based on my opinion and how I work... but I read the email. I don't go straight to your CV, I don't look at your experience, I don't see which school you went to - it's all about the email first.

If you are sending an email that is clearly copied and pasted to every agency, and nothing is unique, then your chances of being successful in this scenario is very low. We want to know that you care - because at the end of the day, if you send us a copy and paste template email - why should we take the time to reply with a detailed response?

Spelling and Grammar

It's crazy that this even needs to be mentioned - and put into it's own block in this article. Just check your spelling and grammar please before hitting send. Everyone has done it before, but spelling errors in a first impression email does matter.

Tone of voice & Personality

When you were in the research phase of this task, you will have realised that the agency you are contacting is either; formal, informal, a huge corporate machine, a small independent studio, etc etc. And this is very valuable info to you, as you can use it to your own advantage when grabbing attention in your email. We are very informal, if people use gifs, emojis, swear words (to a certain extent) the it resonates with us better than a really formal email like 'Dear Sir/Madam...'

The tone of voice can also bring our your own personality. And in my opinion, personality is what sets you apart from everyone else. And even though we are talking about work experience here, personality is still a huge factor. The agency is willingly opening their studio arms to let you in and be part of the team, you need to fit into the culture.

Like I said, I'm informal - so adding humour is a big positive for me. Tell me what you did at the weekend. Ask me a normal question rather than a serious one. Act as if you are sat with me in the pub having a conversation. That will stand out massively compared to the hundreds of emails I receive per day. This communication will build up a relationship with the agency, even though you've not met yet or they've not even viewed your portfolio. They can 'connect' with you, and even if your email isn't successful - you are more likely to receive a reply.

Also, let the agency know why you are getting in touch. Why do you want to gain experience? Be transparent and honest.

What are the USPs?

You are getting in touch with the agency looking for a work placement. You will gain a lot of things by completing work experience in a design studio. Time management, constructive feedback, technical skills, design skills, working within a team, working individually, project management etc etc the list goes on. But what will the agency benefit from having you there? Some agencies do it to be nice people, they understand you are at the start of your journey and want to help. But why should they choose you over somebody else? What can you offer the agency that other candidates can't? I think it's a great approach to highlight what you'd bring to the team, and what specific areas you think you would excel in... or name the specific areas you'd like to concentrate on to improve your skillset. This then gives the agency owner a clear understanding of how you could fit into the team they already have, and within the diary that's already in the calendar.

Portfolio Portfolio Portfolio

Now that I've processed your email, it's now time for me to look at your portfolio. Oh wait! You didn't attach it or send me a link. What can I do without seeing the work you do? This is where your email probably ends. Most agencies won't even reply to you at this stage unfortunately, that's the harsh reality.

Whether it's a squarespace, behance, dribbble, instagram, custom website, pdf. It doesn't really matter at this stage - we want to see your work and understand the level you are at.

I'd be looking at:

  • The quality of your work
  • The potential you have
  • The skillsets you have
  • The target audience of your portfolio case studies
  • How relevant the work is to our agency
  • How you display projects

If you're looking for a web developer placement then we'd expect you to have sent a link to your portfolio website that you've built yourself, and also links to other sites you've built. If you are not at this stage, unfortunately we wouldn't be the agency for you - as we wouldn't have the time to teach you from the ground up with no knowledge in web development.

Portfolio Tips

Here's some advice to take your portfolio to the next level.

If you're an illustrator - yes we want to see your illustrations. That's a given. Whether it be on instagram, a print, website etc. But why don't you show us how that can work if it was a client project. If your portfolio is full of sell driven projects that aren't for clients - that's fine. Nothing wrong with that. But it would be good to see how it could be rolled out - is it a mug, a poster campaign, social media skins etc. Understanding the audience and taking the illustration that extra mile shows you understanding the campaign as well as showing your illustration style.

The same theory applies to branding designers - don't just show us the logo. Show us the campaign. It could be print collateral, brochures, business cards, branded merchandise, poster campaigns, billboards etc.

If you're a web designer and don't want to get into coding, sending us a portfolio link from a template site like squarespace or usnig dribbble, behance, instagram etc is absolutely fine. If you're a designer, you're a designer - don't try to build your own website if that's not what you want to go into.

If you're a web developer on the other hand, this is where we want to see your development skills. If you haven't got many projects in your portfolio at this stage, I'd suggest building some self initiated projects - because ultimately, we can't judge your work if we don't see your code.

Action the next steps

I'd suggest leaving the email with an action. Suggest a time to zoom or call? Get the agency to answer a question? Even just a suggestion in terms of a specific date to follow up like... I know you're going to be very busy - so I'll follow this email up in a weeks time to see if you've had chance to digest. This shows you're interested, proactive, good at time management etc.

Summary

Hopefully this has been helpful to students or graduates contacting web design agencies for work experience. You may think some of these items are very basic, and I agree. But based on the emails we get daily, there's common mistakes that are mad far too often. But ultimately, be yourself - and show your personality. Then back that up with a solid portfolio, and really display those projects nicely.

Written by
Andy Golpys
Co-Founder of MadeByShape. Most of my blogs are about business related aspects, not just web design.

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