I’m Joining Louise Fili!

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joining Louise Fili next month! I was just in New York last week searching for an apartment and it was by far one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Nevertheless, I found an apartment and will be moving to New York at the beginning of July. I’ve only recently graduated from school, so having an opportunity like this is both extremely exciting and nerve-racking. Rather than making this purely an announcement, I figured it’d be worth sharing how I went about applying for this position.

If you aren’t familiar with Louise, she runs a small studio—which she founded in 1989—that specializes in brand development for food packaging and restaurants (with an emphasis on lettering and typography). Louise has worked for Herb Lubalin, was art director of Pantheon Books from 1978 to 1989, and has won countless awards including a medal for Lifetime Achievement from the AIGA and the Type Directors Club. Oh, and she’s married to Steven Heller! Louise likes to keep her studio small, it’s usually just her and two other designers.

In June of 2016, I saw that Louise was hiring. Considering how small her studio is, job openings are far and few between. And at this point I still hadn’t finished my undergrad, but with the help of my friends nudging me, I couldn’t let the opportunity slip by—I had to apply. The only problem was, I didn’t know how fast they were trying to fill the position, I had committed to finishing my degree through that fall meaning I wouldn’t be available until the beginning of December, and I didn’t have any studio or agency experience.

So how do you apply for a job you aren’t entirely qualified for and wouldn’t even be available to accept for another 6 months?

Not to mention, I had never really applied for a job at this point. I’ve only ever done freelance work leading up to this. What am I supposed to send? How am I supposed to write the email? Well, not long before applying, I read an article by Mikael Cho, the founder/CEO of unsplash, titled “Why I didn’t look at your resume.” The article is less about the resume itself and more so about the initial email. What I like most about Mikael’s article is the use of actual email examples from people they’ve hired. Following this, I knew to keep it simple and direct.

But there was still a problem, Louise wanted a resume/cover letter and a PDF portfolio, both of which would surely reveal that, on paper, I wasn’t entirely qualified for the position yet. So I decided not to include any of that. Instead, I needed to find a way to make myself stand out, be intentionally vague in regards to my experience, and highlight not only the quality of my work but my ambition and what I can bring to the table.

Rather than attaching multiple PDFs to an email, I made a mini-site that talked about who I am, what I’m interested in, what I could bring to the studio, and a small portion of my work. I modeled the site—let’s be real, I basically stole the entire site from Zeke Sikelianos’ application to the Beaver Brook School. But in my defense, the site is open-sourced on Github (Thanks, Zeke!). In taking an unconventional route such as this, there was of course the fear that it’d come off as gimmicky, she simply wouldn’t go to the site or she’d be annoyed that I didn’t just send over what she was asking for.

To make clicking the link worth while, I lettered a heading specifically for the site in hopes it’d excite her enough to continue reading. Ultimately, all I wanted to do was follow Mikael’s advice of “Keep it short. Share things you made. Be human.”

(Feel free to check out the site for yourself.)

Looking at this now, I can’t believe I didn’t address the email directly to Louise. Amateur hour.

To my surprise, Louise replied to my email the very night I sent it! Even better, the first thing she said was, “That was the most unusual application I’ve ever received!” But then she asked to see a resume, know where I studied (past-tense), where I’ve worked, etc. She wanted to see all of the things I was scared to send and was actively avoiding. I sucked it up, attached a resume to an email, broke the news that I actually wouldn’t be available until December, and simply tried to keep the conversation going. Unfortunately, I never heard back. (Pretty understandable, honestly.)

One detail I haven’t mentioned that I’d say is really important is this: Before sending my application, I told my friend Eric Friedensohn that I was thinking about applying. Eric knew Raphael Geroni‏ through Instagram who was a junior designer at Louise Fili at the time. Eric messaged Raphael to learn more about the position, he relayed some information back to me, which ultimately gave me enough confidence to actually apply in the first place. Not long after sending Louise my initial email, I told Eric that I had applied. From my understanding, Eric told Raphael that I had applied, Raphael started following my work on Instagram, and shortly thereafter, Nick Misani (Louise’s senior designer) started following me as well.

I didn’t hear back from Louise and maybe a month later I saw they filled the position. Needless to say, they were in need of a designer much sooner than December. I brought up the Instagram thing because while I didn’t get the job, I began to build a relationship with Nick. I’ve always been a big fan of Nick as both a human and a designer, so it was extremely encouraging to get his support and know he was also a fan of the work I was producing.

In December, I finished my undergrad and moved swiftly into pursuing my masters. While it’d take me over a year to finish my masters, I knew I’d probably wanted to move on after the spring. So towards the beginning of February, I emailed one of my past cross country teammates, Andrew Herzog, about when I should be looking/applying for jobs. He essentially told me to start now (February). So I immediately started to gather a list of studios and companies I was planning to apply to. Five days later, Louise sent me an email asking if I had finished school and whether or not I’d be looking for a job in a few months.

Holy shit, could the timing be any more perfect? We exchanged a few more emails, I shared some work I had done recently, and we scheduled a time for a Skype interview. As we got on a Skype call and Louise was referencing work from the mini-site I had built, I realized that the only work of mine that she has probably seen is from what was on the mini-site. Before ending our call, I told Louise I’d put together a PDF with more of my work so she could get a better idea of what I’ve done and am capable of.

One thing she really loved was the mosaic from the site so in a similar fashion to that header, I decided to create another custom type piece for the PDF portfolio to send to her. I had been wanting to experiment with creating a wrought iron effect for a long time now, so this was a perfect excuse to give it a shot.

Louise was happy to see more of my work (the PDF was 67 pages), specifically noted that she loved the wrought iron, asked for a reference (Thank you, Matt Yow), and we scheduled a date for an in-person interview.

The night before leaving for the interview, Zach (my brother) asked if I planned on bringing anything with me to show her—like sketches or a printed portfolio. I was so busy leading up to this that the idea didn’t even cross my mind. Unfortunately, it was literally the night before and I had no time to put anything together so I decided to go empty handed. When I got to New York, Eric asked me the question—if I had brought a special portfolio to show her. At this point I was kind of freaking out because in school my professors had always preached about the importance of having some sort of leave behind. Although I had never really been fond of the idea, I was second guessing my self as I walked to Louise’s office.

During the interview, we briefly looked at the PDF portfolio I had previously sent her, but a majority of the 2 hours was spent simply talking. By this point it was less about my work and more about who I was and what I wanted to accomplish. I’d say one of the biggest reasons I was even able to get to this point was because of all of the people along the way. This isn’t about social networking blah blah blah, it’s about connecting with people. In the end, you of course want to have great work, but it seems that relationships are always the most important.

So thank you to all of my friends that contributed to making this opportunity possible! I’m beyond excited to be starting this next chapter of my life.