Rejection Email To A Web Designer

We recently received an application from a young web designer to work in our Hong Kong office. His work wasn’t up to par, so I was tempted to send him a short reply, just as a courtesy so he would know we received his email. But then I decided to do something I’ve never done before with a job applicant and tell him what I really think. Here’s the result.

Hi [name withheld], thanks for sending me your work to look at. I’m going to tell you what most other employers won’t–I’m not going to hire you right now because your work isn’t good enough. I know that’s pretty blunt, but it’s the truth, and anything less than the truth, like saying “We’ll keep you in mind,” or “We’ll be in touch,” would be a lie. In addition, I think you have potential to be the kind of designer we would hire in the future, and I want to tell you what you could do to get to that point. Even if you don’t ever end up doing work for my firm, I hope my feedback will help you become a better web designer and market yourself better, which will help you in your career no matter where you work. First, let’s talk about marketing yourself.

1. Get profiles set up on Dribbble and Behance. These websites are the LinkedIn’s of the web design world. If you’re on those sites, you have a better chance of being taken seriously not just as a designer, but as a designer who gets the industry.

2. Set up a profile on LinkedIn. I don’t read resumes any more. I don’t know anyone who does. What I want is a link to an updated LinkedIn profile. It’s more convenient for me, and will be better for you in your career, especially as you build professional connections.

3. Set up a blog. I don’t hire full time designers because they’re great designers. I want to hire great designers who are community leaders. Who are not just into designing a nice looking site, but talking about what they and other designers are working on, and educating others. If you have a blog, this shows me you’re about being part of the worldwide design community. You’ll start small, but over time you’ll get better at blogging and find your voice, and you’ll be able to show me or other potential employers a lot more about yourself than what can be communicated in an email or online profile at one of the websites mentioned above. Rather than directing you to specific blogs, read these three articles about web designer blogs to get a better idea of the type of designers we’re looking for:

Now, let’s talk about becoming a better designer.

1. Imitate great design. Look at what is on the design websites mentioned above and start imitating it. Copy it, then modify it. Modify it some more, and make it your own. Is this what you want to be doing 10 years from now? No, but if you do this for a year or two, then you’ll get more from it than any design course or school, and you’ll be ready to start innovating and doing your own, unique work.

2. Read what great designers are saying. Read the blogs listed in those three articles. There’s no better way for you to get a feel for the world of web design at its best.

3. Design. A lot. If you can’t get hired to do a new design, do a new design anyway. Design websites for yourself, for friends, for family. Design websites for the companies you’d like to have as clients, and send them in for free. This rarely works, but you’ll be getting better and better at design as a result of doing it, and building up your Dribbble and Behance portfolios at the same time.

I’m sure others could give many more suggestions, this is just what’s coming off the top of my head. What I do know is that if you follow my advice, you’ll become a great designer. So good, in fact, you’ll make tons of money doing freelance work, and I won’t be able to afford to hire you, even though I’ll want to.

One might ask why, if I think this designer has potential, I wouldn’t hire him on and train him, especially if I believe by following my advice he’ll become the kind of designer I want but then I won’t be able to afford him. It’s a matter of timing. Our Hong Kong office is new, running much like a startup, and that means every hire is critical. If I’m going to hire a designer, I need someone who is already where I want him or her to be. Hiring a diamond in the rough simply isn’t an option at the moment. In the future, I would love to take designers like this under my wing and help them find their greatness.

What other suggestions would you give a young web designer who is looking to become awesome?

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Written by

Hi! I'm Josh Steimle, and I started MWI from my apartment while a college student in 1999. I'm responsible for MWI's overall strategy and marketing. I'm also the author of CMOs at Work (Apress, 2016) and a frequent contributor to Forbes, Mashable, Entrepreneur, and other publications. Read more of what I'm writing on my blog.

  • I wish I was given advice like this when I was in Taiwan teaching myself SEO and web design. I hope the applicant thanked you for this invaluable advice. Back in 2000 I had very little in the way of SEO info to go on (although it was a heck of a lot easier then). Web design has come a long way and now people finally value lead generation more then a work of art. Thanks for sharing Joshua and giving me a kick to update my LinkedIn and jump on those other sites.

    It’s always good to get away from a site dev when you hit a problem and finding this gem of a post means my time was well spent. Right, I better get back to trying to fix that problem with my own site…Cheers!

  • davidscoville

    good stuff, Josh.

  • Josh, Interesting article.

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